Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

Obamaland Foreign Policy: Bush Doctrine Dolled Up or Courageous Return to Realism?

Posted by K.E. White on March 16, 2009

With over fifty days in, how has Obamaland defined their approach to foreign policy?

Defining Obama & Co.: What is the adminstration's worldview how has the administration performed on foreign policy? Experts seem split on both fronts.

 

Three different takes on Obama’s first foreign policy moves.

Fareed Zakaria shows support for Obama’s foreign policy moves, and argues that both liberal and (neo)conservative critics share a similar flaw: a “maximalist” and myopic view of American foreign policy. From Zakaria’s Newsweek article:

Consider the gambit with Russia. The Washington establishment is united in the view that Iran’s nuclear program poses the greatest challenge for the new administration. Many were skeptical that Obama would take the problem seriously. But he has done so, maintaining the push for more effective sanctions, seeing if there is anything to be gained by talking to the Iranians, and starting conversations with the Russians. The only outside power that has any significant leverage over Tehran is Russia, which is building Iran’s nuclear reactor and supplying it with uranium. Exploring whether Moscow might press the Iranians would be useful, right?

Wrong. The Washington Post reacted by worrying that Obama might be capitulating to Russian power. His sin was to point out in a letter to the Russian president that were Moscow to help in blunting the threat of missile attacks from Tehran, the United States would not feel as pressed to position missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic—since those defenses were meant to protect against Iranian missiles. This is elementary logic. It also strikes me as a very good trade since right now the technology for an effective missile shield against Iran is, in the words of one expert cited by the Financial Times’s Gideon Rachman: “a system that won’t work, against a threat that doesn’t exist, paid for with money that we don’t have.”

The problem with American foreign policy goes beyond George Bush. It includes a Washington establishment that has gotten comfortable with the exercise of American hegemony and treats compromise as treason and negotiations as appeasement. Other countries can have no legitimate interests of their own—Russian demands are by definition unacceptable. The only way to deal with countries is by issuing a series of maximalist demands. This is not foreign policy; it’s imperial policy. And it isn’t likely to work in today’s world.

But Commentary’s Abe Greenwald considers “[t]he Bush Doctrine alive and well” in Obamaland. From his recent article, ‘The Doctrine of Fakism’:

That’s because the most distinguishing feature of the new mushy realism is that it’s shamelessly fake. Hillary Clinton couldn’t possibly believe that, “The best way to advance America’s interest in reducing global threats and seizing global opportunities is to design and implement global solutions,” because she can’t even explain what that means.  Barack Obama does not believe (at least not now) that Iran can be talked out of the bomb any more than he intends to “end” the Iraq War, and John Kerry doesn’t think, “we have an opportunity to reshape the way the United States does business with the world.” These fakists have settled on a language to use in public and this is it. Global, interconnected, diplomatic, sustainable, endurable, smart, multilateral, non-ideological. You know — Obamese. The biggest change Barack Obama has brought to American politics is linguistic. Leaders are now required to create cuddly, meaningless word salads while continuing the implementation of aggressive policies.

The Bush Doctrine is alive and well.  This is because George W. Bush was not, as Clintonand Kerry imply, too blinded by ideology to be pragmatic. On Tuesday, Hillary Clinton said of smart power, “This is not a radical idea. The ancient Roman poet Terence, who was born a slave and rose to become one of the great voices of his time, declared that ‘in every endeavor, the seemly course for wise men is to try persuasion first.’” But she didn’t need to reach back to the second century B.C. to make her point. She could have simply adduced the behavior of the current President. Before attacking Afghanistan, President Bush pleaded both directly and through back channels with the Taliban in hopes that they would hand over Osama bin laden. Before going into Iraq, the President got the UN Security Council to pass a cycle of extra resolutions aimed at getting Saddam to disclose his weapons and weapons programs without having to go the military route. In both cases, Bush doggedly sought UN approval for action – something Hillary Clinton’s husband did not secure before launching operations in Haiti, the Balkans, and Iraq.

The ‘right’/unstatisfying answer: We don’t know. Obamaland’s public moves to date have been devoted to putting out fires from the Bush administration (Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia and Pakistan). And, like any astute triage approach calls for, the White House is using what works: (perhaps) pushing back on missile defense to gain Russian support on Iran, while simultaneously going with hard power in Afghanistan. Now how far Obama pushes nonproliferation, how he enlists Russian and Chinese support against terrorism and nuclear weapon-proliferators and crisis management are some of the barometers that will–in time–reveal Obamaland’s foreign policy framework.

And even then Obama could always do a Reaganesque flip.

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