Lowdown on Obama Doctrine

The US Presidents have been famous for their “signature” statements. President James Monroe, in fact, was the first one to have come up with his famous “Monroe doctrine”, which was followed by explicit or implicit doctrines by the former US Presidents, i.e. Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, and George W. Bush. The previous doctrines except Monroe had almost focussed on anti-Communism and were Cold War by-products. But the Obama doctrine is post-9/11 and post-Bush (Jr.), which seeks to re-establish American lost exceptionalism in the wake of other emerging powers, i.e. China as American power is on decline. Ronald Reagan, in his anti-Communism drive, had focussed on advancing “peace through strength”. Bill Clinton once remarked that military operations, such as his humanitarian intervention in the former Yugoslavia, were right “where [the US] values and [its] interests are at stake and where [the US could] make a difference.” But critics and even some supporters of President Obama are of the view that he literally has no foreign policy doctrine or grand strategy at all. Some say it is soft power. Others say it is a directed economy of force. Still others say it is pragmatism—doing whatever works. President Obama does have his doctrine though not famous and that is to make American nation different than that of Bush’s (Jr.), who relied on hard power.

President Obama remained cautious of the very fact that America alone cannot make the difference in the world and that’s why he mostly kept final decision on any important foreign policy issue with him, which made the decision making process highly centralized and resultantly decisive foreign policy decisions were often delayed or avoided, precisely in order to minimize domestic political risk. The one of the major factors behind this may be Obama’s reliance on domestic issues that sought his attention ranging from health care to fixing the dwindling economy due to America’s long engagement in war on terror. But the critiques of Obama often say that US power has been on relative decline unlike in the past although America saw dangerous times, i.e. during the Revolution, the Civil War, two World Wars and Cold War but each time, it emerged stronger. But post-9/11 has really put American “exceptionalism” in question.

Again, if ome closely monitors the Obama doctrine, it can be termed as a two-pronged strategy, i.e. engagement and capabilities and he often talked about this in various interviews and public appearances. By engagement, Obama’s foreign policy meant diplomacy and by capabilities, he probably meant military superiority and that too with the support of its partners. Therefore, it may be termed that he somehow followed old dictum of “carrot and stick policy”, which went abundantly wrong culminating in decline of the US as a sole decisive power on the earth, especially in the wake of China and resurgent Russia. The traditional European partners of the US are getting frustrated due to US not doing enough on Ukraine issue. In the Pacific region, Japan and South Korea are wondering what the US retreat in the Middle East means for them as they face a rising China. Donald Trump, a Republican runner for next US elections, has started his campaign with a tag line, i.e. “making America great again”, which means the US power in the world has relatively gone down.

Moreover, Obama doctrine stressed on giving a greater role of international organizations while reducing the capacity of the US armed forces, which somehow diminished US’s long-held policy of “exceptionalism.” Throughout his tenure, Obama has laid out in public statements the tenets of a doctrine that portrays America simply as one nation among many, with no singular claim either to responsibility or exceptionalism. This policy of President Obama is seen a departure from Ronald Reagan’s belief that peace may only be achieved through strength and the US leadership around the world. But the fact remains that as with any country of that size and importance, there will always be some difficulties in managing the US foreign policy around the world un-challenged. Gone are the days when America was, for decades, a dominant political and economic power but still it enjoys superiority in military power with sophisticated hardware at its disposal. But again, the US cannot be dominant at the same time with China and Russia competing for it.

According to David Kaiser, who wrote in Times on April 8, 2015, “the Obama doctrine seems to represent an explicit, although vaguely stated, return to a policy of containment and deterrence, in the tradition of Kennedy and Nixon. It repudiates not only preventive war, but also the fantasy that economic sanctions can bring down or fundamentally alter hostile regimes.” Iran deal and America talking to Cuba reflect this approach. The US overall seems on retreat and only the time will tell how international order shapes up minus US exceptionalism.

Carried by: Pakistan Observer (October 19, 2015)

Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.


About the Author

Khalid Hussain Chandio has been working as Research Fellow at Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI). Previously, he had joined IPRI as Assistant Research Officer (ARO) in October 2007. He was then promoted as Research Officer (RO) in February 2013. Before joining IPRI, he worked in different capacities i.e., Media Analyst and Junior Analyst in the Ministry of Defence (MoD), Pakistan, which gave him greater insight in the research and analysis fields. His areas of research include the United States of America (USA) [Its Foreign and Defence Policy, Pak-US Relations, Role of Lobbies in the USA, and Domestic Politics in the USA]. Khalid regularly contributes articles on current strategic issues in English Dailies of Pakistan. He holds M.Phil in International Relations (IR) from School of Politics and International Relations (SPIR), Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU), Islamabad, Pakistan and M.Sc in Defence and Strategic Studies (DSS) from the same university.

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