08 October 2016

The Atlantic: “The Obama Doctrine”

Obama has come to a number of dovetailing conclusions about the world, and about America’s role in it. The first is that the Middle East is no longer terribly important to American interests. The second is that even if the Middle East were surpassingly important, there would still be little an American president could do to make it a better place. The third is that the innate American desire to fix the sorts of problems that manifest themselves most drastically in the Middle East inevitably leads to warfare, to the deaths of U.S. soldiers, and to the eventual hemorrhaging of U.S. credibility and power. The fourth is that the world cannot afford to see the diminishment of U.S. power. Just as the leaders of several American allies have found Obama’s leadership inadequate to the tasks before him, he himself has found world leadership wanting: global partners who often lack the vision and the will to spend political capital in pursuit of broad, progressive goals, and adversaries who are not, in his mind, as rational as he is. Obama believes that history has sides, and that America’s adversaries—and some of its putative allies—have situated themselves on the wrong one, a place where tribalism, fundamentalism, sectarianism, and militarism still flourish. What they don’t understand is that history is bending in his direction.

If you are a supporter of the president, his strategy makes eminent sense: Double down in those parts of the world where success is plausible, and limit America’s exposure to the rest. His critics believe, however, that problems like those presented by the Middle East don’t solve themselves—that, without American intervention, they metastasize.

At the moment, Syria, where history appears to be bending toward greater chaos, poses the most direct challenge to the president’s worldview.

George W. Bush was also a gambler, not a bluffer. He will be remembered harshly for the things he did in the Middle East. Barack Obama is gambling that he will be judged well for the things he didn’t do.

Jeffrey Goldberg

Interesting perspective on the foreign policy decisions of the Obama administration for the past seven years. There’s no doubt president Obama managed impressive breakthroughs, the latest being the ratification of the Paris climate treaty, announced together with the Chinese president no less.

On the other hand, his attitude towards regions of the world he doesn’t consider ‘important to American interests’ is downright infuriating and potentially dangerous in the long term – there’s an excellent discussion about the consequences on the Foreign Policy podcast. It’s the same dismissiveness that enabled Nazi Germany to start a world war because other powers simply ignored the problem or considered it not relevant to their current interests; that left half of Europe behind to linger under the yoke of communism for half a century. Obama’s slow response in the Middle East eased the advance of ISIS, the humanitarian crisis in Syria, is possibly empowering Iran to gain more influence at the expense of Saudi Arabia, further destabilizing the region. And let’s not forget Putin’s increasingly bold maneuvers that keep catching Obama on the wrong foot.

Let’s have this discussion, and also acknowledge the risks of remaining passive. So far, Obama’s paralysis has been linked to the loss of perhaps half a million lives in Syria, the rise of extremist groups like the Islamic State, genocide against the Yazidi and Christians, the worst refugee crisis in more than 60 years and the rise of ultranationalist groups in Europe. Aleppo may fall, and lives like Bana’s hang in the balance.

If we don’t act after half a million deaths, will we after one million? After two million? When?

Nicholas Kristof

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