A segment on Fox News recently raised the question about what constitutes an “Obama Doctrine” on foreign policy, given how feckless and incompetent it has been. The obvious answer is the Obama Doctrine is founded on political expediency, and depends on ad hoc responses to crises based on a calculation of electoral advantage. But stale left-wing ideology also has a malign role to play.
The on-going scandal over the administration’s response to the murder of our ambassador and three other Americans in Benghazi, which took place six weeks before the presidential election, is exhibit number one. You don’t have to be Machiavelli to figure out that Obama and his advisors knew the Benghazi disaster falsified the triumphalist narrative that al Qaeda was “decimated” and that the “tide of war is receding,” and so it had to be spun into a spontaneous demonstration over an obscure Internet video. Throw in a cheerleading media studiously indifferent to “speaking truth to power,” and you have the shameful spectacle of four dead Americans in effect shrugged off by the administration for political advantage, and the current attempts to silence “whistle-blowers” who can shed light on what really happened.
But subordinating foreign policy to politics is typical behavior for Democrats. Most post-Vietnam Democrats are stealth pacifists, suspicious of American military power and committed to Kantian pipe dreams of internationalism and multilateralism, and American guilt and retreat. But they also know most voters expect the government to do something when America’s enemies commit acts of aggression against our interests. And they know military failure or casualties try the patience of voters and also exact a political price. Hence Democrats must calculate what minimum response they can afford at the least political cost.
The Democratic repertoire of responses relies first on diplomatic ritual––stern statements of “concern,” photogenic “conferences,” “summits,” and “commissions,” and carefully calibrated escalations of rhetoric the subtle purpose of which is to sneakily tighten the triggers of action so nothing will end up being done. Obama’s response to the Syria crisis illustrates this modus operandi in which verbal bluster is used to camouflage the unwillingness to act. Obama just compromised the approach when he strayed from his script and used explicit language like “red line” and “game-changer” that gave the whole game away.
If diplomatic bluster doesn’t work, then sanctions become the next option for doing nothing while pretending to do something. See North Korea and Iran for the futility of such evasions against a committed or lunatic foe. Next come cruise missiles, drones, and air attacks, which look good on television and have minimal chance of American casualties. Bill Clinton used air attacks in the Balkans in the ’90s when the horrific images of ethnic cleansing, massacres, and concentration camps, all redolent of World War II and hence politically toxic, compelled NATO––which means in effect the U.S.––to bomb the Serbs. Worse, Clinton’s response to the series of al Qaeda attacks on our military and embassies in that decade was to fire cruise missiles at sand and tents and a pharmaceutical company. In 1998, for example, 66 cruise missiles were fired at two al Qaeda camps near Khost in Afghanistan, missing bin Laden because he wasn’t there. As Michael Scheuer wrote later, 75 million dollars’ worth of cruise missiles had done “the work of day laborers armed with thirty-dollar sledgehammers.” All because Clinton feared the political costs and risks of sending in American forces to do the job right.
Obama has made an art of such showy camouflage. In Libya he “led from behind” with American air power, carrying water for the French and British, with seemingly no thought for what would be left after the creepy but defanged Gaddafi was eliminated. But Obama did something to gratify the “Arab Spring” delusions many Americans, including Republicans, were entertaining. And of course, his promiscuous use of drones to pick off al Qaeda “leaders” is another version of the same tactic. Obama looks willing to kill the stray terrorist lieutenant––who of course is immediately replaced by another––and any family members in the vicinity, while in effect doing nothing to stem the growing tide of al Qaeda’s global growth and aggression, most recently evident in Boston. And anyway, why try to capture these terrorists alive, when Obama has proscribed the effective interrogation techniques for gaining valuable intelligence? Yes, he killed bin Laden, but not even Jimmy Carter––who in 1980 ordered the disastrous operation Eagle Claw to rescue the Iranian hostages––would have passed up that opportunity for political gain.
But political expediency is just the most obvious dimension of the Obama Doctrine. The other is the musty leftist narrative of America’s neo-colonialist and neo-imperialist foreign policy crimes committed in service to the evil capitalist need for resources and markets. Whether it is the excesses of the Cold War, the support of autocrats and dictators, the unholy armaments industry, or the thirst for oil––the whole catalog of stale clichés and received wisdom typical of the badly educated, bourgeois fops and wastrels of the Occupy Wall Street movement––America is the global sinner, the font of all oppression and misery. In this narrative, as Obama said, there is no American exceptionalism––other than that of its crimes–– and so America cannot be trusted with its military power. It will be used only to gratify xenophobic nationalism, racism, and capitalist predation, and so we must apologize and retreat, as Obama famously did in his 2009 Cairo speech, when he decried the “colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims,” and in his 2007 Foreign Affairs article, in which he wrote that America must be a global “partner mindful of our own imperfections.” Thus we must circumscribe our sovereignty and actions with international organizations, multilateralism, and disarmament. We must increase aid to those, like the Muslim Brothers, who want to destroy us, and distance ourselves from our staunch allies like Israel, the “little Satan” to America’s “great Satan.” Thus we can atone for our sins and be accepted by the “global community,” and we can pacify our enemies who, after all, attack us only because we have harmed them with our selfish aggression.
This part of the Obama Doctrine, of course, has been the gospel of the American left since Vietnam, when the anti-communist Democrats were politically marginalized and guilt-mongers like Jimmy Carter and John Kerry became the new face of Democratic foreign policy. It is the default foreign policy of the mainstream media, the universities, popular culture, and the think tanks and foundations that advise Democrats. That’s why the Dinesh D’Souza thesis–– that Obama’s rabid anti-colonialism inherited from his Kenyan father accounts for his foreign policy philosophy––is dubious psychology. You don’t need Kenya or anti-colonial animus to explain a set of attitudes as common as flies in American universities and colleges. Every two-bit teaching assistant, English graduate student, or junior faculty member reflexively chants this mantra of American crime and deserved playback. Our ideologically corrupted universities are the source of the Obama Doctrine, and his administration has graphically demonstrated the malign effects and dangers to our national security and interests that have resulted from joining power to bad ideas and political opportunism.
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