Yet again, J. over at the Armchair Generalist beat me to a post I wanted to write about the discussion in the last presidential debate about what an Obama or McCain Doctrine might look like. I won’t retread old ground but thought that these two pieces (written in the last week of September) complement the candidates’ answers quite well.
The Stratfor article puts the Democratic view of foreign policy into a broader historical context by saying:
Thus, the main thrust of the Democratic tradition is deeply steeped in fighting wars, but approaches this task with four things in mind:
- Wars should not begin until the last possible moment and ideally should be initiated by the enemy.
- Wars must be fought in a coalition with much of the burden borne by partners.
- The outcome of wars should be an institutional legal framework to manage the peace, with the United States being the most influential force within this multilateral framework.
- Any such framework must be built on a trans-Atlantic relationship.
It’s funny but once I saw these it became clear why I had such a warm and fuzzy feeling about a potential Obama foreign policy. My personal prefereces stick very close to these. In fact, it would be nice to see principles like this formally accepted by Obama. They’re clear, easily understandable and pretty darn hard to argue with.
Now, the debate answers:
Brokaw: Sen. Obama, let me ask you if — let’s see if we can establish tonight the Obama doctrine and the McCain doctrine for the use of United States combat forces in situations where there’s a humanitarian crisis, but it does not affect our national security. Take the Congo, where 4.5 million people have died since 1998, or take Rwanda in the earlier dreadful days, or Somalia. What is the Obama doctrine for use of force that the United States would send when we don’t have national security issues at stake?
Obama: Well, we may not always have national security issues at stake, but we have moral issues at stake. If we could have intervened effectively in the Holocaust, who among us would say that we had a moral obligation not to go in? If we could’ve stopped Rwanda, surely, if we had the ability, that would be something that we would have to strongly consider and act. So when genocide is happening, when ethnic cleansing is happening somewhere around the world and we stand idly by, that diminishes us. And so I do believe that we have to consider it as part of our interests, our national interests, in intervening where possible. But understand that there’s a lot of cruelty around the world. We’re not going to be able to be everywhere all the time. That’s why it’s so important for us to be able to work in concert with our allies. Let’s take the example of Darfur just for a moment. Right now there’s a peacekeeping force that has been set up and we have African Union troops in Darfur to stop a genocide that has killed hundreds of thousands of people. We could be providing logistical support, setting up a no-fly zone at relatively little cost to us, but we can only do it if we can help mobilize the international community and lead. And that’s what I intend to do when I’m president.
You can clearly see the influence of Samantha Power who was unfortunately dropped from the campaign due to a comment made about Hillary Clinton. Still, it’s nice to see the ideas remain behind and there’s hope she’ll return after November 4th. Too often intervention is seen as an either/or proposition. Send in the Marines and take the place over or ignore it and hope it all works out in the end. This position is more nuanced and allows for a broad spectrum of alternatives based on capability and political will.
Ideally, some sort of inclusion of the possiblity of military action in cases of ‘moral’ necessity in the guiding principles would be great so that we don’t just blunder around picking and choosing what we do randomly but I’m sure any attmepts to do so would be much more controversial.
Regarding war in general (from the Stratfor article):
Responding to attack rather than pre-emptive attack, coalition warfare and multinational postwar solutions are central to Obama’s policy in the Islamic world. He therefore straddles the divide within the Democratic Party. He opposes the war in Iraq as pre-emptive, unilateral and outside the bounds of international organizations while endorsing the Afghan war and promising to expand it.
This view on multilateralism and NATO is summed up in a critical statement by Obama in a position paper:
“Today it’s become fashionable to disparage the United Nations, the World Bank, and other international organizations. In fact, reform of these bodies is urgently needed if they are to keep pace with the fast-moving threats we face. Such real reform will not come, however, by dismissing the value of these institutions, or by bullying other countries to ratify changes we have drafted in isolation. Real reform will come because we convince others that they too have a stake in change — that such reforms will make their world, and not just ours, more secure.
The article goes on to say that getting Europe to engage and pony up would be Obama’s first, and most critical, challenge. While the Europeans can be a bit recalcitrant I think they ultimately want, and will more willingly follow, a strong, rational U.S. foreign policy. In fact, I think Europeans will be pretty desperate for it.