Once upon a time, there was the Bush Doctrine, whose principal tenets were preemption, military primacy, new multilateralism, and the spread of democracy. Of these tenets, promotion of democratic regime change is the one most associated with it.
Barack Obama ran as the anti-Bush. His administration has tried to reverse most policies associated with his predecessor. The Bush Doctrine, especially democratic regime change, was abandoned, but in favor of what? Pundits are now taking about the Obama Doctrine, but they are not quite sure what it is, especially in light of events in Libya.
Writing in Politico, Glenn Trush noted the “difficulty in succinctly describing the intellectual framework for Obama’s approach to U.S. foreign policy and national security issues has long bedeviled anyone trying to impute a concrete agenda from Obama’s soaring pronouncements about supporting democracy and fostering international human rights.”
On Libya, writes Trush, Obama’s opacity is coming back to haunt him, as critics from both parties press him on his rationale for taking action and for a more specific articulation of his vision for American goals and aspirations in the Mideast and elsewhere.
Are we in Libya for humanitarian reasons, regime change, or both? There have been mixed signals from the White House.
National Review contributor Stanley Kurtz attributes much of the inchoate Obama Doctrine to presidential adviser Samantha Power.
In 2005, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously affirmed that “when a state proves either unable or unwilling to protect peoples” from mass atrocities occurring within its borders, “that responsibility shifts to the international community.” This principle, dubbed by its adherents at the World Summit as the “Right to Protect” (R2P), specifies four types of transgressions that warrant foreign intervention: genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.
The mantle of R2P advocacy has been taken up by the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, a George Soros-sponsored group, which declares R2P “a new international norm.”
According to Kurtz, Obama has had a longstanding interest in multilateral efforts to combat war crimes and genocide. Obama would like to see a more constraining international legal regime on war crimes, even at the cost of national sovereignty, not to mention the blood and treasure of the countries doing the enforcing.
Power has been a prominent advocate of humanitarian intervention and wants to solidify the principle of R2P in international law. That required a “pure” case of intervention on humanitarian grounds. Power’s agenda would explain why Obama acted when he acted, and why the public rationale for action has not included regime change. However, on March 3, Obama said that Kaddafi has lost his legitimacy and should step down. Meanwhile, on March 25, at a briefing for congressional leaders, there were no plans to assassinate Kaddafi. The dichotomy was evident in Obama’s address on Monday.
In addition to why we are taking action in Libya, there is a raging debate about how we got there. The administration commenced military action based on a UN resolution, without an imminent threat against the United States and without briefing Congress.
Does the Obama Doctrine boil down to R2P based on a UN resolution? If it was purely R2P — i.e. humanitarian — what about Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain, and Jordan, all of which have used force to quell demonstrations against incumbent governments?
If international approval for action is necessary for R2P, but not congressional approval, popular American opinion is irrelevant, although American lives and treasure are at stake. This is consistent with Power’s weltanschauung.
Whether the ultimate outcome is in the long-term interest of the United States may be immaterial. We are now actively supporting the Libyan rebels, but who are they and what would happen if they took power is unknown.
R2P does not bode well for Israel.
Since the intervention in Libya, euphemistically called a “kinetic military action” by the administration, there has been a bombing in Jerusalem and Hamas has increased its rocket attacks on Israel. Nevertheless, a week ago, the Palestinian Authority, with a veiled reference to R2P, asked for international protection, citing a sharp rise in Israeli settler violence against Palestinian civilians in the West Bank.
In an April 2002 interview, Power suggested that the United States needs to “put something on the line” to stop “major human rights abuses” by Israel in the territories. Her suggestions included diverting foreign aid to help build “the new state of Palestine” as well as a “mammoth protection force” to impose a solution.
Frank Gaffney Jr., founder of the Center for Security Policy, believes the intervention in Libya is an ominous precedent for Israel. It begins with the Palestinian Authority seeking a Security Council resolution that would recognize its unilateral declaration of statehood. As a result, the IDF and Israeli citizens are on the wrong side of internationally recognized borders. The PA insists on the sovereign territory of Palestine being rid of all Jews.
The unified Palestinian government then seeks international help to “liberate” their land. As with Libya, the Arab League endorses the use of force to protect the “Palestinian people” and end the occupation.
As with Libya, Obama warns Israel that it must immediately take steps to dismantle its unwanted presence inside the internationally Palestinian borders or face a U.S.-enabled military coalition.
It could happen if the Obama Doctrine, R2P without congressional concurrence, becomes policy by default.