Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Spencer Ackerman writes a short Obama Doctrine

In response to Obama's speech on Libya, Spencer Ackerman hones in on a passage that I flagged as a sign that Obama's harks back to the future of George H.W. Bush:
One more thing, and it’s peripheral to Libya. But there’s a lot of debate over whether there’s an “Obama Doctrine” or not. (I’d had my own take on that since the 2008 campaign.) It won’t do to simply say it’s to intervene militarily when U.S. interests and values align to stop a given atrocity, since every post-Cold War president says that.

This line may be more instructive: “American leadership is not simply a matter of going it alone and bearing all of the burden ourselves. Real leadership creates the conditions and coalitions for others to step up as well; to work with allies and partners so that they bear their share of the burden and pay their share of the costs; and to see that the principles of justice and human dignity are upheld by all.” 
Then Ackerman comes out himself with what strikes me as a nice concise formulation of the Obama Doctrine-in-progress (my emphasis):

If Obama and NATO can manage to bring an end to the atrocities in Libya — which means an end to the Gadhafi regime — then Obama will have gone a long way toward demonstrating that America can lead the world without having to retain a leading role in every intervention.
And that, my fellow Americans, may be the United States' most vital interest of all in our rapidly emerging multilateral world.

In his just-released Zero-Sum Future: American Power in an Age of Anxiety, Gideon Rachman invests several chapters enumerating the obstacles to effective multilateral action in a world of rapidly waning relative U.S. power -- then tacks about in the last chapter to sketch ways in which international cooperation on pressing issues might be fostered. Does the current action, pushed forward by equivocal Arab League urging and enabled emerging power abstentions on the Security Council, suggest a model by which collective action might squeak through in the near term?  Or is it, as Rachman suggests today, a last hurrah for the interventionist west? 

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