What's the big idea?
In search of the Obama Doctrine
With a few weeks left before President Obama's first anniversary in the White House, the analyses, retrospectives and deconstructions of Year One are well underway. (It's about time!) In that tradition, few pursuits are more popular than the quest to define a president's foreign policy -- invariably described as "The [Fill in President's Name Here] Doctrine."
So, has an Obama Doctrine been found? And if so, is it any good? Judging from a spate of think tank panels, big-think journal articles and magazine essays by conservatives and liberals alike, the reviews are mixed at best. If there is an Obama Doctrine, it involves a combination of diplomatic engagement, biography-as-foreign-policy and anti-Bushism -- and few seem to think it's working terribly well.
Writing in the January/February issue of World Affairs, Robert Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment worries that Obama has given up before even playing, simply managing what he sees as the country's inevitable decline into a "post-American" world. Worse, by trying to be a convener of nations and a "friend to all," Obama is casting aside old alliances and accommodating rivals such as China and Russia. Charles Lane of The Washington Post adds that Obama's efforts to rebrand America as a good global citizen may impress folks like Bono and Nobel committee members, but leave citizens in autocratic regimes worried that they no longer have a friend in Washington. (Like Kagan, he also faults Obama for assuming that his compelling personal story will help America on the world stage.) Ed Pilkington of the Guardian is more optimistic about Obama's diplomatic outreach but admits that Obama's interlocutors in the world's nasty regimes have not reciprocated.
Writing in Foreign Affairs, Zbigniew Brzezinski seems to regard Obama like a favored pupil who hasn't lived up to his potential. The president has a "genuine sense of strategic direction," he writes, giving Obama kudos for ending the "war on terror" paradigm, dealing with China as a partner and recognizing that AfPak is as much a political as a military problem, among other matters. But even Brzezinski admits that so far, Obama "has generated more expectations than strategic breakthroughs" and has yet to move from orator to statesman. Still, he gives him a bit of a pass, blaming foreign lobbies, the blogosphere and stupid Americans (really) for failing to support him.
A recurring theme seems to be that Obama should stop trying to be the world's popular kid -- it's not working. Peter Beinart puts it well in Time magazine, praising Obama for "shrinking" the fight against terrorism but warning that crossing names off your enemies list isn't enough: "The other guys have to take us off their enemies list too."
-- Carlos Lozada