The Obama Doctrine

By Lindsey Ellerson

Dec 10, 2009 6:11pm

What we heard articulated today in the president’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech was nothing short of the Obama Doctrine — the most comprehensive view we’ve been offered yet of how the president views foreign policy — and how he sees himself within the pantheon of world leaders.


A senior administration official says this comprehensive vision “evolved organically” as the president put his thoughts into the speech throughout the speech-writing process.


“It started off with him wanting to address the question of the war,” the official said, “and a lot of issues followed from that. Not only waging war, but what kind of peace do you want.”


The official noted that in addition, the president is 10 1/2 months into his presidency, so “we’re at a stage where we’ve done a good deal,” and the president was able to articulate his vision when it comes to foreign policy matters consuming his time — “not just where he wants to take us but what he’s been working on — the ‘nuclear agenda, where we are with Iran.”


The president made it clear that the US is willing to wage war, despite the fact that his heroes — Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. — might oppose, say, his decision to further escalate the war in Afghanistan.


He stated clearly that war can be just, indeed, that sometimes it is the only path of justice.


“We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: we will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes,” he said. “There will be times when nations — acting individually or in concert — will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified. As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King’s life work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there’s nothing weak — nothing passive — nothing naive — in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King, but as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms.”


With that in mind, he made clear his guiding principles:


1) that the US must hold itself to a higher code of conduct, hence his invocation of his ban on torture and his order of the closure of the detainee center at Guantanamo Bay;


2) that the international community, if it is truly serious about trying to avoid war, must fully engage tough diplomacy against rogue nations such as North Korea and Iran that would keep crises surrounding those nations from becoming wars;


3) that the world must engage with governments of ill-repute, and try to bring them back into the fold; and


4) that a nation’s hostility towards human rights and economic injustice cannot be allowed to thrive, for those conditions lead to war in the long term.


He concluded by citing his heroes King and Gandhi again — saying that their belief system is something to aim for.


“The non-violence practiced by men like Gandhi and King may not have been practical or possible in every circumstance, but the love that they preached — their fundamental faith in human progress — that must always be the North Star that guides us on our journey. For if we lose that faith — if we dismiss it as silly or nave; if we divorce it from the decisions that we make on issues of war and peace — then we lose what’s best about humanity. We lose our sense of possibility. We lose our moral compass.”


-jpt 

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