The Spectacle Blog

Trying to Outline the Obama Doctrine

By on 5.28.14 | 3:16PM

President Barack Obama outlined a four-point foreign policy plan emphasizing diplomatic leadership over military operations at a West Point Military Academy commencement address today.

The plan focused on moving away from American-led military actions and toward more efforts to support native forces fighting newer, more localized terrorism.

"You are the first class to graduate since 9/11 who may not be sent to combat in Iraq or Afghanistan," he told the 2014 cadets in Annapolis, Maryland.

Obama outlined his vision for American foreign policy after the planned pull-out from Afghanistan at the end of this year. The United States will 1) use military force unilaterally only against direct threats to American lives and livelihoods, 2) continue to fight terrorism as the biggest threat to America without direct invasion, 3) work to strengthen and enforce international order through institutions and alliances, and 4) support human dignity, especially by encouraging democratic and capitalist nations.

Obama asked Congress to fund $5 billion for a new counter-terrorism partnerships fund. The fund would train native forces to fight terrorism in Yemen, keep the peace in Somalia, partner with Europe to train Libyan forces, and secure French operations in Mali. It would also help equip and train United Nations peacekeepers from other countries.

The president will not be sending troops to Syria but plans to increase support for the rebels there. He also plans to strengthen Syria's neighbors—Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq—in dealing with refugees and terrorism spillover. For Syria itself, he will encourage Arab allies to help with a diplomatic solution.

"Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail," he said.

Obama asked the military to take the lead in increasing transparency so America can "explain our efforts clearly and publicly." This includes ending surveillance on ordinary citizens.

He said enforcing international order will mean updating institutions established after World War II. He plans to strengthen NATO alliances, particularly in Eastern Europe, and ask NATO allies to "pull their weight" to stop terrorism.

He mentioned a growing need to confront international hacking. He said the U.S. will need to lead by example in addressing global climate change and took a quick jab at "so many of our political leaders [who] deny that [global climate change] is taking place." He also said America should ratify the Law of the Sea Convention and work to close Guantanamo Bay. 

The plan walks the line between the growing isolationism in America and interventionists who support military action for either human rights violations or as a show of American strength. He gave examples of success in the shift to diplomatic rather than military leadership in Ukraine and Iran. 

"I believe that a world of greater freedom and tolerance is not only a moral imperative. It also helps keep us safe," Obama said. "But to say that we have an interest in pursuing peace and freedom beyond our borders is not to say that every problem has a military solution."

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