Aside from the wooden performance, there was nothing particularly noteworthy about President Barack Obama’s Oval Office address on Iraq last night. The President again evinced the impression that he viewed Iraq as a distraction, and he twice said he wanted to “turn the page” to other issues. As forgettable as the address was, however, once placed into the broader context of foreign policy speeches and actions, a clear Obama Doctrine can now be defined, as James Carafano and Kim Holmes do in a new paper released today.
Downplaying American Sovereignty: The Administration is pursuing an ambitious agenda on international treaties. An incomplete list includes: the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with Russia; the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT); the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (LOST); the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); and the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS). The ideals behind many of these treaties are admirable. But in every case the onus is on the Administration to ensure that the treaty does not compromise America’s security or the rights and freedoms established in the U.S. Constitution. International institutions work best when they manage affairs between nations; they falter and become harmful when they reach into the domestic affairs of nations.
But that is exactly what the Obama administration has been doing. Just last week the White House submitted its “Report of the United States of America” to the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC), a body that includes such human rights exemplars as Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia. In the report, the Obama administration attacks Arizona’s recent immigration enforcement law and portrays its lawsuit against it as a defense of human rights. Is there a better example of what little interest this Administration has in upholding American sovereignty? There is no universal right to violate a country’s immigration laws with impunity. It is no violation of human rights to enforce border security and basic immigration requirements. When the Obama administration engages international institutions, it appears that E Pluribus Unum gets thrown under the bus.
Soft-Pedaling American Power: The belief that the United States over-utilized hard power in Iraq and Afghanistan has shaken President Obama’s confidence in the application of hard power at all. Instead, the President intends to use soft power so as to appear more equal at the negotiating table. Shortly after taking office in January 2009, President Barack Obama said “[if] countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us.” And how has this soft-power approach fared? French President Nicolas Sarkozy recently said: “We live in the real world, not a virtual one… President Obama himself has said that he dreams of a world without nuclear weapons. Before our very eyes, two countries are doing exactly the opposite at this very moment… I support America’s ‘extended hand.’ But what have these proposals for dialogue produced for the international community? Nothing but more enriched uranium and more centrifuges.”
The reality is that soft power only works as an adjunct to hard power. Saddam Hussein’s removal from power eliminated any possibility of a major threat from Iraq for the foreseeable future. And while Afghanistan remains an open question, only the anti-war left believes the Taliban can be persuaded to lay down their arms with promises of aid and diplomacy. Any time an American leader believes soft power is a substitute for hard power, he is bound to fail.
A More Restrained America: President Obama has made no secret of his ambivalence toward American military power. At his nuclear summit in Washington, he said: “Whether we like it or not, we remain a dominant military superpower.” The President’s take-it-or-leave-it attitude toward America’s defenses has been reflected in his spending priorities. He cut funding for the F-22 fighter jet and key missile defense programs. His defense procurement budget is anemic, he has refused to modernize our nuclear deterrent, and his Administration even proposed terminating the development of the next generation Navy Cruiser with missile defense capabilities. The force structure Obama is projecting simply cannot sustain existing U.S. security commitments. Military power is not only about fighting wars; it is also about others’ perception of whether you have the means and will to defeat aggression. The perception of American weakness is a destabilizing force throughout the world.
A More Humble America: Since his first month in office, President Obama has embarked on a whirlwind Apology Tour casting himself as the redemptive vessel for the entirety of America’s past sins. Apologizing for things that happened in the past may gain popularity abroad, but so far, it has done little to change minds about our policies. If anything, it has portrayed a weaker United States not only to our allies, but to adversaries striving to gain any advantage over us. The repercussions could be graveand here, history also provides an example. Not long after President Jimmy Carter apologized for Americas supposedly excessive fear of Communism, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and the hard-liners revolted in Iran, taking Americans hostage.
Carter is not the only past president whom Obama is emulating on foreign policy. President Obama’s true foreign policy predecessor is President Woodrow Wilson, who also sought a more “ethical” foreign policy and sought to rely on a “concert of nations” to keep the peace. Wilson’s idealistic approach failed to stem the tide of World War I and helped to foster the isolationism of the 1920s and 1930s that inadvertently eased the road into World War II.
There is a better foreign policy vision. It is a vision that is grounded in George Washington’s first State of the Union address reminder that: “To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.” It’s a vision that is consistent with the Monroe Doctrine ideal that America is committed to the principles on which republican self-government is based. It’s a vision that embodies the Truman Doctrine’s support for peoples threatened with Communist aggression. And it’s a vision that continues the Reagan Doctrine’s “peace through strength” strategy of revitalizing the U.S. military while promoting economic growth at home and increasing support for oppressed people around the world. What all these lines of thought have in common is that America is an indispensable nation in the defense of liberty around the world.
The Obama Doctrine points us in the opposite direction. It will force friendly nations to look elsewhere, not to Washington, for arrangements that bring them greater security. And that will make this a far more dangerous world indeed.