In his 2006 memoir, The Audacity of Hope, President Obama wrote about how America would regain its respect from the world.
“Without a well-articulated strategy that the public supports and the world understands, America will lack the legitimacy and ultimately the power it needs to make the world safer than it is today,” Obama wrote. And yet for all that has been written about the so-called Obama Doctrine, it has never been articulated and clearly not understood, or at least respected, by other nations.
In fact, it has morphed. It began as something Obama labeled “dignity promotion,” then proceeded to “liberal interventionism, then “leading from behind,” then “security by drone,” to “singles and doubles,“ to “don’t do stupid shit,” and most recently, “strategic patience.”
The most famous, or infamous, of these was best described by Ryan Lizza in 2011:
Obama may be moving toward something resembling a doctrine. One of his advisers described the President’s actions in Libya as “leading from behind.” That’s not a slogan designed for signs at the 2012 Democratic Convention, but it does accurately describe the balance that Obama now seems to be finding. It’s a different definition of leadership than America is known for, and it comes from two unspoken beliefs: that the relative power of the U.S. is declining, as rivals like China rise, and that the U.S. is reviled in many parts of the world. Pursuing our interests and spreading our ideals thus requires stealth and modesty as well as military strength.
Never mind that this ahistorical perspective is a complete non sequitur, for it makes us neither more effective, nor less hated, to “lead from behind,” if judged by its results it’s been nothing short of a disaster. He surged into Afghanistan and then speedily withdrew troops. Unsurprisingly, it remains a hotbed of terrorism. He notified Congress of his intent to deploy troops “equipped for combat” to Libya, then backed off and asked Congress for approval, before ultimately doing nothing. It remains a harbor for jihadists that are destabilizing northern Africa. He drew “red line” in Syria then subsequently re-drew, then erased the line. As a result Bashar Al-Assad not only remains in power, but actually exists as a bulwark against ISIS. And then there is ISIS, a terrorist group unlike anything the world has ever seen, whose ambitions and reach have created a global threat.
Our problems aren’t limited to the Middle East. North Korea continues its aggressive stance. Russia is testing the mettle of other nations by purposefully threatening the autonomy of its neighbors, and China isn’t just building Pacific hegemony, they’re actually building islands.
Fortunately, House Republicans, led by Speaker Paul Ryan, have stepped into the void to identify the problems with the U.S.’s current disjointed foreign policy and offer up some proactive ideas in the newest plank in the “A Better Way” agenda.
“America’s foreign policy is failing at nearly every turn,” the document begins. “After eight years of broken promises, concessions, and retreat by the Obama administration, America’s adversaries sense weakness and are pressing their advantage around the globe.” It continues, “Predictably, the absence of U.S. leadership has created voids filled by terrorists and rogue regimes, leading to a humanitarian catastrophe in Syria that is causing the worst refugee crisis since World War II. We believe these collective failures can be encapsulated in one simple statement: Our enemies no longer fear us and our allies no longer trust us.”
Among the forward-thinking proposals advanced by Republicans:
- Prioritizing and invest in the cyber battlefield, both to protect our critical infrastructure systems and to respond as needed
- Fighting terrorist groups, like ISIS, by cutting off their financial and human capital flows and rebuilding our international coalitions, especially with non-traditional allies like the Philippines and Tunisia
- Focus on spreading economic freedom in order to create stable societies, both by making foreign investment and pursuing policy reforms
- Reforming the defense acquisition process in order to get more military advantage for every tax dollar, while also clearing away the national security bureaucracy that slows decision making and reduces accountability
- Investing in health care and benefits for soldiers, especially to ensure a seamless transition from military service to civilian life
Taken together the document presents the foundation of a “well-articulated strategy,” the very thing Sen. Obama knew we needed, but the thing that President Obama could never deliver.