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‘Obama Doctrine’ Edges Toward High Concept
Emily Badger, Miller-McCune
After two big recent speeches, the president is teasing toward elucidating his administration’s foreign policy parameters.
In President Obama’s two major speeches of late — first at West Point to announce the escalation in Afghanistan, then in Oslo to accept the Nobel peace prize — the media have begun to sniff out what looks almost like a cohesive worldview, a vision about America’s place in the world, a — cue headlines — Obama Doctrine.
Although, as David Sanger wrote in The New York Times, the fledgling philosophy is vexingly short on that key kernel that could be condensed onto a bumper sticker. (Honk if you love “containment,” or “pre-emption” or “anticipatory self defense!”)
Obama’s mixed signals complicate the search: He is ramping up involvement in Afghanistan but cutting down on American aims there. He was given a peace prize for promoting multilateralism but showed up in Oslo to say the U.S. has the right to fight “just wars” on our own.
And most curiously, he has been lauded as the anti-Bush, even though some of his strategy (even his language in announcing the new Afghan surge) mimics his predecessor’s.
And so Sarah Palin will be forgiven if she can’t define this doctrine, either. Still, plucking at the common threads is a worthy exercise for pundits, journalists and just about anyone who’d like to think the president moves American interests and soldiers about the world with something more than an ad hoc game plan.
One theme is apparent — the president who ran on hope is first and foremost a realist, which sometimes also means a downer…
(16 Dec 2009)
The Post-Imperial Presidency
Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek
If you take just one sentence out, Barack Obama’s speech on Afghanistan last week was all about focusing and limiting the scope of America’s mission in that country. His goal, he said, was “narrowly defined.” The objectives he detailed were exclusively military—to deny Al Qaeda a safe haven, reverse the Taliban’s momentum, and strengthen the Kabul government’s security forces. He said almost nothing about broader goals like spreading democracy, protecting human rights, or assisting in women’s education. The nation that he was interested in building, he explained, was America.
And then there was that one line: “I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan.” Here lies the tension in Barack Obama’s policy. He wants a clearer, more discriminating foreign policy, one that pares down the vast commitments and open-ended interventions of the Bush era, perhaps one that is more disciplined even than Bill Clinton’s approach to the world. (On the campaign trail, Obama repeatedly invoked George H.W. Bush as the president whose foreign policy he admired most.) But America is in the midst of a war that is not going well, and scaling back now would look like cutting and running. Obama is searching for a post-imperial policy in the midst of an imperial crisis. The qualified surge—send in troops to regain the momentum but then draw down—is his answer to this dilemma. This is an understandable compromise, and it could well work, but it pushes off a final decision about Afghanistan until the troop surge can improve the situation on the ground. Eighteen months from now, Obama will have to answer the core question: is a stable and well-functioning Afghanistan worth a large and continuing American ground presence, or can American interests be secured at much lower cost?
This first year of his presidency has been a window into Barack Obama’s world view. Most presidents, once they get hold of the bully pulpit, cannot resist the temptation to become Winston Churchill. They gravitate to grand rhetoric about freedom and tyranny, and embrace the moral drama of their role as leaders of the free world. Even the elder Bush, a pragmatist if there ever was one, lapsed into dreamy language about “a new world order” once he stood in front of the United Nations. Not Obama. He has been cool and calculating, whether dealing with Russia, Iran, Iraq, or Afghanistan. A great orator, he has, in this arena, kept his eloquence in check. Obama is a realist, by temperament, learning, and instinct. More than any president since Richard Nixon, he has focused on defining American interests carefully, providing the resources to achieve them, and keeping his eyes on the prize…
(5 Dec 2009)
The Great Game: U.S., NATO War In Afghanistan
Rick Rozoff, Global Research
The U.S. (and Britain) began bombing the Afghan capital of Kabul on October 7, 2001 with Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from warships and submarines and bombs dropped from warplanes and shortly thereafter American special forces began ground operations, a task that has been conducted since by regular Army and Marine units. The bombing and the ground combat operations continue more than eight years later and both will be intensified to record levels in short order.
The combined U.S. and NATO forces would represent a staggering number, in excess of 150,000 soldiers. By way of comparison, as of September of this year there were approximately 120,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and only a small handful of other nations’ personnel, those assigned to the NATO Training Mission – Iraq, remaining with them.
“Secretary Gates has made clear that the conflicts we’re in should be at the very forefront of our agenda. He wants to make sure we’re not giving up capabilities needed now for those needed for some unknown future conflict. He wants to make sure the Pentagon is truly on war footing….For the first time in decades, the political and economic stars are aligned for a fundamental overhaul of the way the Pentagon does business.”
Afghanistan: Historical Precedents and Antecedents
Over the past ten years citizens of the United States and other Western nations, and unfortunately most of the world, have become accustomed to Washington and its military allies in Europe and those appointed as armed outposts on the periphery of the “Euro-Atlantic community” engaging in armed aggression around the world.
Wars against Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq and lower profile military operations and surrogate campaigns in nations as diverse as Colombia, Yemen, the Philippines, Ivory Coast, Somalia, Chad, the Central African Republic, South Ossetia and elsewhere have become an unquestioned prerogative of the U.S. and its NATO partners. So much so that many have forgotten to consider how comparable actions have been or might be viewed if a non-Western nation attempted them.
Thirty years ago this December 24 the first Soviet troops entered Afghanistan to assist a neighboring nation’s government to combat an armed insurgency based in Pakistan and surreptitiously (later quite openly) supported by the United States.
In the waning days of that year, 1979, and in the early ones of the following Soviet troop strength grew to some 50,000 soldiers.
It is worth noting in this regard that in 1839 Britain invaded Afghanistan with 21,000 of its own and Indian colonial troops and in 1878 with twice that number to counter Russian influence in the country in what came to be called the Great Game.
On January 23, 1980 U.S. President James Earl (Jimmy) Carter stated in his last State of the Union Address that “The implications of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan could pose the most serious threat to the peace since the Second World War.”
When the Soviet Union began withdrawing its forces from the nation – the first half from May 15 to August 16, 1988 and the last from November 15, 1988 to February 15, 1989 – their peak number had been slightly over 100,000.
On December 1 of 2009 U.S. President Barack Obama announced that he was deploying 30,000 new troops to Afghanistan in addition to the 68,000 already there and two days later “Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Congress…that the surge force of 30,000 going to Afghanistan will grow to at least 33,000 when support troops are included.” 
That is, over 100,000 troops. Along with private military and security contractors whose number is even larger.
Soviet troops were in Afghanistan barely over nine years. American troops are now involved in the ninth year of combat operations in the country and in less than four weeks will be engaged in their tenth calendar year of war there…
(5 Dec 2009)