What the Syria Crisis Tells Us About the Obama Doctrine, or Lack Thereof

Obama's foreign policy is disengaged, interventionist, and aimless at the same time

already forgotten?White House Obama’s foreign policy may seem less aggressive than George W. Bush’s, but in practice it is just as destructive. For more than two years, Senator John McCain has been pressing for robust military intervention in Syria. Though Obama has avoided getting the U.S. as involved as McCain wants, what passes for Obama’s policy toward Syria—calling for Assad to go in 2011, setting and resetting red lines, insisting on supporting and arming the rebels—has the same effect as rushing in head first.

Bush took America into two wars, costing billions of dollars and thousands of lives, with few gains. Today, Iraq is free of Saddam Hussein, but has drifted squarely into Iran’s geopolitical orbit. Al Qaeda is nearly non-existent in Afghanistan, but the Taliban is almost as strong as in 2001 and is positioned to take over after the U.S. has left. Obama has avoided any new land wars, although he attempted to postpone the end of the Iraq War and adopted the Bush Administration’s “surge” tactic in Afghanistan.

A Reason-Rupe poll published last week found Americans have evenly split opinions on Barack Obama and George W. Bush’s foreign policies. Thirty-two percent considered Obama’s foreign policy better than Bush’s, 32 percent considered Obama’s foreign policy worse than Bush’s and 32 percent said they were about the same.

While pressing for military intervention earlier this month, Obama claimed that alleged chemical weapons use by Syria's Assad regime represented a violation of international law that would put U.S. troops at risk in the future. Not only do the relevant international treaties and covenants governing chemical weapons not cover the kind of use that occurred in Syria, the U.S. itself often acts in contravention to such international legal standards.

Seeking at least the perception of international approval for U.S. action is nothing new. President Bush justified the Iraq invasion by pointing to U.N. Security Council resolutions that demanded Saddam Hussein relinquish his weapons of mass destruction. It turns out that Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction, but feared Iraq’s neighbors learning he didn’t. He simply didn’t believe the U.S. would invade Iraq over the matter.

George W. Bush argued against an interventionist foreign policy in the 2000 elections. After the September 11 attacks, his administration took a decidedly and openly aggressive posture toward any country it believed could threaten U.S. national security by providing weaponry or otherwise supporting terrorist groups intent on attacking the U.S. In hindsight, it should not have been difficult for Hussein to predict that his intransigence toward U.N. inspectors would lead to a U.S. invasion.

Bush’s foreign policy, at least, had an ethos. “You’re with us or against us” may be a horrifyingly simplistic principle around which to build foreign policy, but at least it is a principle other foreign policy actors can try to build an understanding on.

Less than a year after the U.S. invaded Iraq over alleged weapons of mass destruction, Libya’s Colonel Ghadafi agreed to relinquish his. Ghadafi was able to look at the Bush Administration’s words and actions and make a calculated decision on what he should do next. In the end, of course, Ghadafi’s WMD gesture and attempt to reintegrate Libya with the rest of the world wasn’t enough to prevent him from being a target of regime change.

The 2011 Western intervention in Libya wasn’t driven by the U.S., but by its European allies, primarily France, whose president at the time, Nicolas Sarkozy, had a long, complicated relationship with Ghadafi. President Obama didn’t go to Congress to authorize U.S. action in Libya nor did he seek its approval or support after the fact. The president also did not articulate the U.S. national security interests in a Libyan intervention. The Europeans believed Ghadafi was going to commit mass slaughter in Benghazi so they pressed the U.S. to help them help Libyan rebel forces. Two years later, the situation is very different.

In Syria’s civil war, the casualties may have already surpassed 100,000 dead. The conflict has created two million refugees. Although where Libya had no powerful allies, Syria has Russia (and Iran) in its corner.

Yet on Obama’s rhetoric alone, it would be hard to tell the difference between Libya and Syria, or even Egypt. In each case, in the wake of mass protests Obama called for the country’s ruler to go. As described in Vali Nasr’s Dispensable Nation, Obama’s decision to call for Egypt’s Mubarak to step down was informed, not by a reading of the situation on the ground, but by a desire to attach himself to an historic moment. Nasr, in fact, writes that almost every foreign policy decision made by President Obama has been dominated by domestic political considerations.

In the run up to intervention in Syria, Obama and members of his cabinet actually pointed to Iran, an ally of Syria’s, as a reason to act. In their minds, allowing Syria to possess chemical weapons would send a message to Iran that its nuclear program would be tolerated as well. That argument completely ignored that Iran has a new president who appears at least to be paying lip service to the idea of peacefully resolving the dispute over the country’s nuclear program. A spokesperson for the State Department responded by essentially ignoring the gesture of the new Iranian president and declaring that “the ball is in their court” in terms of the nuclear issue. Iran has to resolve the West’s concerns about its nuclear program before the U.S. will be a “willing partner.”

The Obama Administration appeared intent on military intervention is Syria. When John Kerry proposed that Syria surrender its chemical weapons in order to avoid U.S. military action, it was an off-hand comment at a press conference meant rhetorically. The State Department tried to walk back the Secretary of State’s comments, but it was too late. Russia jumped on the opportunity presented to avoid its ally being bombed by the U.S. (a situation which would put Russia in a position of having to consider whether to retaliate and how). Now, Joe Biden is in Iowa campaigning for 2016 by pointing out how Obama was able to avoid a military intervention he himself got the ball rolling on. But, the fact that a diplomatic solution arose from an unscripted remark by Kerry indicates the Obama Administration wasn’t serious about trying the diplomatic route before.

As he was finally stepping back from the precipice of war, President Obama even repudiated his own red line. The world set it, he said, not him, even as world opinion was largely against U.S. intervention in Syria. Obama’s foreign policy again appeared to be driven not by objectives set by the president, but those set by others. France wanted to bomb Syria, or wanted the U.S. to bomb Syria. Saudi Arabia, a regional opponent of Iran’s, wanted the U.S. to bomb Syria, an ally of Iran’s. Israel, a threatened neighbor, wanted the U.S. to bomb Syria. What President Obama wanted remains unclear. As he meanders away from the Syria conflict, Obama’s foreign policy appears as interventionist and aimless as ever, managing at the same time to avoid engagement with other countries in the region while meddling in their affairs with no apparent purpose.

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  • radar||

    It seems less aggressive? Why, because he hasn't actually invaded anywhere new yet? Give him a 9/11 to work with, like Bush had, and I guaran-damn-tee you that changes.

  • Tman||

    Kasparov-"If you change your strategy frequently you don't really have one."

    Say what you want about Bush, he had a strategy. You cannot say the same for President Not My Fault.

  • playa manhattan||

    It's 3D chess, far too complex for you and I to understand.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Obama's game isn't bound by your pathetic Euclidean geometries. He is the master of 11th-dimensional chess, moving pieces and making gambits in planes of reality (and beyond) that your feeble mind could barely contemplate.

    Everything that has come to pass since 2006 has done so according to Obama's intricate and brilliant plan. Except for the bad parts, which are the Republicans' fault.

    It must be true, because Andrew Sullivan told me so.

  • Pro Libertate||

    This reads quite similarly to the Photojournalist's description of the thinking of Col. Kurtz.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Kasparov never changed his strategy mid-game?

  • Libertymike||

    So, are you asserting that Obama is a grand master?

  • d_remington||

    Are you asserting that Bush is one?

  • ||

    Next to Obama, Bush was far more clear minded. At least the world knew where the Americans stood. As my friend said at the time, "sometimes you need a leader who has a twitchy finger. You think some of those loser countries aren't scared a tad?" And he's liberal!

    Not only that, an America bent on revenge and prevention was getting cooperation from everyone.

    In the end, when the biggest kid on the block is hurt, you're gonna hurt too if you don't listen.

  • ||

    Can you read?

  • ||

    What the Syria Crisis Tells Us About the Obama Doctrine...

    Obama Doctrine = Bush Doctrine

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    The Bush Doctrine was to spread democracy by war or any means necessary including expensive nation building.

    The Obama Doctrine - kill the fucking tyrant for as little cost possible.

  • Tman||

    What Tyrant has Obama killed?

    Fuck you are stupid.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Qaddafi, OBL, others.

    Dumbass.

    If you're going to blame Obama for a "war" on Libya you are damn sure going to give him credit for the kill.

  • Tman||

    Obama didn't "kill" Qadaffi, the Libyans did. And Osama wasn't running a country he was hiding in a closet in Pakistan, not a tyrant.

    I'm not blaming Obama for a war in Libya, as all we did was lob a few rockets at some SAM sights. He won't even do that in Syria.

    The object of your sexual gratification is being exposed as a completely incapable buffoon who has no coherent strategy other than blaming Republicans for all of his problems (and christ the dude couldn't even wait for more than an hour to bitch about them during a manhunt lock down).

    Kerry just inadvertently saved Obamas ass by being a condescending dick to a reporter who asked him how they could be convinced not to invade. Kerry answered rhetorically because he's an idiot too, and lucky for Obama Assad and Putin took him seriously. That means Obama can go hit the links and ignore the complete shitstorm that was entirely of his own making for a few days until Assad gasses his people again.

    It would be funnier if it wasn't fucking up our entire country.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Obama didn't "kill" Qadaffi, the Libyans did.

    Even better. Anyone who ever ran a successful project knows you want the plebes to buy in to insure the desired outcome.

    And Osama wasn't running a country he was hiding in a closet in Pakistan, not a tyrant.

    Bush had the US military and Special Ops chasing Osama through Afghanistan. Obama got him for a few million dollars in Pakistan - where Bush said he could not go.

    A foreign policy where you cram all situations into a one-size-fits-all approach is the dumbest one possible.

    The "Cowboy" foreign policy was the one to dump like a venereal disease.

  • Tman||

    you want the plebes to buy in to insure the desired outcome.

    U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens probably would argue that the desired outcome was unfavorable if Shrillary and Obama hadn't left him to twist in the wind. Are you seriously arguing the situation in Libya was a "desired outcome"? You are even dumber than I thought.

    Bush had the US military and Special Ops chasing Osama through Afghanistan. Obama got him for a few million dollars in Pakistan - where Bush said he could not go

    I seriously cannot believe you are using the Osama mission to argue for a coherent foreign policy. Yes, invade a nuclear armed Muslim nation in order to get one fucking guy who was hiding in a closet. Jesus fucking christ you just get even dumber as you keep talking.

    A foreign policy where you cram all situations into a one-size-fits-all approach is the dumbest one possible.

    Obama has no "foreign policy". Period. He has nothing, no strategy, no plan, not a single coherent vision of what he's trying to accomplish. And you've just made that point even clearer.

    The "Cowboy" foreign policy was the one to dump like a venereal disease.

    I suppose setting red lines and then lying about it once they are crossed is a more coherent policy?

    Don't answer. Seriously, I don't know why I even bothered. I forgot how much you annoy me.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Indeed. This video contains more intellectual merit in 21 seconds than every single utterance spoken during that miserable troll's life.

  • Libertymike||

    We, including you, me and shriek, do not have any hard, incontrovertible evidence that OBL was murdered by the empire's shock and awe parasites.

    Thus, any "reporter" or "newspaperman" or "correspondent" should never fail to point out that, notwithstanding the asseverations of the affirmative action president and his minions, there has never been any proof adduced that OBL was, indeed, murdered by the US government on May 1, 2011.

  • ||

    It's unfortunate Obama happened to be in power when Osama was caught. It's the Bush administration that did all the leg work. Obama sorta walked into a good situation. I doubt he came in with a 'ok, guys this is how we're gonna get that cocksucker.'

    I love how all these dickwads spent their energies bitching about war under Bush but the second they whack a guy they suddenly take credit.

    That's a rat in my book.

  • JWatts||

    Even better. Anyone who ever ran a successful project knows you want the plebes to buy in to insure the desired outcome.

    Typical Liberal attitude. Could you be any more condescending?

    Obama got him for a few million dollars in Pakistan - where Bush said he could not go.

    Do you really think anyone here is stupid enough to buy into such blatant historical revisionism? Particularly with events that happened in the last 10 years?

    For the record:
    The US and Pakistan struck a secret deal almost a decade ago permitting a US operation against Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil similar to last week's raid that killed the al-Qaida leader, the Guardian has learned.

    The deal was struck between the military leader General Pervez Musharraf and President George Bush after Bin Laden escaped US forces in the mountains of Tora Bora in late 2001, according to serving and retired Pakistani and US officials.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    That "secret deal" required telling the Pakistani's when we were sending it Special Ops.

  • Cytotoxic||

    Explicitly. Implicitly, I doubt it.

  • JWatts||

    Palin's ButtWorshipper - That "secret deal" required telling the Pakistani's when we were sending it Special Ops.

    So did Obama tell the Pakistani's or did he break an international agreement with an Ally?

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Broke agreement.

  • ||

    JWatts, I've had disphit hipster progs without credit or any experience except on how to complain lecture me about how to run a business.

  • PapayaSF||

    Libya is a "success"? Have you read anything about it recently? I don't think so....

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Anyone who ever ran a successful project knows you want the plebes to buy in to insure the desired outcome.

    The Saudis and al Qaeda sure did get Obama to buy into overthrowing Qaddafi.

  • ||

    Yeah I noticed that too. He simply can't resist taking shots at them even in tragedy.

  • Cytotoxic||

    And make sure there is absolutely no US interests at stake. The intervention must make no sense in terms of US foreign policy.

  • PapayaSF||

    Indeed, this has been the official Democratic Party intervention policy since the 1990s.

  • OneOut||

    Kill the tyrant and let the Muslim Brotherhood and all it's Islamist jihadist friends fill the vacuum.

    Yeah, that's real not very smart.

  • OneOut||

    Kill the tyrant and then let the Muslim Brotherhood and their Islamist friends of other names move in and enforce sharia.

    That's real not very smart.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Iraq part II then.

  • PapayaSF||

    Right now, I'd say Iraq is in better shape than Libya or Egypt.

  • JWatts||

    Iraq part II then.

    So, why again are you praising Obama and damning Bush?

    I could understand praising both (if you are an interventionist) or damning both (if you are an isolationist), but your comments just look like blatant partisanship.

  • ||

    The Bush Doctrine was to spread democracy by war or any means necessary including expensive nation building.

    The Bush Doctrine was to engage the US military in regime change in a foreign land under the pretense that there was some vague, future badness that could come about if we didn't. Which is exactly how Obama explained his late preoccupation with Syria.

    This is, of course, while he keeps our troops engaged in the previous "democracy spreading", "nation building" opportunities.

    I'll believe the Obama Doctrine != Bush Doctrine when the differences go beyond quibbling.

  • Mongo||

    I would also expect a Libertarian President to call for changes in regimes; to threaten; to bluff; etc.

    Think poker.

  • Hugh Akston||

    I would hope a libertarian president would realize that peoples' lives are not chips to be gambled with or bad hands to be discarded.

  • Cytotoxic||

    Threatening/bluffing could be useful to saving those lives. Situation dependent.

  • Mongo||

    No harm, no foul.

    If the cajoling doesn't work, just say "Eh, I tried" and move on.

  • Libertymike||

    Better that the libertarian president go about the business of changing the regime at home.

  • PapayaSF||

    Sorry, looking like a foolish loudmouth and an untrustworthy paper tiger counts as "harm."

  • Mongo||

    This Syrian thing is hardly a 'crisis'. As things stand, nobody's gonna give a shit 5 years from now.

  • Loki||

    What President Obama wanted remains unclear.

    He probably wanted 2 things:

    1) To create a distraction for the rubes to take their attention off of the NSA, IRS, and all the other scandals.

    2) To massage his enormous ego after his "red line" bullshit was ignored.

  • Dave Krueger||

    The problem with Obama's policy toward Syria is that we probably won't know what it is (or has been) until someone leaks it. They know they can get away with a lot more if they just don't tell anyone about it. And, even after their abuses are exposed, the American attention span is only a few weeks, so it's not like they're risking much.

  • ||

    I thought Assad KO'd Obama on 60 Minutes (despite their attempts to lead us to think he was 'coy' as if he was insane). He said he was fighting terrorism in his country just like the Americans did after 9/11.

    His 'fuck you' moment.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Obama Doctrine? There's no fucking doctrine to his madness.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Right on. The ZERO ground wars he has started is STARK RAVING MADNESS!

  • Cytotoxic||

    So you compulsively suck Obama's cock because he's managed not to get into a ground war (yet)? Wow what a high bar to pass.

  • Sevo||

    Palin's Buttplug| 9.17.13 @ 6:43PM |#
    "Right on. The ZERO ground wars he has started is STARK RAVING MADNESS!"

    "Ground" wars; damn cherries are hard to pick!
    Oh, and you can thank Putin for saving O's ass on that.

  • Tman||

    PEACE IN OUR TIME!!!!

  • Hopfiend||

    Syria isn't over yet. Give the man time. Pretexts don't find themselves.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    Hey, remember when Obama sent 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, more than doubling casualties, with pretty much nothing to show for it?

    It's like the Afghanistan surge never happened. I wonder how many Americans realize that over 1500 of our soldiers have died in Afghanistan since Obama took over?

    Obama’s foreign policy may seem less aggressive than George W. Bush

    Bush was just better at getting his way.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    I remember the Obama Afghan surge. He campaigned on it in 2008.

  • Sevo||

    Palin's Buttplug| 9.17.13 @ 6:44PM |#
    "I remember the Obama Afghan surge. He campaigned on it in 2008."

    No, shit-pile, he campaigned on 'peace'; that peace we don't have courtesy of that lying asshole.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Liar.

  • ||

    Ti-meh!

  • Sevo||

    Palin's Buttplug| 9.17.13 @ 7:56PM |#
    "Liar."
    --------------
    "Obama’s 2008 Broken Campaign Promises"
    "Promise: Barack Obama promised to end the US occupation of Iraq and get US troops out by the time he became president.

    What actually happened: Barack Obama left behind 18,000 State Department personnel to run the garrison fortress in Baghdad (officially an ‘embassy’), America’s largest in the world, along with thousands of armed private contractors who protect US corporate interests in the country. US Special Forces continue to be deployed to Iraq to ensure the puppet regime’s full compliance."
    http://beforeitsnews.com/obama.....45648.html
    Go fuck your daddy, shitpile

  • Brandon||

    He actually did talk about a surge in 2008. Not that that made it a good idea, but shrike is not actually lying here.

  • Sevo||

    I don't doubt he 'talked about a surge' since he 'talked about' every damn thing that might have gotten him a vote.
    But the primary pitch was to 'end Bush's war', and instead, we've still got it in everything but name.

  • Hopfiend||

    Struck. A. Nerve.

  • OneOut||

    "When John Kerry proposed that Syria surrender its chemical weapons in order to avoid U.S. military action, it was an off-hand comment at a press conference meant rhetorically."

    Not true.

    The idea had been floated backdoor by the Russians for several weeks. Kerry wasn't being rhetorical, he was trying to get out in front of the proposal and then take credit if it came to fruit.

  • Fatty Bolger||

  • ||

    Which wouldn't surprise me one bit.

  • ||

    Obama reminds me of Zapp Brannigan.

  • PapayaSF||

    Sort of a cross between Zapp Brannigan and a snarky black metrosexual hipster who you suspect is secretly gay.

  • Duelles||

    The Obama doctrine is nada. It is CYA all the way. He is a not to be trusted as a human being or President or negotiator with terrorist nations or dictators. Which means he can not talk with himself. Oofah!!!

  • juliajuli1||

    my classmate's half-sister makes $72 every hour on the internet. She has been without a job for eight months but last month her payment was $16159 just working on the internet for a few hours.Here's the site to read more......

    -------------------
    http://www.Rush60.com

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