Posted by: cousindampier | 21 December 2009

Obama and Pragmatism


Sometimes Mr Obama is accused of soft-headed idealism (eg, for extending a tentative hand to Iran and North Korea’s Kim Jong Il, to whom he passed a letter last week), and sometimes of a hard-hearted realism that pays too little heed to human rights. When Iran cracked down on pro-democracy protesters in June, he muted his criticism for fear of disrupting the nuclear talks. His administration has made less fuss than some about human rights in China. In Oslo he defended his decision to treat with repressive regimes by arguing that “sanctions without outreach” and “condemnation without discussion” could end in stalemate. On December 14th Hillary Clinton, his secretary of state, took up the refrain. “Our principles are our north star,” she said, “but our tools and tactics must be flexible.”

One of the mistakes Americans made after the Trade Center attacks was to move from the belief that we can spread ideas by indirect action to the belief that we have to spread ideas with direct action. Self-interest is an inherent driver of strategic and political decisions in the world. That won’t change, so insisting that democratic ideas are installed right NOW doesn’t tend to work, because of the inevitable chaos which direct action (ie, invastion) tends to bring.

So how do we spread ideas via actions which don’t cause a total upheaval of society? I think the ‘Obama Doctrine’ is about using the mixture of force and diplomacy (rather than the first 6 years of Bush, which was 95% force, 5% diplomacy – just enough to make it seem legal). Obama doesn’t have a clearly defined doctrine yet – is a year enough time? But he does have a paradigm by which he seems to be constructing and working through. The results appear slowly and they aren’t flashy, but so far its remarkably effective.

Most importantly, Obama has re-defined the relationship between the United Sates and globalization. We have this unique, selfish expectation that globalization always work in our favor, and even when it turns a little poor, we look into our country and begin to decry the process and the outside world. The biggest political hurdle he will have to overcome is the economy and job creation; yet he has already traveled more than any President in their first year. That reflects how intermixed state economies are, but also how he is leading the public into a more defined international role – one beyond just pre-emptive strikes and the Surge. Thus the Obama Doctrine, so far, is broadening the range of issues to be dealt with beyond just Iraq, Afghanistan, and defense budget reports.


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