The Obama Doctrine at Play in Egypt

Ricochet member BlueAnt writing last week in response to Peter’s conversation on Egypt asked:

What is Obama’s doctrine for dealing with a hostile world, even if he’s never articulated one well enough to make it a capitalized Doctrine?

I think his general principles can be distilled to a tripartite belief system:

  1. Global problems started with Bush and did not transcend him; Obama’s non-traditional heritage, postnational beliefs, and singular charisma thus can convince the world that America now runs and thinks like the Harvard lounge and thus perpetual world peace, man’s natural condition without a Bush in power, follows;

  2. Countries in the past suspicious of the U.S. had good reason to be; those once supportive of us are now suspicious; thus we must lecture former friends on their misdemeanors and ignore the felonies of once enemies;
  3. Obama thinks his unique profile allows him avenues other presidents did not have (a Putin who believes in diversity apparently); thus, he alone can deal with Iranians, Syrians, Venezuelans, Cubans, etc. as fellow revolutionary progressives. To the degree a country is fully democratic, capitalist, pro-U.S. and Western (e.g. UK, Israel), it is part of a fossilized American diplomatic past. In this calculus an Ahmadinejad is an authentic revolutionary leader, with genuine cultural fides, the protestors in the street are naive in their pro-Western sympathies for secular democracy and a functioning economy, and are not representative of the true Iranian people.

All the above said, the actual implementation reflects somebody with the experience of two years in the Senate, who had never navigated outside of academia and Chicago tit-for-tat politics. So Mubarak is/is not a dictator, must leave now/yesterday/sometime soon as he serves as sort of a figurative leader/a critical transition player/a suspicious counter-revolutionary inasmuch as the U.S. must lay down conditions/advise only/respect Egyptian prerogatives, as private conversations with Egyptians are spilled to the press, Obama suggests the Cairo desire for freedom somehow channels his own support, and Biden, Clinton, and Obama contradict one another hourly.

This is very sad.  Obama has not articulated what it was about the Egyptian protests that drew his rabid support—that was found lacking when the Iranians tried the same thing against a much more internationally vicious regime; or why we can be pressing for human rights in Egypt but not with Russia, to whom we just disclosed the serial numbers of British nuclear weapons. Once one goes down the sermonizing path, as we learned from Jimmy Carter’s disasters, there is no end to the number of contradictions that arise. One either then shuts up, or prepares in advance for inconsistencies and how to deal with them.

But then again, Biden, Clinton, and Obama, our policy-makers on Egypt, were the same Senate trio in September 2007 that tried to humiliate Petraeus during the surge hearings and assured the country that the surge had failed, Iraq was lost, and Petraeus was disingenuous (‘suspension of disbelief’). In 2009-10, we have had our 1977 and 1978, and now sadly the reckoning is due and 2011 will be our 1979, when the world had sized Carter up and decided it was time to make ‘adjustments’ in Tehran, Central America, Afghanistan, etc.

It all reminds me of a tough school as a youth I went to in the proverbial barrio; there was a very nice, quite smart kid who used to lecture everyone about being nice to each other, usually under the watchful eye of playground teachers. Finally, the school’s thugs and punks simply took his lunch money away—every day—teachers or not. They let him talk even more as compensation but he had to borrow his lunch money from us to eat. Quite unfair.

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  1. raycon and lindacon

    If this be 1979, who is the Reagan who will come along and clean up the mess?

  2. Charles Gordon

    Our historic first Islamic apostate president’s twofold responses to Middle East protests are consistent:

    Egypt was a piece of the Empire on which the sun never set—Iran was not.

    Protests in Teheran opposed the official power of the Islamic Republic of Iran—those in Cairo were planned and executed by a coterie comprising Mohamed ElBaradei, the door mat for the Brotherhood’s entry into power.

    In Egypt, it is like his returning the bust of Churchill and poking his middle finger into our way of life at the same time.

  3. Aaron Miller
    Victor Davis Hanson: .. or why we can be pressing for human rights in Egypt but not with Russia, to whom we just disclosed the serial numbers of British nuclear weapons.

    How much headway could a strong Republican president make in repairing our relationship with the Brits? How well could he restore trust with allies in general after Wikileaks and this most recent betrayal?

    Intelligence agencies only ever trust each other because they must. Could need of the U.S. as an ally outweigh Britain’s well-founded concerns about future leaks?

  4. Jaydee_007
    Aaron Miller

    How much headway could a strong Republican president make in repairing our relationship with the Brits? How well could he restore trust with allies in general after Wikileaks and this most recent betrayal?

    Intelligence agencies only ever trust each other because they must. Could need of the U.S. as an ally outweigh Britain’s well-founded concerns about future leaks? · Feb 10 at 12:37pm

    It will depend upon how much the British will trust the American Electorate to scrutinize future candidates.  I thought in 1980, after the end of the Carter administration, that the American People would never again elect an incompetent idiot to the white hous ever again. 

    Yet a mere 28 years later what happened?

    The American People were so busy Making History they didn’t bother to check out whom they were Making History with.

    How can you trust any group that is so Fickle?

  5. Stuart Creque

     Of course, it helps that Obama has surrounded himself with the best and the brightest, like Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

  6. Erik Larsen

     What’s really weird is that I almost wish my country was more of an ally with Russia than the US (almost). 

    At least with the Russians, you know roughly where they stand, and know that they will be fairly ruthless in achieving their objectives – which is OK if you’re on the same team.

  7. Chris Johnson

     VDH is probably right; he usually is.  My fellow commenters also seem to lean towards gradations from naivete to incompetence (with the exception of Charles Gordon).

    I tend to suspect Obama of ill intent, not incompetence.  He seems to do the absolute minimum of what he absolutely must do, such as increasing the Afghan effort, while doing so at a level below the lowest levels requested.  I don’t think there is any situation of significance that he would not react to minimally, to be noted as having acted.  I don’t think he minds conveying confusion and weakness.  To coin Stuart, I suspect he considers the appearance of confusion and weakness as a feature, not a bug.

  8. flownover

    # 2 – spot on brilliant

  9. Jaydee_007

     It occured to me that the real comparison to responses by Obama is not the Iranian uprising but Honduras.

    Honduras rightly, and via their constitution, ousted their president when he tried to become a Dictator.  Honduras was following the constitution of Honduras.  Obama spoke up immediately demanding the Honduran President-wanna-be-Dictator be returned to power.  Thus showing a disdain for Constitutional order.

    Now Obama wants, once again, a country to ignore its constitution and, in this case, oust their leader.

    Add to that Obma’s ignoring of Court Orders regarding Obama Care and Off Shore Drilling and what we see is a Trend.  A trend toward disdain for Constitutional Government.

    I must say that somewhre in the mix the Obama Doctrine becomes an Anti-Constitutional Government doctrine.

  10. The Mugwump
    Victor Davis Hanson:  Finally, the school’s thugs and punks simply took his lunch money away—every day—teachers or not. They let him talk even more as compensation but he had to borrow his lunch money from us to eat. Quite unfair. ·

    Allow me to offer an anecdotal story.  I remember quite clearly my 5th grade class at Barnsley Elementary in Rockville, Maryland.  I understand today that the white suburbs were pushing north and east from Washington D.C. into sharecropper country.  My child’s mind knew the “negro” kids were different.  I also understood that Mrs Stecker ridiculed the black kids for no good reason.  Kids know fairness when they see it.  So I befriended James, a “mulatto” (we used the word freely and without guilt), and I helped him with his work.  James was big.  Like man-sized already.  I helped him with his work and he had my back on the playground.  So I began to wade into disputes with James at my back.  I was judge and James was my enforcer.  Easy lesson, no?  Righteousness without muscle is a bluff.  Armed righteousness makes peace.  I learned it on the playground.  True story. 

  11. Ajax von Kaiserpenguin

    As if the greatest orator of all time needs to trouble himself with the bother of having such a thing as a coherent doctrine.  He need only to speak a thing, and it shall be logical. 

  12. Peg C.

    I agree on the ill intent but incompetence is a huge part of this as well.  This entire regime is the new Not Ready For Primetime Players.  This is because most of them are radical hacks with nothing but contempt for the rest of us.  An adult administration full of experienced professionals doesn’t undercut the U.S. and embolden our enemies at every turn.

  13. John Marzan
    Charles Krauthammer Coming up for tomorrow’s column: We need a foreign policy that not only supports freedom in the abstract but enunciates practical principles to achieve it. Call it a Freedom Doctrine.
  14. JM Hanes
    Victor Davis Hanson: 

    I think his general principles can be distilled to a tripartite belief system…..

    It’s really much simpler. Obama doesn’t have a system; he just relies on those who do, from mentors to wife.   He’s found them in lefty enclaves where he came of age and cut his political teeth.  It’s about comfort zones, not core beliefs.

    You only need to know two other things:

    1) Obama is a floater.  He scopes out a room and becomes whatever folks want him to be.  After his “bitter clinger” remarks, when he discovered folks outside the room were listening, he stuck to a single, “inspirational” script rooted in biography.  His speeches are nearly interchangeable today.  

    2) He was once quite frank about the key to success as a “black” man in a white world:  make yourself non-threatening.  He may play badass in private, but his public attacks are usually oblique. On the international stage, where allies can be ignored, he’s still trying to figure out how to tell the other players what they want to hear, without suffering in domestic polls.  He’s floundering because no one can actually tell him what that is.

  15. Johnny Dubya

    The difference between the Egyptian protests and the Iranian ones is that it began to appear that in Egypt the protestors would be successful in their aims. Obama, like Osama, backs the “strong horse.” His is a reactive foreign policy that is short on principles.

  16. david foster

    Obama, with his lack of serious executive and negotiating experience, had no idea what he was getting into when he sought and accepted this job. He is like a “pilot” who once took a Cessna 152 around the pattern, with an instructor, in good weather, and decided he was qualified to fly a 747 with a full load of passengers, in thunderstorms and with several of the instruments in dubious condition.

    The scariest part is that he *still* doesn’t seem to have developed any humility at all.

  17. Stuart Creque
    Victor Davis Hanson:  All the above said, the actual implementation reflects somebody with the experience of two years in the Senate, who had never navigated outside of academia and Chicago tit-for-tat politics. So Mubarak is/is not a dictator, must leave now/yesterday/sometime soon as he serves as sort of a figurative leader/a critical transition player/a suspicious counter-revolutionary inasmuch as the U.S. must lay down conditions/advise only/respect Egyptian prerogatives, as private conversations with Egyptians are spilled to the press, Obama suggests the Cairo desire for freedom somehow channels his own support, and Biden, Clinton, and Obama contradict one another hourly.

    Perhaps Obama views this as a feature, not a bug: he can now legitimately say to anyone, “I’ve said much the same thing as you about Egypt.”

    It only looks like a bug if there’s some alternative to the mainstream media able to present Obama’s array of positions side by side by side.  Then he looks feckless and windblown.  But he seems confident that there’s no such alternative media to show the world how foolish he looks.