During my graduate studies at Boston University, I learned that each contemporary U.S. president had his own political “doctrine” that he would use to frame his foreign policies. This doctrine would be like a road map for his administration.
The Truman doctrine stemmed from the outcomes and ramifications of World War II and the emergence of the two poles. It stated that economic and military aid would be necessary to support states and movements resisting the communist expansion in southern Europe and east of the Mediterranean, in Turkey and Greece in particular. The Eisenhower doctrine intended to fill the power vacuum that resulted from the defeat of Britain and France in the Suez War against Egypt in 1956, as well as to weaken the influence of President Gamal Abdel Nasser, whose dominant leadership jeopardized U.S. interests in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf states. The Nasser propaganda targeted what was then known as the “reactionary” Arab regimes.
The John F. Kennedy doctrine was a modern translation of the Monroe doctrine about human rights, democracy, pluralism and standing against dictatorial regimes. Kennedy’s presidency witnessed the Bay of Pigs invasion and pledged to support democratic elections in the countries of Latin America, in the United States’ backyard. This was in order to prevent communist and leftist influences in those countries. Activist groups in human rights and democratization described the JFK doctrine as a revolutionary coup in Washington’s foreign policy trends because Washington had previously defended Latin American regimes that had come to power on the backs of tanks.
After Kennedy’s assassination, President Lyndon B. Johnson assumed the presidency and replaced this doctrine with his own. Johnson’s doctrine emphasized that Washington would support any government in South America regardless of how that government had come to power as long as it was respectful of U.S. interests. When President Nixon came to the White House, the Vietnam War was at its peak. Nixon’s doctrine was formed by the legendary National Security Adviser and later Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger. It announced that Washington would assist in the defense and development of allies and friends in Southeast Asia according to the treaties signed with them, including expansion of the U.S. nuclear umbrella for protection in case of a nuclear threat.
President Gerald Ford led the country in the transitional period after Nixon’s resignation due to the Watergate scandal and could not find enough time to form his own doctrine. He followed the Nixon doctrine and his country emerged defeated in the Vietnam War, but its relations with Mao’s China improved. Then, the weak President Jimmy Carter assumed office at a time when Iran’s Shah regime, one of the most important U.S. allies in the Middle East, was facing its worst domestic challenge since Mohammad Mosaddegh’s coup d’état in the 1950s. Carter formed a doctrine that was based on ethical principles in the world of politics, which does not recognize ethics. It was true that Carter stated that the U.S. would use force if necessary to defend its strategic allies facing internal and external challenges. But those commitments proved to be fleeting as soap bubbles, as he abandoned the Shah government and allowed the rise of a theocratic regime upon its wreckage. This is the same Iranian regime, in place since 1979, that today causes suffering in the world due to its conspiracies and irrational conduct that is not in line with international law.
On the heels of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and the collapse of the Soviet Union and its socialist system — both these incidents occurred almost simultaneously — George H. W. Bush’s doctrine included strong and decisive language, stating that the U.S. would defend its allies in the Persian Gulf by military force if necessary. That put him in contrast with his Democratic predecessors. He walked his talk and successfully formed a wide international collation, forcing the Iraqi troops out of Kuwait and preventing them from expanding further into other Gulf states. President Bill Clinton came after Bush, with a shadow of JFK’s stardom and popularity on one hand, and with a frustration with descriptions of his weakness and indecisiveness that related him to President Carter on the other. He tried to form his doctrine from a mix of these contradictions. He borrowed Carter’s slogans on human rights, democratization and good governance, and avoided being seen as weak and indecisive by sending his Air Force to bomb Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and intervening militarily in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
We see that the U.S. presidents’ doctrines were influenced by the political circumstances faced by each president at the time — nothing wrong with that — but they also included inconsistency and a lack of concrete principles. This is why we have seen some presidents easily walk away from their predecessors’ doctrines.
Our core question here is: Does President Barack Obama have his own “doctrine”? If the answer is yes, then what is its content?
It seems that the first African-American president does not know what he wants. He is hesitant. His inconsistent policies have become a source of sarcastic criticism. He changed his mind about the events in Egypt four times in one week. He did the same thing on the Syrian crisis. Sometimes he says all options are on the table and repeats this in regard to the Iranian nuclear issue and the irrational acts of Pyongyang’s leaders. On another occasion he says he will supply weapons to the Syrian rebels, only to later retreat and express his concerns that the weapons might end up in the hands of the jihadists. On a third occasion he conditioned the supply of weapons on the outcome of the Geneva II negotiations. Once he confirmed that Damascus had used chemical weapons against the rebels, he retreated from earlier statements and said he needed hard evidence. Even after he made up his mind and decided that the U.S. would supply weapons to the Syrian rebels, he later said they would not be provided with surface-to-air missiles.
These positions of hesitance, inconsistency and indecisiveness are not appropriate for the leader of the only superpower in the world. Due to all this, President Bill Clinton, one of the pillars of the Democratic Party and someone close to Obama, said he is an “amateur” and an “incompetent” president. Clinton added that he supported him because he promised Hillary the position of secretary of state.
In conclusion, the United States has never in its whole history seen a hesitant and inconsistent president like Obama, with the exception of President Jimmy Carter. From Obama’s speeches and his administration officials’ announcements, we can say that the Obama doctrine that will be taught to the coming generations will include the following:
– Dealing with regional and international issues in a hesitant and inconsistent manner.
– Intervening in Arab countries’ internal affairs with the intention of toppling existing regimes and dividing countries into racial and sectarian pockets by training and qualifying those unregulated groups and organizations working under the umbrella of human rights and democratization.
– Letting down legitimate regimes that were in alliance with the U.S and betting on adversary groups like the Muslim Brotherhood.
– Pivoting the U.S. compass to the Far East and the Pacific countries, encircled by the giant China, instead of the Middle East and the Persian Gulf.