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June 2012

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The Obama Doctrine and the Lessons of Iraq
by Dominic Tierney, senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute
Text: http://www.fpri.org/enotes/2012/201205.tierney.obama-doctrine-iraq.html
Reviewed by Norvell B. DeAtkine

In assessing the Obama doctrine, Dominic Tierney explains that there does not seem to be any basic conceptual approach to foreign policy. The president avoids being “doctrinaire” because as he stated the “world is complicated.” Applauding Obama for his avoidance of rigid doctrines, Tierney uses the example of the Arab Spring, in which a policy for Libya is not applicable to Syria, etc. He also believes that presidential doctrines have a poor record, opining that the Truman Doctrine was instrumental in drawing the U.S. into Vietnam. The one Obama doctrine so far seems to be the use of drone warfare. According to Tierney, Obama is not a foreign policy president, focusing on domestic concerns and leaving much of the foreign policy architecture to Hillary Clinton. In almost every aspect of foreign policy the President seems to be less aggressive and more cautious than President Bush.

Tierney asserts that the Obama foreign policy is mostly about rejecting everything that has to do with the war in Iraq. This, he believes, is a mistake. Most of the Obama policy is wrapped around what one writer called “extrication narrative” predicated on withdrawing from the Middle East. In opposition to Bush, Obama favors precise surgical strikes over large scale intervention, restraint in the use of force, dependence on multi-national operations, and avoiding nation-building. Central to Tierney's presentation is his claim that these Obama attributes are in themselves doctrinaire and put us into a strait-jacket of possible responses when the Iraq example is no longer applicable

Tierney believes nation –building in the future is impossible to avoid, and that excessive dependence on multi-national responses led to the less than stellar outcome of the revolution in Libya. As he states, we should learn from Iraq but not allow the experience there to “blot out the sun.”

One other qualifier should be added: that the lessons of the Iraq war be based on a future in-depth balanced assessment and not the dogmatic conventional wisdom that dominates the “lessons” of the war so far.bluestar

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