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Diplomacy

Archive | Diplomacy

Exploring the Obama Doctrine

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President Obama speaking at Cairo University in 2009. Chuck Kennedy/White House

Doctrines often guide chief executive’s foreign policy decision-making. The Bush Doctrine assumed the right of anticipatory self-defense and that preventive war was justified when a perceived threat to the United States existed. The Iraq War was a result of the Bush Doctrine. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was viewed as a threat and preemptive war was necessary. Therefore, the U.S. military overthrew the regime and replaced it with another.

President Obama speaking at Cairo University in 2009. Chuck Kennedy/White House

The most widely cited doctrine, the Monroe Doctrine, posited that the Americas were in the American sphere of influence and force would be used to keep it free of external actors. Both the Monroe and Bush Doctrines rationalized when it was prudent to use hard power to achieve objectives. While the Monroe and Bush Doctrines relied on projections of force that depended largely on realist assumptions, the Obama Doctrine, as it evolves, uses realism but also relies on pragmatic assessments and humanitarian criteria to determine when the United States can and should intervene.

Essentially, under Obama, the U.S. will rely on soft power and other tools to avoid direct American intervention into troubled regions of the world. These efforts will be aided by an assessment of situations on the ground as they evolve. However, when situations reach the point that American intervention might be necessary the U.S. will intervene multilaterally.

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Obama’s Multilateralism

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President Barack Obama with President Nicolas Sarkozy of France in Pittsburgh. Pete Souza/White House

Over the past two years Barack Obama has presented his vision of American leadership under the paradigm of multilateralism.

President Barack Obama with President Nicolas Sarkozy of France in Pittsburgh. Pete Souza/White House

By contrast, the Bush administration’s foreign policy strategies were conducted more unilaterally. Addressing the U.N. General Assembly in 2009, Obama urged, “Those who used to chastise America for acting alone in the world cannot now stand by and wait for America to solve the world’s problems alone.” Obama has consistently pursued multilateral coalitions to solve collective problems whether in Iran or Libya.

Obama’s multilateral approach to global problems evolved as a result of the 2003 Iraq War. The U.S. invaded Iraq along with a “coalition of the willing”. British, Polish and other nations played an important role but it was U.S. troops who faced the most risk and the United States covered most of the costs. This unilateral approach to Iraq caused many nations to question the global role that the U.S. was assuming. In the recent past, when the U.S. has been forced or encouraged to confront international problems, building international consensus strengthened its position as in the case of the 1991 Gulf War and the NATO bombings of Serbs in order to halt ethnic genocide. Multilateralism affords less blowback and lessens the chances that if situations go awry the U.S. would not be held wholly responsible.

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Free Trade Agreements in Limbo

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President Barack Obama applauds during the heads of state retreat at the last session of the Summit of the Americas on April 19, 2009. Pete Souza/White House

The Obama administration recently named Gary F. Locke as ambassador to China replacing Ambassador Jon M. Huntsman Jr. Huntsman who is stepping down for a presumed presidential run against his soon to be former employer.

President Barack Obama applauds during the heads of state retreat at the last session of the Summit of the Americas on April 19, 2009. Pete Souza/White House

The nomination of Gary Locke leaves the position of Commerce Secretary vacant for the foreseeable future. Senate Republicans have threatened to block the confirmation of a replacement until President Obama submits, for Senate consideration; the Panamanian and Columbian free trade agreements. The Obama administration has yet to do this. The United States-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA) has been finalized but is being held up until the other two are finished and submitted to the Senate.

With Republicans holding 44 seats in the Senate, if the caucus can remain united, they will succeed in forcing the administration’s hand. Former trade representative under President Bush, Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), suggested of the Republican strategy, “We’re trying to help the president to do what he has talked about, of doubling exports over the next five years.” Portman continued, “We can only do it by opening more markets to U.S. workers and farmers and service providers. And these three agreements are a great way to do it.”

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The U.S. Military and Egypt

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DoD Photo
DoD Photo

DoD Photo

As the unrest in Egypt subsides following Hosni Mubarak’s resignation as president it has become apparent that the U.S. military played a key role in insuring that the revolution did not become more violent. There was bloodshed and street battles but this was at the hands of Mubarak thugs and secret police acting on behalf of the administration and not the military. At certain points late into the evening during the height of the protests videos show military tanks providing cover to protesters from armed Mubarak supporters. As the new realities of a post-Mubarak Egypt unfold the Egyptian military has assumed power and has pressed Egyptians to return to work and resume a level of normalcy.

“In order to achieve security and stability of the nation and the citizens and to guarantee the continuation of production in all the country sectors, calls on the citizens and labor sectors to carry out their duties, each one in his position, with appreciation for what you have endured for a long time,” according to a communiqué released by the new government.

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Evolving Russian-Western Relations

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President Obama talks with Dmitry Medvedev in France. Pete Souza/White House

Russia has recently emerged as an important ally of the United States. Not only does the United States need Russian assistance in dealing with uncooperative states and in a supporting role in Afghanistan, but Europe is also finding Russian cooperation to be extremely useful. As the United States and NATO seek Russian assistance in several global regions, these states and institutions are recognizing that Moscow is no longer as dependent on their support as it once was.

President Obama talks with Dmitry Medvedev in France. Pete Souza/White House

However, these states and institutions are learning that relying on Russian assistance around the globe does have a price. For example, due to Russian objections, the United States canceled its land-based missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, in favor of a sea-based system. Europe is paying more for natural gas from Russia, and in some cases access to natural gas is limited in the wake of payment disputes between Russia’s Gazprom and Ukraine.

Since 1945, Russia has been an important global player, due to its immense size, nuclear arsenal and permanent membership on the U.N. Security Council. While Russia endured severe growing pains following the collapse of the Soviet Union, it has since rebounded; and, in some situations, directly challenges the supremacy of the United States and NATO. Failed economic transition, along with the weight of IMF and World Bank loans, created the stage for a structural economic policy implemented in the 1990s by Boris Yeltsin, which involved the state selling off managing shares or whole industries, in order to add liquidity to the Russian economy. This policy had far-reaching ramifications. The oligarchs gobbled up nearly all state industries.

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U.S. and Russia Sign New START Treaty

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President Barack Obama and President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia in Arlington, Va., June 24, 2010. Pete Souza/White House

President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart, Dmitri Medvedev, have signed a treaty to succeed START I. For clarification, START II was never implemented, and its successor agreement, START III, never got to the negotiation phase.

President Barack Obama and President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia in Arlington, Va., June 24, 2010. Pete Souza/White House

Following the signing, Obama attended a formal state dinner in Prague with 11 fellow NATO allies. Essentially, the context for the New Start Treaty (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) negotiations took place at a meeting in Moscow in July of 2009 between President Obama and President Medvedev. That meeting addressed several key issues.

Most importantly, President Obama and his counterpart signed an agreement that established the groundwork for the New START Treaty, replacing START I when it was set to expire on December 5th of last year. According to an analysis made at the time by Peter Crail of the Arms Control Association, “Just setting a new limit would send a signal to the international community in general that the United States was getting serious about its disarmament commitments again.” Originally the two world leaders met for the first time at the G-20 meeting in London in April of last year and agreed to start a formal process of drafting the New START Treaty. The meeting in Moscow was intended to smooth over any differences that each side had regarding complicated matters like missile defense and verification measures.

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Analysis of U.S.-Russian Summit

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President Barack Obama talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev during the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh, Pa., September 24, 2009. Pete Souza/White House

The first face-to-face meeting, since the G-20 meeting in London, between President Obama and President Medvedev took place in Moscow in July.

President Barack Obama talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev during the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh, Pa., September 24, 2009. Pete Souza/White House

The meeting addressed several key issues. Most importantly, President Obama and President Medvedev signed an agreement that established the groundwork for a treaty that will replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) when it expires on December 5th of this year. This Summit addressed several other key issues. President Obama’s goal is to establish a less antagonistic relationship with Russia that had developed due to events that occurred over the past several years. One of these events was the invasion of Iraq. A second was the Russian/Georgian conflict over the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The United States needs to obtain certain guarantees from Russia that it will help on the diplomatic front in order to curtail Iran’s nuclear ambitions and will offer assistance to the ongoing war effort in Afghanistan.

Considering the diplomatic tensions that arose when Russia pressured Kyrgyzstan to cancel a contract that allowed the United States to use an airbase there to fly men and material to Afghanistan, it is interesting to note that Russia agreed to allow the United States to fly over its airspace in order to accomplish this goal. President Obama is seeking to obtain a united front in dealing with the global economic meltdown that is affecting economies worldwide. One way in which Mr. Obama is seeking to do this is by encouraging business transactions between international conglomerates. PepsiCo was one of several companies to take advantage of the Moscow Summit and will invest nearly $1 billion USD’s in Russia via a bottling plant outside of Moscow along with other investments. Boeing and Deere & Company will also make investments in Russia. Conversely, the Russian oil giant Lukoil will invest in the United States.

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