Gently yet mercilessly, Tamara Cofman Wittes, who served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State during President Obama’s first term and now directs the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, turns the Obama Doctrine inside out:
Having failed to implement his own views on the primacy of governance, Obama is now using force to defeat ISIS while abjuring the work necessary to build something with which to replace it. That path bodes ill for the anti-ISIS project he has launched, and recreates for the next U.S. president the same dysfunctions in U.S.-Arab relations—moral hazard, security overcommitments, and the like—that Obama resents. To be sure, the weakness and illegitimacy of state institutions and the upwelling of societal conflicts in the Arab world is making the process of reforming politics both lengthy and painful. But those challenges are the inescapable legacies of authoritarianism, and would have emerged no matter how or when the region’s regimes collapsed. They are certainly not a consequence of American intervention or mere “tribalism,” nor are they evidence, as Obama suggests, that American military intervention in Libya “didn’t work.” What didn’t work was the administration’s constant reliance on arguments about slippery slopes and the wisdom of restraint to shoot down proposals for deeper U.S. engagement in regional problem-solving—even and perhaps especially nonmilitary engagement. The policy debate may have been won in public, but the policy objective was lost.
It is a tragic irony: A president elected and reelected on a platform of ending wars in the Middle East has reproduced, at the end of his presidency, the very situation he inherited, decried, and swore to avoid: an escalating war against a vague terrorist enemy, with no geographic boundaries, no clear military or strategic objectives, and no principles or policies that might stop the slide down this slippery slope.