“He doesn’t strategize. He sermonizes.”
–Zbigniew Brzezinski, Former National Security Advisor
A good read and lengthy piece in the New Yorker called, The Consequentialist.
We now have a concise description of the Obama Doctrine, defined by an unnamed senior official in the president’s own administration: “Leading from behind“:
That’s not a slogan designed for signs at the 2012 Democratic Convention, but it does accurately describe the balance that Obama now seems to be finding. It’s a different definition of leadership than America is known for, and it comes from two unspoken beliefs: that the relative power of the U.S. is declining, as rivals like China rise, and that the U.S. is reviled in many parts of the world. Pursuing our interests and spreading our ideals thus requires stealth and modesty as well as military strength. “It’s so at odds with the John Wayne expectation for what America is in the world,” the adviser said. “But it’s necessary for shepherding us through this phase.”
Ask any young Marine what “leading from behind” means. They probably won’t know; they’ve only ever seen leaders out front, sharing in the greatest risks because that is the responsibility of command. To the extent they will even understand what you’re asking, those Marines will probably say that a leader in the back of the formation is a coward, because they are making their Marines take risks the commander will not expose himself to.
Which is pretty close to what President Obama has done in regard to the demands for democracy in the middle east. He allows others to take risks for which he then claims credit
Runner up slogans would be, “Having it both ways”, “Straddling the fence”, and “Voting present”.
This spring, Obama officials often expressed impatience with questions about theory or about the elusive quest for an Obama doctrine. One senior Administration official reminded me what the former British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan said when asked what was likely to set the course of his government: “Events, dear boy, events.”
Obama has emphasized bureaucratic efficiency over ideology, and approached foreign policy as if it were case law, deciding his response to every threat or crisis on its own merits. “When you start applying blanket policies on the complexities of the current world situation, you’re going to get yourself into trouble,” he said in a recent interview with NBC News.
Obama’s reluctance to articulate a grand synthesis has alienated both realists and idealists. “On issues like whether to intervene in Libya there’s really not a compromise and consensus,” Slaughter said. “You can’t be a little bit realist and a little bit democratic when deciding whether or not to stop a massacre.”
The Obama White House must be the first US presidency in living memory that actually prides itself on following rather than leading on the world stage.
On the Middle East as a whole, the Obama administration barely has a coherent big picture strategy, hardly an advertisement for what it calls its “smart power” approach. In reality the Obama doctrine represents little more than the humbling of a superpower, and the stunning abdication of US leadership in an increasingly dangerous world. As I noted previously, America badly needs another Reagan-style revolution, not only to rebuild its economic might, but also to restore its standing in the world.
What makes the article so funny is the pompous self-regard of the administration officials and the complete lack of appreciation for how woefully inadequate their performance has been in meeting these challenges. They are “not cursed with self-awareness,” to quote Annie Savoy from the movie Bull Durham. Secretary of State Clinton compares herself as a collegiate Vietnam war protester to the young Egyptians who brought down the Mubarak government. Both Tom Donilon and Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes explain the importance of reducing involvement in the middle east because our strategic interests lie in Asia … as the administration engaged in combat operations in Libya. A presidential memo is cited as wisely anticipating the middle eastern revolutions, except that the memo calls for tailored country by country programs that the administration’s policies clearly did not have. The author even unwittingly adds to the humor, saying “Obama’s instinct was to try to have it both ways.”
America is lacking leadership in the world because America is lacking a leader capable and willing to lead.