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The Obama Doctrine

Can you lead without being a jerk? Can you advance your nation's interests without being a bully? Can you strengthen your hand by reaching out to your enemies? Can you claim success without a trophy? Can your actions speak louder than your words?

Asked to describe the "Obama Doctrine" at a news conference yesterday at the end of the summit of the hemisphere's leaders in Trinidad and Tobago, President Obama responded with a fascinating disquisition, well worth close examination.

"[T]here are a couple of principles that I've tried to apply across the board," he said. "Number one, that the United States remains the most powerful, wealthiest nation on Earth, but we're only one nation, and that the problems that we confront, whether it's drug cartels, climate change, terrorism, you name it, can't be solved just by one country. And I think if you start with that approach, then you are inclined to listen and not just talk.

"And so in all these meetings what I've said is, we have some very clear ideas in terms of where the international community should be moving; we have some very specific national interests, starting with safety and security that we have to attend to; but we recognize that other countries have good ideas, too, and we want to hear them....

"Number two, I think that -- I feel very strongly that when we are at our best, the United States represents a set of universal values and ideals -- the idea of democratic practices, the idea of freedom of speech and religion, the idea of a civil society where people are free to pursue their dreams and not be imposed upon constantly by their government. So we've got a set of ideas that I think have broad applicability. But what I also believe is that other countries have different cultures, different perspectives, and are coming out of different histories, and that we do our best to promote our ideals and our values by our example.

"And so if we are practicing what we preach and if we occasionally confess to having strayed from our values and our ideals, that strengthens our hand; that allows us to speak with greater moral force and clarity around these issues."

Listening, Obama said, pays dividends -- but sometimes at a slower pace than the press corps finds acceptable.

"[A]s a consequence of listening, believing that there aren't junior partners and senior partners in the international stage, I don't think that we suddenly transform every foreign policy item that's on the agenda. I know that in each of these meetings the question has been, well, did you get something specific? What happened here? What happened there?

"Countries are going to have interests, and changes in foreign policy approaches by my administration aren't suddenly going to make all those interests that may diverge from ours disappear. What it does mean, though, is, at the margins, they are more likely to want to cooperate than not cooperate. It means that where there is resistance to a particular set of policies that we're pursuing, that resistance may turn out just to be based on old preconceptions or ideological dogmas that, when they're cleared away, it turns out that we can actually solve a problem."

Asked what he'd learned from listening at this summit, Obama replied: "One thing that I thought was interesting -- and I knew this in a more abstract way but it was interesting in very specific terms -- hearing from these leaders who when they spoke about Cuba talked very specifically about the thousands of doctors from Cuba that are dispersed all throughout the region, and upon which many of these countries heavily depend. And it's a reminder for us in the United States that if our only interaction with many of these countries is drug interdiction, if our only interaction is military, then we may not be developing the connections that can, over time, increase our influence and have -- have a beneficial effect when we need to try to move policies that are of concern to us forward in the region.

"And I think that's why it's so important that in our interactions not just here in the hemisphere but around the world, that we recognize that our military power is just one arm of our power, and that we have to use our diplomatic and development aid in more intelligent ways so that people can see very practical, concrete improvements in the lives of ordinary persons as a consequence of U.S. foreign policy."

And asked if his friendly interactions with incendiary leftist leader Hugo Chavez of Venezuela (who, among other things, gave Obama a book) might be perceived domestically as "being soft," Obama replied: "I think it was a nice gesture to give me a book; I'm a reader. And you're right, we had this debate throughout the campaign, and the whole notion was, is that somehow if we showed courtesy or opened up dialogue with governments that had previously been hostile to us, that that somehow would be a sign of weakness. The American people didn't buy it. And there's a good reason the American people didn't buy it -- because it doesn't make sense."

Via the U.S. News Political Bulletin: "ABC World News reported that the 'picture of the President smiling and chatting' with Chavez, 'who famously called President George W. Bush "the devil," created something of a backlash.'..

"On the CBS Evening News, Jeff Greenfield commented on criticism of the President's outreach to Chavez, saying, 'There is fallout from those people who already regard Obama as anything from a socialist to a fascist to a dangerously weak president. I'm talking about people on the right. If it doesn't spread beyond that, you're going to have the same situation where about 30% of the country really regards him negatively but the rest says "so far so good."'

By Dan Froomkin  |  April 20, 2009; 12:15 PM ET
 
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Comments

It’s the Obama three step: apologize profusely for all of America’s sins (real and imagined), blame everything on Bush, elaborate on America’s persevered sins. Making it even better, he does this in from of Latin America’s rising autocratic star (Chavez) and a freaking child molester (Ortega).

Obama is accomplishing quite an impressive feat by making us less feared and just as poorly respected around the globe. Such statesmanship indeed!

Posted by: SharpshootingPugilist | April 20, 2009 12:49 PM | Report abuse

We bullied, cajoled, coerced, punished,intimidated and crushed all those who did not agree with us. We did a good job too by invading a country that did not attack us. What did we get in all these acts? Over four thousand of our brave men and women have died for nothing; about 10 billion is being spent a month whilst our economy is heaving up and down and searching for a place to land; a hatred for America that is serving as a recruitment tool for Al-kaida. Now we have a president who is adopting a humane and common sense approach to foreign policy and they want to call him weak. That is very funny indeed. In history, those who fought and retreated when neccessary, lived to fight another day. Those who blusted and continued fighting; who substituted stupidity for bravery died and were soon forgoten by history. The Roman empire became too big, was fighting too many wars and spending so much money, it had to resort to over taxation to keep up with costly wars. The result was a total collapse of an empire that over-stretched itself and could not hold on to dear life. Now we not only have a dead roman empire, even its language(latin) that was being spoken by millions of people is also dead.
A word to the wise is enough. Barack Obama is God sent. Lets use him to save our dear country.

Posted by: erzuah34 | April 20, 2009 1:29 PM | Report abuse

Every time I hear Obama speak, I think to myself "Thank God we have a smart President!" The world is not black and white but many shades of gray. This man is thoughtful. And he's makes sense. We know that speaking to an adversary MAY lead to non-violent solutions so why NOT try that first? Certainly, dialogue and friendliness at least opens the door to the possibility of non-violence. Much better than arrogant snubbing.

Look, nobody's perfect, no nation is perfect. God loves us ALL - not just Americans and it's time we Americans recognize our failings as much as we do our successes. Does that show "weakness"? Really? Being honest and not hypocritical is weak?

Christians, (Luke 6) Jesus says "But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. and unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other......And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same.......But love ye your enemies, and do good......." Read the whole thing - great stuff. Sounds like Obama may be heeding such wise advice.

Posted by: fjamidon | April 20, 2009 1:29 PM | Report abuse

Ahmadinejad, Jong Il, Putin and Chavez certainly feared Bush. We all know how they holed up and refrained from any provocations during his tenure. Leave it to the Preemptor to contain global fascism!

It's important to remember that these two tours have been little more than introductions, and Obama has been doing little more than acknowledging popular sentiment within the different nations--which nations have conceived very harsh opinions of us in the last eight years. It's so bad to even recognize the validity of another's point of view?

Certainly, a relative youngster in statesmanship like Obama will make the occasional misstep--the photo with Chavez did look chummier than just about any American would like--but if you think a moment's gesture is so damaging to American interests, you've long since taken your eye off the ball. (And Eduardo Galeano's poetry is exquisite, by the way.)

It's more important to see where relations proceed from here. I for one don't see Obama's administration making big concessions to repressive leaders like Chavez (who, like Putin and the other petrotyrants, is getting a little desperate). And I certainly don't see any harm in a modest, conciliatory beginning to international relations.

Posted by: whizbang9a | April 20, 2009 1:38 PM | Report abuse

Erzuah,

Barrak Obama is God sent? So you are claiming him to be the new Messiah? And you thing Republicans are looney?? Better take a look in the mirror.

As for invading a country that did not attack us, lets have a little history lesson here. Saddam Hussein invaded and attacked Kuwait and threatened global energy balance by his offensive stance with Saudi-Arabia. We, along with an international force removed him and push into Iraq, but then setup bases and patroled no-fly zones.
After we left Iraq the first time, Saddam lashed out at the northern kurdish population with Chemical and Bio-weapon attacks, which are un-denied. Repeatedly he was naughty, and took money from the corrupt oil-for-food program in the 90's, but the UN did not want to implicate itself and shelved the matter with a wrist slap. Saddam repeatedly shot at our planes flying patrol and crossed into the no-fly zones many times. He repeatedly kicked weapons inspectors out in the 90's and in 2002. How many resolutions were there on the table against Saddam? 17 I think.

And did not the cease-fire agreement his government signed in 1991 state that failure to follow the disarmament agreements, inspections etc mean that we could re-exercise the right to resume combat operations?

Besides.. with Saddam and his two manicial sons out of the way, Iraq doesn't have no-fly zones anymore. We took down so many of the terrorist leadership when they came to fight us in Iraq, bringing Iranian made weapons and ordinance.

Tell me how that country is not better off now that those mass murderers are gone? Have you forgotten the mass graves that were found? Apparently so.

Posted by: alutz08 | April 20, 2009 2:56 PM | Report abuse

Iraq became its own garden of terrorists (though they might consider themselves freedom fighters), alutz. The assumption that our activities in Iraq drained terrorists' manpower and resources from other areas, like the mountains of Pakistan and Afghanistan (if that's what you're trying to imply), is foolish. al-Qaeda in Iraq grew out of our invasion of Iraq. The "let's fight them over there, so we don't have to fight them here" rationale is as false as it gets. How does a military operation in Iraq stop a terrorist organization from infiltrating the US? It doesn't--tighter security measures do.

And please forget the straw man argument that Saddam was such a bad guy, he had to go. I didn't support invasion at all--I had trouble believing Bush and Cheney's nonsense was convincing anybody--but know that Saddam was a murderous and repressive dictator. There are others as bad or worse than him--Kim Jong Il and Robert Mugabe come to mind--whom we haven't touched? Why? North Korea is too well-defended, and Zimbabwe has no strategic value. I don't accept pre-emption as a reason to invade a sovereign state. In the case of Iraq, the threat to be pre-empted was shown not to have even existed.

Posted by: whizbang9a | April 20, 2009 3:13 PM | Report abuse

alutz08,

Erzuah didn't claim Obama was the messiah - the fact you have to resort to "strawman" arguments right off the bat makes it hard to take the rest of what you say seriously.

You won't find anyone on the left who didn't think Saddam was a nasty dictator, and who won't agree that the world is better off without him. We're well aware of the rest of your arguments, we just don't think they rise to a level where we should have invaded Iraq to remove Saddam. The length and cost of this war in lives and treasure was predicted by many people on the left, as well as the eventual result: An unstable, theocratic pseudo-democracy aligned with our enemy Iran. We can think of far better ways to spend that money than to waste it on a country that didn't attack us and had little ability to hurt us, especially when the real enemy was always - and still is - in Afganistan and Pakistan.

Maybe we should borrow more money from China to go invade Sudan and Somalia now? They're pretty nasty too...

Wait, I forgot: Those on the right are willing to run up the debt without limit as long as the money goes towards attacking other countries, but not willing to spend an extra dime when it comes to helping those in trouble here at home.

Posted by: mjcsfo | April 20, 2009 7:48 PM | Report abuse

Let's give this bit of credit to Richard Nixon: he did come to realize that you can't actually get anywhere UNTIL you decide to talk to your enemies. Jimmy Carter, faced with an Iranian declaration of war decided that he could wage wars on fronts the Iranians couldn't hope to compete on, and successfully stayed out of a shooting war in the East. He actually brought about the desired result of getting our citizens back, although it took longer than it should have because Ronnie found out that he could make political capital by retarding the process. Ronnie, and Shrub postured, posed, called their opponents names, and other wise acted like teenage bullies on the play ground. Note that in their combined sixteen years of Presidency they can show virtually no real peacemaking, even though Ronnie discovered that negotiating in secret with his enemies COULD produce funds he needed for other (illegal) wars, Clinton maneuvered Kim Jong Il into suspending his nuclear projects and putting his nuclear delusions on hold, and came closer to peace in the middle east than Georgie ever hoped to get.

Georgie, of course, undid all the good work and good will, as much to show that he wasn't Bill Clinton as for any other reason. He wasted billions and billions of dollars deploying an ABM system that can't actually do what it is supposed to do, and even if it could would be useless against any real nuclear threat we ought to fear, (like a tramp steamer making an "emergency" stop in San Francisco, or New York, with a 20 kiloton Pakistani nuke in the hold) just so he could thumb his nose at Vladimir Putin. "Why am I doing this, Because I Can, Nyah! Nyah! Nyah!"

Tho Obama doctrine? Common sense and normal adult behavior, after twenty years of Republican adolescent male posturing to impress the girls.

Posted by: ceflynline | April 20, 2009 11:24 PM | Report abuse

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