Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Obama Doctrine

As the pundits weigh the successes and difficulties of the Obama Administration's first 100 days, Henry Kissenger wrote an op-ed in today's Washington Post stating that the president needs to articulate a clear foreign policy grand strategy. He argues that because so many foreign policy challenges are connected to each other (how we deal with China affects how we deal with North Korea as well as how we deal with Pakistan), having an "operational concept of world order" helps keep all the ducks in a row.
My first reaction was, really? The last president had a grand strategy--promote democracy at all costs and anyone who disagrees is an enemy to be crushed--and look where that got us. Besides, such an ideological approach seems to go against the realist policy-making Kissinger has always stood for, viewing the world in terms of cold power calculations and acting accordingly.
My second reaction was that President Obama has a grand strategy, one of using the United States' smart influence and diplomacy for cooperative solutions around the world. It may not be an end goal or a vision of the idealized world, as Kissinger seems to be calling for, but it is a vision of how to work with the world on the problems we collectively face.
Fred Kaplan at Slate seems to agree with me. He pointed out that President Obama was asked about an "Obama Doctrine" just last week at the Summit of the Americas and answered it was to promote American values, including listening and not just talking, and that "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." Even when other countries have values and interests that differ from ours, they view us as an attractive culture trying to help, 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.
And so, we're still going to have very tough negotiations on a whole host of issues. … That's not going to change because I'm popular … or leaders think that I've been respectful towards them. On the other hand, by having established those better relations, it means that … there's more confidence that working with the United States is beneficial, and they are going to try to do more than they might otherwise have done.
Sounds like smart influence to me!

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