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Obama Doctrine: "Useless Conflicts Weaken Necessary Conflicts"

Daniel W. Drezner has figured out President Obama's foreign policy doctrine:

Looking at what Obama has done to date, I'd suggest that his foreign policy doctrine comes by way of Charles de Montesquieu -- crudely put, useless conflicts weaken necessary conflicts.


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Joe Noory on :

Drezner's take is anticipatory. It isn't a doctrine, it MIGHT be a tactic. On the face of it, it's inaction, and there are more than enough people trying to make a mountain out of a molehill, or more accurately, a world-beating genius out of someone merely breathing. It must be nice to have an army of unpaid aids to fill in the blanks, and try to construct a non-existent international policy track record. Somehow out of that vaccuum, it is declared that there's ALREADY a policy, track record, and of course, a declared success. I'd prefer a lot less of a sales pitch, and some actual success, not just pre-arranged gladhanding at summits, and an absolute hush over constructive criticism. Overlooked in the quote was the 2nd paragraph and the first comment: [i]In domestic policy, an organising principle directs the innovation. Mr Obama wants to shove the US in the direction of a more social democratic – Americans say “progressive” – social contract, with universal healthcare and a tax and benefits system much more attuned to reducing inequality. Whether this is wise, feasible or what the country even wants is questionable, but the connecting theme is clear. Is any such theme emerging in foreign policy? Can one begin to talk of an “Obama doctrine”?[/i] and: [i]Fair and interesting description but it is far too early to begin talking about doctrines and the recent spate of stories says more about the media pundits and the need to be first than anything else. There is a big difference between a foreign policy or an approach to foreign policy and a foreign policy doctrine. In April 2001 one could have spoken about a Bush approach (unilateralism) but not the Bush doctrine (right to preventive use of force against states that harbor or assist terrorists).[/i] We are literally looking at a case of talking heads making something out of nothing. There is no doctrine to understand because there have been nearly no actions of state, - or even in depth statements for that matter - from which to infer policy, much less a "doctrine".

John in Michigan, USA on :

The actual Montesquieu quote, per Denzer, is "Useless laws weaken the necessary laws." A sentiment with which I heartily agree! Obama's domestic policy (so far) reveals a barely-examined faith in the ability of the law to manage many additional aspects of our lives. It is, shall we say, in conflict with this sentiment. As to foreign policy, of course the answer is, it is too early to tell. However, the early indications are that Obama and Europe are determined to flight "useless" fights, just over different issues than the Bush administration. The major theme of the Bush foreign policy was pre-emption, that certain threats would be confronted as they emerge, rather than after they emerge. Obama seems to believe in a variation on pre-eption, except his supporters call it the precautionary principle. I am talking about global warming. Saddam, who had WMD in the past and seemed determined to have them again, [url=]nevertheless wasn't an imminent threat[/url] (on the link, see the section titled "On WMD"). Significant, human-caused global warming hasn't happened yet. The past 10 years of data suggest that, if it is going to happen, it is much further in the future than was generally thought. Futhermore, even if you believe the science is settled, there remain major questions of how to ensure that countries do not cheat on their CO2 commitments. If a poor country commits to debt, debt can be forgiven. If a belicose country commits to nuclear non-proliferation, violations can be overlooked as long as the weapons are not used in anger. Not so with CO2 violations. To act now, decisively, against global warming, will inevitably put us into a multi-decade conflict with emerging powers like China, India, etc. who make the fair point that they are entitled to pollute, much as the West did when it was emerging. Is the likely conflict over global warming strictly necessary at this time?

Don S on :

I have a perfect example of a 'useless conflict' which was avoided: When Hitler reoccupied the Rhineland in 1936, France and the UK wisely refrained from responding, thereby averting war. One can only wish Bush had been so wise, and averted war himself....

SC on :

Drezner may be right - or not. With only 100 days in, one could spin other possibilities for the evidence that exists. On what basis has he chosen that aphorism - beyond his desire to provoke a discussion in the comment thread.

Don S on :

SC, Drezner writes a fairly shallow blog; can't speak for his books, but his Newsweek op-eds and most of his blog posts are a little too frothy for what he is, I think. Thats all very well as a starting point, but he tries to begin a debate in the comments but then refuses to participate. Rather disappointing I find, a case of debatus interruptus, mebbe.

SC on :

"Debatus interruptus": Heh! I like that. Drezner's more of a political economist, I think. Foreign policy, per se, may not be his strong suit. I also wonder if the frothiness you detect may have characterized some of his past academic work. I seem to recall that he had some problems in Chicago before landing at Tufts. So many interests, so little time. It's way too soon to draw any conclusion about the Obama/Clinton foreign policy team. They seem to have made a significant change regarding Cuba; one that's been overdue, in my opinion. But otherwise, not much has changed. To give you an example of a different possible spin, how about this: Like Clinton's first term, foreign policy, despite appearances is not this administration's principal focus. Domestic politics and policy is. To the extent that the Bush administration's policies maintain a probable stablity and status quo in areas of actual conflict, they'll be left alone and the personel left to tend to them. To the extent that those policies actually meshed with the declared policy intent during the campaign, so much the better: a shift of focus from Iraq to to AfPak, for example. The current uptick in violence in Iraq is managable but events in Pakistan are not something necessarily anticipated. Otherwise, for the most part, a desire to retrench. From campaign statements on Pakistan, one might assume an agressive stance regarding current events. The Sec'y of State's recent comment signal concern. Is this one of Drezner's "necessary conflicts" in the making? If so, how does it play out? What steps actually taken, beyond the Secretary's words, signal a serious intent to engage the emerging situation.

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