The New York Times’s Peter Baker reports — with plenty of fawning quotes from foreign policy establishment types — that there is an Obama Doctrine emerging. He explains it this way:
If there is an Obama doctrine emerging, it is one much more realpolitik than his predecessor’s, focused on relations with traditional great powers and relegating issues like human rights and democracy to second-tier concerns. He has generated much more good will around the world after years of tension with Mr. Bush, and yet he does not seem to have strong personal friendships with many world leaders.
Perhaps it’s appropriate that Baker never describes the purpose of Obama’s ditching of human rights or the values that underlie his focus on the “traditional great powers” (which presumably does not include the Brits, whom we’ve continually insulted). He describes what Obama is doing but is curiously silent about Obama’s vision of the world and America’s role in it. This isn’t Baker’s fault, of course; Obama has yet to articulate a coherent outlook and has alternated between contempt for American “triumphalism” and a more traditional defense of American power and values (at Oslo, for example). Baker does correctly perceive that human rights and democracy have been shoved under the bus (although “second-tier” is overly generous considering the Obami’s track record on these issues).
But is it “realpolitik” to ignore or pick fights with allies? To imagine that paper agreements will induce despots to give up their nukes? To sign a START treaty that hasn’t a ghost of a chance of ratification and to disclaim use of nuclear retaliation in the case of a biological or chemical attack? To pare down our own defense budget and cut spending on missile defense? All this seems to be out of the Left’s 1970’s playbook rather than the stuff of hard-headed realism, given the conduct and nature of the regimes we face. And for realpolitik players, they seem to lack the ability to size up their opponents and discern that unilateral gestures are a hindrance rather than a help (e.g. Syria).
At times the sympathetic foreign policy gurus from whom Baker solicits input have difficulty trying to come up with compliments. Richard Haass (who now favors regime change in Iran, something Obama clearly does not) manages this on Obama’s efforts to date: “These are not transformational developments … but in foreign policy it’s important to keep the ball moving down the field in the right direction, and that’s what’s happening.” On Iran? On the Middle East?
The Obama foreign policy is a hodge-podge of bad ideas (multilateralism, American un-exceptionalism, disdain for human rights) incompetently executed. It is, moreover, one that refuses to confront in a serious way the greatest challenge we face — a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state that is replacing the U.S.-Israel alliance as the dominant player in the Middle East. No matter how hard the Gray Lady tries, one is hard pressed to find a coherent, effective, and principled foreign policy coming out of this administration.