The Obama Watch

The Four Pillars of Obamaism

Will anyone dare call it the Obama Doctrine?

By 5.5.09

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Although it is still too early to speak of an "Obama Doctrine," four trends, already apparent, will define the Obama administration's approach to foreign affairs in the years ahead. They are: Cosmopolitanism, Soft Power, Appeasement and Global Meliorism.

Cosmopolitanism: In his final book, Who Are We?, the late Samuel Huntington defined the "Cosmopolitan" approach to foreign affairs as one in which "the activities of Americans would more and more be governed not by the federal and state governments, but by rules set by international authorities, such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, customary international law and global treaties and regimes." That is, instead of leaving the rest of the world alone unless the United States, or its allies, are directly threatened (the conservative/nationalist approach to world affairs), or trying to make the rest of the world more like the United States (the Wilsonian /Bush approach), Cosmopolitan elites, "who increasingly identify with global institutions norms and rules rather than national ones," try to make the United States more like the rest of the world.

That Barack Obama is America's first Cosmopolitan President is already evident from his trips abroad. Obama behaved not like an American President determined to justify America's ways to a skeptical world, but like a global citizen who just happens to be America's President, and who shares the world's skepticism. Such an individual is more than ready to identify America's faults (real or alleged) and apologize for them, but has little to say in defense of American virtues, unless they begin with "multi" -- as in multi-racial, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural. The Obama administration has already announced that the U.S. will run for a seat on the United Nations' viciously-biased Human Rights Council. Look for a great deal more involvement with the United Nations in the future.

Soft Power: The Kennedy School's Joseph Nye, who coined the term "soft power" and wrote a book about it, defines it as "the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments. It arises from the attractiveness of a country's culture, political ideals and policies. When our policies are seen as legitimate in the eyes of others, our soft power is enhanced."

Obviously, Cosmopolitan elites are attracted to theories of Soft Power, as it enables them to argue that by abandoning unilateral actions in favor of a multi-lateral, U.N.- centered approach to national security, we are actually strengthening America (by making our policies "legitimate"), and not, as virtually our entire political tradition asserts, weakening America by tying its hands. And Soft Power doesn't just mean giving the U.N. a larger say in our affairs; it also means making America a better place by lightening our "carbon footprint" and becoming "greener," by pursuing greater economic "justice" and redistributing wealth, and by abandoning arrogant notions of American "Exceptionalism" and becoming a decent, non-threatening Social Democracy -- a Sweden writ large. These actions, it is argued, will so increase our Soft Power that our foes will realize the errors of their ways and will "buy into" our values, thus enabling us to regain our "world leadership" without firing a shot.

Of course, all this is pure moonshine. But as Angelo Codevilla points out in Advice to War Presidents, Soft Power "is not about empowering America but about making Americans do what people like Joseph Nye want -- people such as [those who] meet at the Davos World Economic Forum, teach at places like Harvard's Kennedy School, and rule the prestigious media…" And, one might add, people such as currently occupy the White House.

Appeasement: In his March message to the people and leaders of Iran, President Obama offered "the promise of a new beginning" and declared that "the United States wants the Islamic Republic of Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations," -- a striking departure from the Bush Administration, which wanted the Islamic Republic of Iran overthrown. The European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, called President Obama's appeal "very constructive," which means, of course, that it's actually very destructive. Should Obama's initiative result in serious American-Iranian negotiations, look for Tehran to put forward a long list of grievances, which the Obama administration, conscious of the many wrongs we have supposedly committed against Iran, will duly set out to appease. The difficulty, however, will be to accord Shi'ite Iran its "rightful place" in the international community without unduly alienating our traditional Sunni "allies," Egypt and Saudi Arabia, both of whom loathe and fear Iran. Fortunately, both Sunnis and Shi'ites hate Israel, so look to the Obama administration to bash Israel as a way of appeasing Sunnis and Shi'ites alike.

Global Meliorism: This is a truly bi-partisan American tradition, which historian Walter McDougall has defined as "the socio-economic and cultural expression of an American mission to make the world a better place." President Truman embraced Global Meliorism when he launched the Point Four program in 1949 -- "a bold new program [Truman said] for making the benefits of our scientific advances and industrial progress available for the improvement and growth of underdeveloped areas," and President Eisenhower also endorsed Global Meliorism in 1957, when he declared that "the freedom of nations can be menaced not only by guns but by the poverty that communism can exploit." The United States has been devoted to Global Meliorism ever since, and while such critics as the late British economist, P.T. Bauer, have denounced American foreign aid programs as doing more harm than good, look to the Obama administration to step up foreign aid to anti-American regimes in the hope of winning their friendship through bribery. That this approach will fail goes without saying -- ideological enemies must be defeated, not co-opted -- but in the meantime, President Obama and his team will be hailed for their bold new thinking, their willingness to discard the stale orthodoxies of the past, and their readiness to take risks for peace and face up to the realities of a new century.

Look to these four approaches -- the essence of an emerging Obama Doctrine -- to win our President a Nobel Peace Prize, even as the world itself descends into chaos and war.

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About the Author

Joseph Shattan is the author of Architects of Victory: Six Heroes of the Cold War.