The George W. Bush foreign policy doctrine was predicated on three principles outlined in a host of speeches from 2002 to 2008.
These included: challenging radical Islamist havens abroad (what Vice President Cheney called “draining the swamp”); building democratic institutions as a moderating influence in tyrannical states that harbor radical Islamic factions; and preemption (attacking those intent on doing harm to us before that harm is inflicted).
Whether one agrees with these principles or not, they were the guiding light for the president’s foreign policy. What is most notable, however, is the dramatic shift from the Bush to the Obama Doctrine.
If Bush placed an unyielding faith in democracy as a source of conversion, Obama relies instead on transnational associations, what some have described as the end of national sovereignty.
As I see it, the Obama Doctrine has four central themes each in its way related to diminished national sovereignty.
The first is a reliance on multilateral organizations such as the United Nations. Elevating the U.N. ambassador’s role to a cabinet position was a tell-tale sign.
Most significantly, channeling U.S. goals through the Security Council, notwithstanding the veto of any one nation, has been a central focus of this administration. This is the case in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, as well as the attempt to prevent the nuclear ambition of Iran.
Second the Human Rights Commission. Despite the fact the commission is populated by the most egregious abusers of human rights, the Obama administration reversed the decision of previous presidents and joined this organization, claiming it was in the national interest to monitor cases the commission is considering.
Third, the Obama team believes it must apologize for America’s previous foreign policy decisions. From Berlin to Cairo, President Obama has made it clear a new dawn is rising in which the mistakes of the past will be redressed.
Instead of an unequivocal defense of the national interest, the administration offers mea culpas. The assertion of American power and its stabilizing influence has been subordinated to multilateral understanding and the appeasement of self declared enemies.
Fourth, the government’s suit against Arizona legislation which calls for the enforcement of the law against illegal aliens is a demonstration of the belief that borders do not matter and sovereignty is in the eye of the beholder.
If a state is unable to secure its border against illegal entrants because of a federal lawsuit, the message is unalloyed: this administration will not support state efforts to defend its borders.
The impetus for these positions is the belief that globalization, i.e., a reliance on multilateral arrangements, will provide greater security for the U.S. than the unilateral assertion of American will. That there isn’t a shred of evidence to support the theory is irrelevant since true believers on the Obama team are pursuing this agenda relentlessly.
For those of us who believe only American influence can serve as a stabilizing international force, these are tenebrific days. The sovereignty Americans fought and died for is now held hostage to the Obama Doctrine.
Of course, supporters of this doctrine will argue America does not have the resources to be “the world’s policeman.” Alas, it is not the lack of resources, but the lack of will that ultimately determines policy directions. We cannot do everything, but we can surely do something.
The ultimate foundation of a free society is a binding cohesive sentiment. But the difference between the Bush Doctrine and the Obama Doctrine suggests a people divided and a foreign policy in disarray. Ortega y Gasset once noted, “To create a concept is to leave reality behind.”
As I see it, our foreign policymakers need a dose of reality and the suppression of theory. Doctrines should be based on something more than what you would like to see happen. That may be the most important lesson of this moment.
Herbert London is president of the Hudson Institute and the author of the book "Decline and Revival in Higher Education" (Transaction).
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