Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Obama Doctrine

Even as today's news of the demise of Muammar Gaddafi inspires admiration for the courage and sacrifice of the Libyan people, it is not inappropriate to ask what lessons it holds for U.S. foreign policy. The contrast between U.S. actions in Iraq and Libya is quite stark. In both cases similar outcomes resulted, despite immeasurably greater losses of blood and treasure in Iraq. Perhaps now the theories of neoconservatism, that "unchallenged" U.S. power can remake the world according to America's preferences, may finally be put to rest. In its place Libya has given us an Obama Doctrine, the tenets of which may be listed as follows:

1.  U.S power may be applied in foreign nations to assist trends that serve American interests and embody American values, only when those trends originate and have a substantial and organic basis of support in the nation where the operation will take place.

 2. U.S. power should ideally be applied only when it is most urgently needed, to avert a major crisis or catastrophe.

3. U.S. power should be applied with the lightest possible footprint.

4. U.S. power should never be applied unilaterally, but in concert with the broadest and most capable coalition of allies possible.

The U.S. could do far worse than to embrace this Obama Doctrine moving forward. If it had been followed in places like Rwanda and Darfur, events might have transpired differently. In future, the more nearly U.S. foreign interventions approximate the ideals of the Obama Doctrine, the more likely outcomes will resemble those of Libya rather than Iraq.

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