Does the Obama Doctrine buy us anything? For the record, I’m taking this as the Obama Doctrine:
“When we face a situation like we do on that mountain — with innocent people facing the prospect of violence on a horrific scale, when we have a mandate to help — in this case, a request from the Iraqi government — and when we have the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre, then I believe the United States of America cannot turn a blind eye,” the president said.
I am not precisely– perhaps “completely”– a neocon, but I do favor a muscular foreign policy. I think the USA is the finest and most powerful force for freedom and justice in the history of the world. I think we have both the duty and, by long usage and treaty considerations, the obligation to use our power in the service of advancing the cause of democracy and individual liberty, to include the use of military force when it appears warranted. I believe the US is the guarantor of a (mostly) peaceful world order because no other nation, or combination of nations to which we do not belong, is both capable and willing to do so. And I say all that in full knowledge we are not perfect; we can and have made serious errors in the past and managed to get a lot of people killed unnecessarily through error or ambition or wishful thinking (with all the dead in ISIL’s path being a fine example of the latter).
The thing that makes the US unique, in my eyes, is we are powerful enough to make a real difference, but we really, truly aren’t bent on conquest. To be sure, we have certain minimum standards to which we require others to conform in order to get on our white hat list; standards which many there do not like and many here see as bullying. But we don’t force it on them unless they get to genociding people or attacking ourselves or our allies. Even when we invade another country, we don’t plunder it, or sack their cities and we always give it back to the civilian government elected by the people who live there. We’ve had military force stationed in Europe, Japan and Korea for over half a century, but those nations are independent and we do not threaten their sovereignty.
I raise this question because I have grave concerns about the Obama Doctrine. I am not opposed to the idea, but I am unsure the present course is tenable or effective. Yes, preventing genocide of innocents falls within the mandate I describe in above. But I do not think Mr. Obama’s preferred method of dealing with the matter is going to work. I blogged this in another venue:
The whole idea of “atrocities prevention” is just plumb crazy. You can’t prevent atrocities without either committing one yourself or occupying the territory where such atrocity is alleged to occur. The only thing one can do with “surgically targeted air strikes” or “limited engagement” is delay the genocide until your forces leave, or cause it to be relocated to a venue where your forces are not.
That said, it’s an entirely fitting exercise for the Obama administration: touchy-feely, expensive and useless.
I do not oppose the idea in general, but I oppose this specific tactical concept. Half measures don’t work. And since they don’t, any effort expended in them is wasteful. Whole hog or none.
There is a solid argument against our messing in the Middle East entirely. To wit, that what’s going to happen in the Islamic world is inevitable; nothing short of a miracle direct from the hand of the Almighty will prevent it. If that’s true– I think it is– the sooner it starts, the sooner it will be over. But it’s going to be really messy when it comes, as in really, truly, seriously disastrous; perhaps as much as a third of the planet will burn and the casualties will be numbered in hundreds of millions. The other school of thought is, while we can’t prevent it we might, by dint of very great effort and expense, be capable of limiting the damage; or rather spreading the damage out in time and space to limit its global impact on the uninvolved portions of the world, horrible as it will be when and where it happens. There’s no fooling ourselves about it, this would be hideously costly, and no guarantee we wouldn’t make things worse rather than better.
I know people– serious, sober, intelligent realists, not kumbaya-singing, one-worlder, brain-dead lefties– some with military experience and all of whose opinions I respect, who think such attenuation of damage is beyond our strength. There’s nothing we can do, they say, this problem is not amenable to the military solution. They may be right. Myself, I lean toward the latter camp; I know the path will be terribly hard, but I think we can do more good than harm in taking it. I think it’s worth trying.
Thus, I could support either option: stay out completely and let it happen, or go it, eyes wide open, and start regulating the matter with rifles and artillery pieces and fighter bombers. The half measures the President proposes– limited in scope, and only when he feels like it– that, I fear, I oppose. It’s the worst of both worlds. We have to pay the cost, but we can’t accomplish the objective.
And so, I ask the question: What do we want in Iraq? If it is merely to prevent the genocide of the poor souls on top of that mountain, fine. But how? And for how long? I don’t think we can actually achieve the goal with nothing but drones and fighter bombers, or at least for no longer than the aircraft are overhead, and I am absolutely damn certain the President would be boiled in oil before committing ground troops to do the job and keep it done. So why are we doing it at all? Why should we pay the inevitable price if our tactics can not achieve our strategic goal and can buy us a mere delay of the inevitable?