‘Twixt the Cup and the Lip

I agree with the principles that President Obama laid out in his commencement address at West Point yesterday:

This is as close as we have gotten to an Obama Doctrine, and here it is : The United States “will use military force, unilaterally if necessary, when our core interests demand it — when our people are threatened; when our livelihoods are at stake; when the security of our allies is in danger.”

But in other cases, “when issues of global concern do not pose a direct threat to the United States . . . we should not go it alone.” Instead, Obama said, “we must mobilize allies and partners to take collective action” and “broaden our tools to include diplomacy and development; sanctions and isolation; appeals to international law and — if just, necessary and effective — multilateral military action.”

I’m having a bit more difficulty in relating them to the actual actions he’s taken over the course of his presidency, cf. here:

“U.S. citizens currently in Libya should exercise extreme caution and depart immediately,” the department said in a statement.

“The problem that Libya is going through right now is a war for power,” said Rawad Radwan, a Libyan blogger who lives in the capital, Tripoli. “Everyone wants to gain power, and they all believe that whoever controls oil will rule the country.”

Earlier this month, renegade Libyan general Khalifa Hifter launched a bloody military offensive in the east to crush Islamist extremists. On May 18, the general’s allied militias attacked parliament in the capital to try to unsuccessfully force the legislature to disband.

Over the weekend, the embattled parliament approved an Islamist-backed government led by Prime Minister Ahmed Maiteeq despite boycotts from non-Islamists and Hifter’s complaints that the parliament is illegitimate.

Also, over the weekend, thousands of demonstrators gathered in cities across Libya to show support for Hifter, who later claimed the protests gave him a mandate to fight terrorism.

Broader conflict now looms as militias once united to overthrow Gadhafi are rallying behind opposing political sides. On May 20, Libya’s election commission set June 25 for a parliamentary election in hopes of dampening the unrest through a vote that would give lawmakers clear legitimacy.

and here:

(CNN) — Two Americans were injured Wednesday in Afghanistan when a U.S. Consulate vehicle was attacked while traveling through the western city of Herat, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul said.

The Americans were “lightly injured” and are being treated in a hospital in the city, the embassy said.

The U.S. government is working with Afghan authorities to investigate the attack and bring those behind it to justice, it said. No one has claimed responsibility.

Last week, four gunmen attempted to attack the Indian Consulate in Herat. Two gunmen were killed, but no one else was injured and the consulate building was not damaged.

I would think that President Obama, applying his own standards, would have refrained from attacking Libya and would have removed our troops from Afghanistan long since under the “effective” portion of the second clause of the statement of principles above. Our intervention in Libya which resulted in the ouster of Moammar Qaddafi was effective in that objective. It was also effective in plunging the country into an anarchy from which it has yet to emerge. The continuing use of our military in Afghanistan has largely just prolonged the agony.

Here’s an exercise for the interested. List the major foreign policy challenges of President Obama’s presidency, noting where force has been used or threatened and where it has not. Then relate that to his statement of principles.


The editors of the Washington Post are more critical:

In his address Wednesday to the graduating cadets at West Point
, Mr. Obama marshaled a virtual corps of straw men, dismissing those who “say that every problem has a military solution,” who “think military intervention is the only way for America to avoid looking weak,” who favor putting “American troops into the middle of [Syria’s] increasingly sectarian civil war,” who propose “invading every country that harbors terrorist networks” and who think that “working through international institutions . . . or respecting international law is a sign of weakness.”

Few, if any, of those who question the president’s record hold such views.

They continue by listing responses short of military force that could be taken in response to a number of foreign policy challenges which the president has also not done.

I won’t even bother repeating John Bolton’s reaction to the president’s speech (over at the Wall Street Journal) other than to say that he found that the president “had somehow combined the worst features of isolationism and multilateralism”.

6 comments… add one
  • CStanley

    An under appreciated concept, IMO, is that policy change requires careful consideration of the transition process. Making changes sets off a cascade of reactions, so while it’s interesting and important to debate the end policy position, you have to also figure out how to reach that end.

    For Obama, the only consideration given to the transition seems to revolve around political timetables.

  • jan

    I’m adding this NYT’s editorial — a news medium which is usually in his corner — saying this about Obama’s commencement speech: President Obama Misses a Chance on Foreign Affairs. In fact, in one place they described his comments as being “ludicrous.”

    The address did not match the hype, was largely uninspiring, lacked strategic sweep and is unlikely to quiet his detractors, on the right or the left.

  • When you’ve lost the New York Times…

  • steve

    Liba was not unilateral.


  • You’re right. Multilateral isn’t the only criterion the president laid out—effectiveness is, too. Not only was Libya not effective in achieving any legal objective it actually made things worse.

    It was instrumental in removing Qaddafi but that wasn’t a legal objective and I think it destabilized Libya in a way inconsistent with our national interests.

  • steve

    If Qaddaffi had gone on to slaughter many thousands, would that have also destabilized Libya? Remember, that was the fear at the time. Egypt and Tunisia were seen as fragile and dumping refugees there was seen as potentially destabilizing the whole region. I dont think you can assume that non-intervention would have left everything peachy.


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