The Obama Doctrine (Part 2)
As I said before I think the President’s handling of the Ukraine crisis indicates some things about his foreign policy beliefs and I think that this is a great time to try to define what President Obama’s foreign policy legacy or the Obama Doctrine might be. There have been previous attempts to do this, but I believe they were premature. We are now 6 years into the President’s time in office giving us enough information to do a little more than speculation (I hope.)
The Obama Doctrine stands on the principle that America is the world’s most powerful nation, that it is an indispensable nation and a world leader in economic, military, and political affairs. The Doctrine is firmly entrenched in the reality that America is the world’s only superpower and that America is not in decline.
In fact, Obama’s strategies indicate that he views America as atop a world structure made up of separate regions such as the European Union, Asia, South America, Africa, and the Middle East. Realities on the ground reflect that American power transcends each of these regions. America has interests and allies in each of these areas. This hegemonic power is undergirded by American military might, but it is America’s values that animate its authority.
Given that the President sees the world as different sets of regions, the way he projects American power is not by directly enforcing American directives, but by finding like-minded nations in each region. This makes sense because America cannot do everything and nations are more likely to take serious interest in what is going on in their own backyard. By partnering with regional powers this way, America does not exhaust itself by engaging in battles in every region and regional powers that align with American interests have the benefit of using America as an insurance policy against opposition.
While this may look like multilateralism, it is actually a way for America to effectively preserve its position at the top of the world order without engaging in unnecessary wars. America’s alliance with Europe is pretty ironclad at this point and Western civilization dominates the globe for all intents and purposes. If the combined military and economic power of the United States, European Union, and Japan is levied in the service of any world objective that objective will eventually be achieved. Western civilization controls the world economy and it is in the best interests of other nations to align themselves with the values of the West if they hope to grow into advanced nations.
Since a central premise of the Obama Doctrine is that America is the world’s only superpower, and this is supported by the fact that the United States spends more on defense than the next 9 countries combined, at the moment there are no nations which can be considered imminent threats to America. This stance effectively takes the prospect of an American preemptive attack against another nation off the table. However, it also allows the President to be secure in the knowledge that it is highly unlikely given the level of American military superiority that any other nation sees it in their interest to attack the United States. While some nations may fancy themselves powerful enough that they might consider an attack on the United States mutually assured destruction, most nations understand an attack on the United States as ensuring their own destruction. At the very least this state of affairs means America should fear no nation.
The President has himself has said that given the level of technology, he is much more concerned with the machinations of terrorist actors who do not have to consider the kind of geopolitics that nations do. American dominance of conventional warfare has effectively made the prospect of war against the United States a moot point.
This frees the President to look at world developments in a much more realistic manner. We have seen this in with Iran, Libya, Syria, and now Russia.
In Iran – The President along with the European Union adopted severe sanctions. These sanctions have now been credited with bringing Iran to the negotiating table on its nuclear weapons program.
In Libya – The President moved decisively in concert with the European Union to unseat Ghaddafi.
In Syria – The president consulted Congress about possible military involvement before adopting a strategy of containment which resulted in Syria giving up its weapons of mass destruction to Russia.
In Russia – The president has indicated that Russia is “a regional power acting out of weakness” and is conferring with the European Union to levy harsh sanctions.
I think these four examples illustrate the Obama Doctrine quite clearly. As I said earlier, there are two types of hard power. One is military and the other is economic. The Obama Doctrine asserts that:
1. The United States is the world’s preeminent global power with interests all over the globe.
2. Military action against nation states is unnecessary given America’s current position as the world’s only superpower.
3. Consistent active military pressure is necessary to discourage terrorists and is a sufficient and constant reminder of American military might.
4. Given that military power is unnecessary and at best an unpredictable tool in aligning nations with Western values, economic incentives and sanctions are the better if slower working option.
Just for the sake of redundancy this can be understood as:
• American/Western values are preeminent.
• American/Western values should be aggressively expanded.
• At this point in time economic power is more effective than military power in expanding and projecting American/Western power.