The Obama Doctrine and the Absence of American Foreign Policy


By Daniel Greenfield l February 15, 2012

The Obama Doctrine can be summed up as the assertion that for the United States to have influence and standing on the global stage, it must first abandon its interests and its allies.

The doctrine is rarely described as bluntly as that by its proponents who employ euphemisms like multilateral policies and honest broker to mean much the same thing, denouncing the previous administration and all the preceding administrations going back to old Tom Jefferson for alienating the world by pursuing American interests and cutting deals with non-progressive allies.

The easiest way to spot the problem with this approach is to try and distinguish it from the UN. That’s hard to do because except during the occasional pro-forma trade dispute there is no distinction. It’s the same policy of multilateral human rights interventions, global mediation and stability, and promoting the welfare of the angrier parts of the Third World. And if America’s agenda is identical to that of the United Nations, than for all intents and purposes there is no American foreign policy.

This leaves the United States as less than a nation, a version of the United Nations with its own military and a great deal of wealth. It has no interests except reaching out to befriend its enemies and it has no allies except those enemies willing to pretend to be its allies, at which point they will become enemies. But the United Nations was designed to be a forum in which nations pursue their own interests; it is not supposed to have interests or allies. The United States is a nation and it is meant to have both. If the United States cannot articulate interests apart from the UN agenda then it no longer functions as a nation on the world stage.

The Obama Doctrine dispensed with America’s traditional allies and pursued relations with its enemies without improving America’s standing or influence in the world, though it did garner its overseer a preemptive Nobel Prize. Even the Libyan War was more of a European project than an American one.

The truth that dare not speak its name in the ink stained pages of the New York Times or the Washington Post is that the Obama Administration has been standing by the sidelines of world events with a very limited influence on what happens anywhere. The United States will not decide what happens in Syria. France, Germany, Qatar and England will decide what they want to do and will allow Obama to sign on if he wants to. Exactly the way it happened in Libya.

The United States still has mass, but it no longer has momentum. It does things like abandon Mubarak or bomb Gaddafi because other countries think they are a good idea. It responds belatedly to events from the outside world and then does its best to take credit for them.

Part of that is inexperience. The White House is headed up by a junior Senator who was a State Senator five years before he ran for the highest office in the land. The Secretary of State is a former First Lady who spent eight years in the Senate before doing the same thing and then oddly enough landed as head of the country’s foreign office. But it’s not all of it.

The real problem is that the United States no longer has national interests. Its leaders act like they are the Secretary General of the UN, rather than the President of the United States. They jostle for standing on the world stage and play international philosophers preaching higher principles to the world, instead of looking out for their own country. Rather than representing the United States, they speak for some global ethical consensus on human rights and democracy.

The problem did not begin with Obama. LBJ may have been the last president who was satisfied with being a national leader, rather than an international leader, but it significantly worsened with Obama because he lacks even the vestigial allegiances that Biden or Kerry retain on some level. If they think like Americans at some gut level, Obama doesn’t and he has no reason to. He is the figurehead of an ideology that champions an end to American interests.

The Obama Doctrine has not actually repaired America’s foreign relations or made the world a better place. What it has done is taken American interests off the table.

The Reset Button did nothing to aid American relations with Russia. Abandoning Eastern Europe did not fix anything, because the problem was not that America was in Russia’s backyard, (that might have been the problem under Yeltsin) but that Russia was run by a clique of thugs whose foreign policy was aligned with their interests. By abandoning America’s allies in Eastern Europe, we did not create a new state of relations with Russia, we just got out of its way.

The same thing has happened around the world as the United States has gotten out of the way of the agendas and interests of our enemies; and in some cases actively aided and abetted their agendas, with entirely predictable results. In South America, in Europe, in Asia and the Middle East, the new policy has yielded dividends for those nations and causes hostile to us. It hasn’t yielded any for us.

Abandoning American allies in the name of being an “Honest Broker” has not won us the respect of the world or made our enemies any friendlier. Alliances are based on mutual interests. Abandoning our alliances makes us more toxic than ever and even if our enemies were interested in approaching us, why would they when we have already demonstrated that an alliance with us is worthless?

The Honest Broker paradigm makes no sense on a national level. If we act as an honest broker between our allies and our enemies, then we have abandoned our allies and devalued the very idea of an alliance with us. And acting as an honest broker between warring allies is a thankless job that will not yield any benefits and infuriate both sides.

Advocates for honest brokerhood insist that it is in our national interest to be an honest broker. But nations aren’t brokers, they are friends and enemies, they are buyers and sellers. Only international organizations can be brokers, and they generally aren’t honest ones either. A nation with its own interests can never be an honest broker. Only by abandoning its interests can it play at being an honest broker and then it is no longer a nation.

Democrats positioned their post-Bush foreign policy as a soft power quest to be liked, but being liked is not a national interest. Not only are very few nations liked and those nations are usually obscure and far away, but being liked means that they have never come into conflict, which is another way of saying that they either have no national interests to pursue or do have national interests but do not pursue them.

National interests are often competitive. For a country to assert its own rights and agendas is to earn the enmity of those nations they conflict with. To have allies and friends is to earn the enmity of their enemies. Even to exist as a large nation on any terms is to earn the wrath of those nations whose aspire to your status.

To act in any way is to alienate. Everything the Obama Administration has done to be liked has made more enemies. Bombing Libya to win the favor of the Arab Street still infuriated that same street which wanted Gaddafi gone, but didn’t want America to do it. Playing Honest Broker between the UK and Argentina over the Falklands has certainly earned the anger of the UK. The lesson here is that doing anything still creates enemies. There is no pure path that will not alienate anyone, which is why the path you choose should be based on practical interests — not a need to be liked.

The Obama Doctrine is completely detached from American interests and even hostile to American interests. Its goal is to overcome a legacy of American power and replace it with multilateral powerlessness and the only real end of that objective is more of the same. Multilateral powerlessness is not a means of better representing American interests, as its advocates tries to claim; it is a policy that terminates the very notion of American interests as too selfish and alienating to have a place on the world stage.

This is not meant to be a surrender of power. Like European national leaders who aspire to regional leadership, the Obamas and the Clintons aren’t interested in being powerless, they would just rather represent an international consensus, rather than a national one. They would like an upgrade from being the elected leaders of farmers and businessmen to the unelected leaders of the world. But for all their shiny diplomas, they are too basically dim to understand that their status and influence is derived from the status and influence of their nation.

The Secretary General of the United Nations is impotent because he represents no one. The UN has no national base and accordingly it is every bit as useless as the League of Nations was. Obama has tried to act like a United Nations Secretary General, rather than an American president, and he has reduced his status and power to something closer to that of the Secretary General. If Obama did not have a military to throw into the pot every time select members of the international community decide to bomb someone, his status would be even lower.

International power is still national power projected internationally. International power without a national base is a fantasy akin to perpetual motion that exists only in the frontal lobe of the schizophrenic progressive. Take the nation out of the equation and all you have are empty words, which is what Obama’s speeches amount to.

The only power that Obama has exercised internationally has been purely negative, the abandonment of American allies and interests. This self-destructive national wrist slitting campaign has not made America more influential, because by definition abandoning power cannot give you power. And that is the fallacy of the Obama Doctrine which chops down the American tree in order to build a castle in the air on top of it.

Like everything that the left does, the Obama Doctrine is self-nullifying, both in concept and in practice, the very exercise of it eventually destroys the thing itself. The problem is that as with so much the left does, the damage spreads inward so that the perpetrators of the policies are the last to feel its effects. A self-destructive ideology destroys everything it touches until its pursuit of power at the highest levels leaves even the highest levels powerless.

Daniel Greenfield is a New York City-based writer and freelance commentator with a special focus on the War on Terror and the rising threat to Western Civilization. Mr. Greenfield is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center. He maintains a blog and is a contributor to

SFPPR News & Analysis.