UN debacle another blow to Obama Doctrine

James Carafano Director, Heritage Foundation's Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies
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Today the Palestinians will poke President Obama in the eye with his Nobel Peace Prize. And he has no one to blame but himself.

Even before Mr. Obama walked the red carpet in Oslo, he believed he was his own best foreign policy advisor — and he knew how he wanted to manage the world. In public statements he laid out the tenets of a foreign policy doctrine that positions America as one nation among many, with no singular claim either to responsibility or exceptionalism.

Here, in a nutshell, is the Obama Doctrine:

(1) America will ratify more treaties and turn more often to international organizations to deal with global crises and security concerns like nuclear weapons. Often, we will turn to these avenues before turning to our traditional friends and allies.

(2) America will emphasize diplomacy and “soft power” instruments such as summits and foreign aid to promote its aims. We will downplay military might.

(3) America will adopt a more humble attitude in state-to-state relations.

(4) America will play a more restrained role on the international stage.

Nowhere was the Obama Doctrine rolled out more aggressively than in the Middle East. There, the administration trumpeted making nice with Iran and brokering a deal between Israel and Palestine by distancing the U.S. from Israel and hawking itself as a more “neutral party.”

The problem with the Obama Doctrine is that its success is totally dependent on “the other guys” playing nice. They seldom do — especially not in the Middle East. Instead of making nice with Obama, Ahmadinejad made jokes about him. Mr. Obama’s engagement efforts only gave the beleaguered Iranian president more international street “cred,” even as forces inside the county are trying to undermine the regime.

As for the “peace” process, Mr. Obama’s approach has achieved nothing. Instead, the Palestinians are repaying his efforts with a U.N. campaign that seems designed to embarrass the White House. Like Jimmy Carter before him, Mr. Obama is finding that when American presidents present a face of international accommodation and ambivalence, they get taken advantage of. Weakness invites aggression.

Now Mr. Obama’s Middle East policy is falling apart, and people are noticing. As Josh Gerstein writes in today’s Politico, Palestine is “far from the only crisis confronting President Barack Obama and the rest of the diplomatic community.”

Arguably, Obama’s only measurable foreign policy successes are where he has strayed from his own doctrine and relied on the military — in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Libya.

Even there Obama seems committed to dumping his “Bush-lite” foreign policy and resetting to “lead from behind” mode. He wanted to be the “stealth” commander in Libya. Now, he plans on fighting the war on terror with covert operations: military operations with no transparency, no accountability, no oversight and, most importantly, no fingerprints. Just an “easy button” war at the touch of a fingerprint. This idea is raising red flags, even among the likes of Clinton-era Defense Secretary Bill Cohen, who warns “technology should not prove dazzling as to blind us to the reality that war will always prove to be a doorway into a hell that is far easier to enter than exit.”

All the Obama Doctrine’s happy talk has produced nothing. The debacle at the U.N. this week is proof enough. What we are left with is more soaring, meaningless rhetoric (see: today’s U.N. speech) from a president who refuses to lead in daylight but is now enamored with fighting in the shadows.

No wonder America’s Middle East policy increasingly lacks credibility in the Middle East. Mr. Obama is increasingly reminiscent of the 19th-century British and French leaders who tried to manage their colonial empires with spies, the occasional assassination and — now and then — a coup.

James Jay Carafano is director of The Heritage Foundation’s Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies.