The Obama Doctrine

EVERY AMERICAN president since Harry Truman has formulated a crucial aspect of foreign policy that later takes his name.

The “Truman Doctrine,” framed in the aftermath of World War II and in direct response to the Soviet Union’s expansion into Eastern Europe, mandated that the United States provide support for anti-communist forces fighting Soviet proxies in Greece and Turkey.

In his inaugural address, on Jan. 20, 1961, President John F. Kennedy famously declared that the United States would “pay any price, bear any burden ….. in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty,” a doctrine that led to the establishment of the Alliance for Progress initiative aimed at retarding the spread of communism in Latin America.

Confronted by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Jimmy Carter proclaimed his doctrine in the 1980 State of the Union address: “An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region ….. will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”

And President George W. Bush’s doctrine – the use of unilateral military force against terrorist-sponsoring states and the global development of democracy – rivals President Kennedy’s as the most ambitious of all presidential doctrines, and is certainly the most disputed.

Judging from his statements thus far, it appears that Illinois Democratic senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama – though many steps away from becoming leader of the Free World – has presciently formulated his own doctrine: The United States will remain impassive in the face of genocide.

In a July 21 interview entitled, “Obama: Don’t Stay in Iraq over Genocide,” the Associated Press reported Obama’s belief that “the United States cannot use its military to solve humanitarian problems and that preventing a potential genocide in Iraq isn’t a good enough reason to keep U.S. forces there.”

Pressed about the contention – widely shared by people knowledgeable about the situation in Iraq – that a rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops early next year could lead to genocide, Obama responded, “Well, look, if that’s the criteria by which we are making decisions on the deployment of U.S. forces, then by that argument you would have 300,000 troops in the Congo right now – where millions have been slaughtered as a consequence of ethnic strife – which we haven’t done.”

This response is faulty for two reasons. The first is that the United States’s non-intervention in Congo (or Zimbabwe, or China or other lands ruled by despots immiserating their people) has no bearing whatsoever on the merits of intervening anywhere else. Just because the United States decides not to intervene in Congo does not mean we shouldn’t intervene in the Sudan. But Obama accepts this casuistry and believes that we shouldn’t intervene anywhere. The only conclusion to draw from Obama’s deceptive framing of this “criterion” – “preventing potential genocide” – is that he believes, as a foundation of his foreign policy, that the United States should never intervene to prevent genocide.

Obama’s second, and more obvious, logical mistake is to equate the potentially genocidal consequences of American withdrawal from Iraq – a nation we invaded four years ago and whose people we owe much – with the strife in the Congo, whose civil war is something for which the United States is not responsible. America has been involved, militarily, with Iraq for well over 15 years. We have long played a role in the state of affairs leading to its current predicament and we must do something to alleviate it.

Like every other presidential candidate save Joseph Biden, Obama also believes that the United States should not use military force to stop the genocide in Darfur, which has already claimed over 200,000 lives. “We would be deploying unilaterally and occupying the Sudan, which we haven’t done,” he said, in further explanation of his doctrine. “Those of us who care about Darfur don’t think it would be a good idea.”

But “occupying the Sudan” is not what’s needed to stop the genocide. A few thousand Marines to protect the Darfur region would suffice. And Obama’s presumptuous claim to speak on behalf of “those of us who care about Darfur” ignores many people who have long been calling for unilateral U.S. military intervention, Senator Biden chief among them.

Obama has premised his campaign on “hope” and the promise to restore America’s image in the world. It is for this reason that he has been able to attract so many idealistic young people to his campaign, and not for nothing are the comparisons to John F. Kennedy now being trotted out. But if the principles of the embryonic Obama Doctrine articulated thus far are any indication, the junior senator from Illinois is much farther from Camelot than he or any of his wild-eyed supporters imagine.