As the events in Iraq, Syria, the Ukraine, Africa and elsewhere unfold the President has been under mounting criticism from Democrats and Republicans. What is emerging is a furtherance of what started in Libya—leading from behind.
The essence of this Obama doctrine is seen in the President’s speech at West Point in May-- a very strong emphasis on empowering partners to take action ... so the United States doesn’t have to be directly involved.
As the global hotspots all became more dire, even President Obama’s supporters asked what he was doing about each crisis. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as she seeks to distance herself from the Obama White House, was also critical. She said: “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.” General Jim Jones, President Obama’s first national security advisor recently roundly critiqued the administration’s policy in the Wall Street Journal. On the other side Senator Lindsey Graham has asked whether there is a strategy or a foreign policy vision.
The President’s critics believe that the second-term foreign policy is in shambles. In asking what the strategy is Senator Graham is implying that the administration no longer has a national security philosophy or strategy.
Some have gone as far as to compare the emerging Obama doctrine to the Nixon doctrine of empowering security partners rather than directly fighting, Vietnamization was at the heart of the Nixon doctrine,
More than one critic has implied that this approach is causing less effort by allies, rather than what it seeks—more. The Ukraine is probably center stage on this perception.
Even the famous or infamous drone strikes along the Pakistani border and in Yemen seem to have been reduced. To some extent they have been replaced by the limited air strikes against ISIS. These have been coupled with shipments of US weapons directly to Kurdish forces.
The same approach was used to support the French fighting the terrorists in Mali a year ago.
The approach of empowering allies like the Kurds and French while ordering only limited US military actions will have severe limits. We can arm all of the forces that we want but at the end of the day it is probably only the US that has the military power to deliver decisive actions that can contribute directly to rolling ISIS back.
And if the solution includes the increased Iranian involvement in fighting ISIS, is that best for Iraq in the long term? And the US? Would dramatic US action be better?
In the Ukraine the US has encouraged its European allies to help the Ukrainian military. Current indications are that the Ukrainian military are holding their own. There has been wide spread rejection of increased sanctions by most European capitals.
Is the Ukrainian success because of superior Western provided intelligence? Successful engagement of a Russian armored infantry convoy by artillery, as the Ukrainians claim, would suggest accurate real time intelligence—linking of sensors to shooters.
The question is how long will Putin tolerate this and when he takes action what will be the response in Washington and the capitals of Europe? Only time will tell. Will it force a change in the Obama doctrine or will leadership from the rear remain the norm?