Jeffrey Goldberg: The Obama Doctrine, R.I.P. – The Atlantic

Even before he became president, Obama worried greatly about slippery slopes in the Middle East. In Syria, he understood that Assad would most likely survive an American missile strike on his airbases; the day after such strikes ended, Assad, Obama believed, would have emerged from his hiding place, and declared victory: The greatest power in the world tried to destroy him, and failed. Obama was acutely aware that a one-off strike (a theoretical strike described as “unbelievably small” by his secretary of state, John Kerry), could possibly have served as a convincing brush-back pitch, but he was also aware that such a limited strike could have been wholly ineffectual, and even counterproductive. Assad and his allies, understanding that the appetite of average Americans for yet another Middle Eastern war was limited, could have tried to provoke Obama into escalation. An all-out war against the Syrian regime would have been, in many ways, Obama’s Iraq. And Obama wasn’t interested in having his own Iraq.

The curious thing is that Donald Trump is also not interested in having his own Iraq. And yet here he is. Obama was known for an overly cerebral commitment to the notion of strategic patience. Trump seems more committed to a policy of glandular, non-strategic impatience. Obama may have been paralyzed by a phobic reaction to the threat posed by the slippery slope. Donald Trump now finds himself dancing at the edge of the slippery slope his predecessor so assiduously avoided.

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bob
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As usual, JG writes a well written thoughtful piece that helps one to better understand events. Since Trump incomprehensively provided Assad with a atta boy fireworks display, (military strike you say?????) I been reading and seeing/hearing all kinds of thoughtful, well presented perspectives about this event.

I do think it’s time for these well informed, articulate commentators to just say in plain language what seems obvious to me.

That fellow doesn’t know what he’s doing.

For example, JG’s dry, “President Trump’s governing foreign policy doctrine is not easily discernible, of course.” will not do.

He doesn’t know what he’s doing and that should be alarming to everyone no matter what your political orientation. The people around him who do know what they’re doing cannot save the day because he’s the Pres and they are not.

Of course we can observe that no one can “know what they doing” in that job. But the present situation far surpasses this baseline meaning, and it cries out for the explicit, alarming observation that “He doesn’t know what he’s doing!!!!!!”

Wade McKenzie
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Wade McKenzie

President Obama articulated a doctrine of sorts regarding U.S. policy vis a vis the Syrian civil war, which more or less stated that the U.S. would not concern itself overmuch with the Syrian conflict unless chemical weapons were used. In that event, President Obama clearly suggested that an American military response would be in order.

When chemical weapons were subsequently deployed in the Ghouta incident, President Obama hesitated to carry out his implied threat–a hesitation that was widely construed by establishment commentators and politicians at the time to have been a blunder. Even so, the Obama administration managed to secure an agreement from the Syrian regime to surrender its remaining chemical weapon stockpiles.

The most recent episode of chemical weapons use in Syria–which U.S. intelligence is apparently certain was carried out by the Assad regime–suggests either that the Syrian government cheated on the previous agreement or has since produced fresh stock–clearly an unacceptable development for ongoing U.S. policy.

If President Obama were still occupying that office at this point in time, it seems probable that he himself would have carried out a strike not at all dissimilar from the one President Trump ordered. In any case, the strike–admittedly more symbolic than practical–is a logical step relative to a U.S. policy enunciated by the Obama administration and obviously embraced by the Trump administration as well–namely, expressing severe disapproval over the use of chemical weapons in contemporary conflicts.

Despite the fact that political establishments in both North America and Europe aren’t inclined to laud President Trump, the missile strike has garnered widespread support from those same establishments, with the recent G-7 summit of foreign ministers being a good example. If “[President Trump] doesn’t know what he’s doing!!!!!!”, at least in this particular instance, then it is evidently the case that the same political establishments so beloved of C.K. MacLeod don’t know what they’re doing either.

wpDiscuz

Noted & Quoted

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Trump actually congratulated Erdogan on the outcome. Trump apparently thought it was a good thing that, despite all the flaws in the process, a bare majority of Turkey’s citizens voted to strengthen their populist leader. I don’t think any other post-Cold War president would have congratulated a democratic ally that held a flawed referendum leading to a less democratic outcome. This is not that far off from Trump congratulating Putin on a successful referendum result in Crimea if that event had been held in 2017 rather than 2014.

Public disquiet and behind-the-scenes pressure on key illiberal allies is an imperfect policy position. It is still a heck of a lot more consistent with America’s core interests than congratulating allies on moving in an illiberal direction. In congratulating Erdogan, Trump did the latter.

For all the talk about Trump’s moderation, for all the talk about an Axis of Adults, it’s time that American foreign policy-watchers craving normality acknowledge three brute facts:

  1. Donald Trump is the president of the United States;
  2. Trump has little comprehension of how foreign policy actually works;
  3. The few instincts that Trump applies to foreign policy are antithetical to American values.
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He sensed that the public wanted relief from the burdens of global leadership without losing the thrill of nationalist self-assertion. America could cut back its investment in world order with no whiff of retreat. It would still boss others around, even bend them to its will...

There was, to be sure, one other candidate in the 2016 field who also tried to have it both ways—more activism and more retrenchment at the same time. This was, oddly enough, Hillary Clinton... Yet merely to recall Clinton’s hybrid foreign-policy platform is to see how pallid it was next to Trump’s. While she quibbled about the TPP (which few seemed to believe she was really against), her opponent ferociously denounced all trade agreements—those still being negotiated, like the TPP, and those, like NAFTA and China’s WTO membership, that had long been on the books. “Disasters” one and all, he said. For anyone genuinely angry about globalization, it was hard to see Clinton as a stronger champion than Trump. She was at a similar disadvantage trying to compete with Trump on toughness. His anti-terrorism policy—keep Muslims out of the country and bomb isis back to the Stone Age—was wild talk, barely thought through. But for anyone who really cared about hurting America’s enemies, it gave Trump more credibility than Clinton’s vague, muddled talk of “safe zones” ever gave her.

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As they war with the right, though, Trump and Kushner would gain no quarter from Democrats—unless Democrats were allowed to set the all the terms. This is Bannon’s central point. Democrats have no incentive to prop up Trump’s presidency for half-loaf compromises that many will suspect are contaminated with seeds of Trumpism. Trump can adopt or co-opt the Democrats’ infrastructure platform outright if he likes, but he can’t easily entice them to compromise with him, and he can’t entice House Speaker Paul Ryan or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to advance a trillion dollar direct-spending bill filled with environmental and labor protections that the GOP exists to oppose.

Which is just to say, Kushner wants Trump to chart a new course that leads to a substantive dead end for at least another 19 months. Bannon’s path, at least, preserves the hope of keeping his base consolidated through the legislative ebb. He can deregulate, scapegoat, and unburden law enforcement to turn his Herrenvolk fantasy into reality—all while keeping congressional investigators at bay.

There’s no real logical rebuttal to this, except to point to three months of chaos and humiliation as indicative of the futility of continuing to do things Bannon’s way. That is really an argument that Trump should get rid of both of his top advisers, but Trump is unlikely to grasp that in a contest between loyalists, both might deserve to lose. Family loyalty, and the beating his ego will take when the stories of his first 100 days are written, will pull him toward his son-in-law. And that’s when the real fun will begin.

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State of the Discussion

bob
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+ Wade, your last paragraph is crucial to your argument. Certainly it expresses economically the source of the weight of a country's foreign policy, and [. . .]
Jeffrey Goldberg: The Obama Doctrine, R.I.P. – The Atlantic
CK MacLeod
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+ Not sure where you got the idea that I ever wrote “[President Trump] doesn’t know what he’s doing!!!!!!" - bob's idea for a possible rallying [. . .]
Jeffrey Goldberg: The Obama Doctrine, R.I.P. – The Atlantic
Wade McKenzie
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+ The conversation that you and Bob were having at the time that I wrote my comment had everything to do with the recent missile strike [. . .]
Jeffrey Goldberg: The Obama Doctrine, R.I.P. – The Atlantic

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