[Guest post by DRJ]
In his commencement speech at West Point yesterday, President Obama repudiated the Bush Doctrine and outlined a new American national security policy:
“Yes, we are clear-eyed about the shortfalls of our international system,” the president told graduating cadets. “But America has not succeeded by stepping out of the currents of cooperation. We have succeeded by steering those currents in the direction of liberty and justice, so nations thrive by meeting their responsibilities and face consequences when they don’t.”
Mr. Obama said the United States would “be steadfast in strengthening those old alliances that have served us so well,” while also trying to “build new partnerships and shape stronger international standards and institutions.” He added: “This engagement is not an end in itself. The international order we seek is one that can resolve the challenges of our times.”
Yesterday’s media coverage focused on the parallels between Obama’s “international order” and President George H.W. Bush’s “new world order” used in announcing the 1990 War in Iraq. But the comparison Obama and some in the media are avoiding is between his policies and those of his predecessor, George W. Bush:
“When Mr. Bush addressed their predecessors, he had toppled the Taliban government in Afghanistan and was turning attention to Iraq. “If we wait for threats to fully materialize,” he said then, “we will have waited too long.” As Mr. Obama took the stage on a mild, overcast day, the American war in Iraq was winding down, but Afghanistan had flared out of control and terrorists were making a fresh effort to strike inside the United States.
“This war has changed over the last nine years, but it’s no less important than it was in those days after 9/11,” Mr. Obama said. Recalling his decision announced here six months ago to send 30,000 reinforcements to Afghanistan, Mr. Obama said difficult days were ahead, but added, “I have no doubt that together with our Afghan and international partners, we will succeed in Afghanistan.”
Mr. Obama all but declared victory in Iraq, praising the military, but not Mr. Bush, for turning it around. “A lesser Army might have seen its spirit broken,” he said. “But the American military is more resilient than that.”
The Bush Doctrine called on nations to “meet their responsibilities” and also forced them to “face consequences when they don’t.” As President, Obama has mastered the rhetoric that calls on nations to do their part. But the adverse consequences have not materialized (or are limited to America’s allies), a fact that is most apparent in the failure of Obama’s approach to homeland security:
“At home, Mr. Obama attributed the failure of efforts to blow up an airplane over Detroit and a car packed with explosives in Times Square to the intense American pursuit of radical groups abroad. “These failed attacks show that pressure on networks like Al Qaeda is forcing them to rely on terrorists with less time and space to train,” he said.
And he defended his revised counterterrorism policies that critics say have weakened America’s defenses. “We should not discard our freedoms because extremists try to exploit them,” he said. “We cannot succumb to division because others try to drive us apart.”
I’d feel much better if the “failed attacks” had been stopped before the fuses were lit, the goal during the Bush Administration. I’d also feel better if the Obama Doctrine relied less on fragile and unpredictable diplomacy:
“The speech offered a glimpse of his first official national security strategy, to be released this week, including four principles: to build strength abroad by building strength at home through education, clean energy and innovation; to promote “the renewed engagement of our diplomats” and support international development; to rebuild alliances; and to promote human rights and democracy abroad.
But even as he tried to distinguish his strategy from Mr. Bush’s, Mr. Obama faced the same daunting realization and expressed it with a line Mr. Bush used repeatedly: “This is a different kind of war,” he said. “There will be no simple moment of surrender to mark the journey’s end, no armistice or banner headline.”
It was President Bush who changed American policy to fight a new kind of war. President Obama has returned to the policies of demilitarization, detente, and diplomacy.