Friday, September 13, 2013

The Obama Doctine

To refer to President Obama's Middle East policy as Amateur Hour is an insult to amateurs. His Syrian policy in particular has been one blunder after another but it is possible to analyze these and use them to construct an overall Obama Doctrine.

First, let's look as his actions. In Egypt he supported all sides at some point or another. The official response to the legal requirement to classify the military coup that created the most recent government is that it is not in the interests of either country to reach a conclusion. We all know that it was a coup but calling it one would require that we cut off aid pending Congressional action.

We intervened in Libya on humanitarian grounds without Congressional involvement but only after we were shamed into it by the British and French.

Syria is where the administration has shown the least competence. At different times during their civil war we have supported President Bashar al-Assad, said that he must go, implied that we would accept a partitioned Syria, and finally partnered with him on removal of his chemical weapons.

Obama clearly wanted to stay well away from the conflict. His red line was an off-handed comment that he never expected he would be called on to enforce. When pushed into it he was on the verge of ordering a cruise missile strike when he changed his mind and sent the decision to Congress to be voted on. At the same time he insisted that he didn't need Congressional approval but he wanted them to vote on a resolution anyway. Weeks later the text of that resolution has not been finalized.

Our current policy also started as an off-hand comment that bordered on being a joke. When asked if anything could stop an attack, Secretary of State Kerry suggested that Syria turn over all of its chemical weapons stores by the end of the week. He clearly meant this as something that could never happen (technically, the end of the week is here and it didn't happen). This inspired Russian head Putin to propose a weapons turnover as a serious policy.

The President should have addressed the American people prior to ordering a strike (or prior to kicking the can to Congress). Instead he waited until after it was sure to fail in both houses before giving a speech. In that speech he explained why it was urgent that we strike but then announced that we would not because of the Russian offer.

It is likely that the talks will go on for a while. There may even be a token turnover of weapons but nothing major. After sticking their necks out for him once, Congressional Democrats will be unlikely to so so a second time. The same is true for France, the only other country to support us.

It is even possible that Bashar al-Assad will continue using chemicals on a smaller scale. It came out that he had been using them for some time. The red line was only crossed when images of dead bodies began showing up on TV.

Put all of that together and you have the Obama Doctrine:

1) The United States will not intervene in the Middle East on humanitarian grounds unless other countries, preferably Great Britain and France, take the lead. We will call this "leading from behind" but it is indistinguishable from following.

2) In the absence of leadership from other countries, it is acceptable for a government to kill unlimited numbers of its citizens using conventional weapons.

3) Governments will allowed to use chemical weapons on its own people as long as it does not make the evening news. If it makes the evening news then the government will have to be punished. This punishment will consist of beginning negotiations to turn over its weapons. No other punishment will be given.

Not exactly the Monroe Doctrine but there you have it.

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