Mar. 14, 2016
The Obama Doctrine Revisited – Tamara Cofman Wittes (Atlantic)
- Obama’s retreat from Iraq included the withdrawal not just of U.S. forces, but even more so of diplomatic energy and leverage, which, successfully deployed, might have mitigated the collapse of the Iraqi political experiment and thus blunted the rise of ISIS.
- In 2011, my last of two years working on Middle East policy in Obama’s State Department, the administration had ample warning about the damage Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s sectarian and power-hungry behavior was having on Iraqi security and stability. But the president and Vice President Biden, who managed the Iraq portfolio on Obama’s behalf, chose to do very little to constrain Maliki as he began to unravel the tentative political bargains between Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds within federal Iraq.
- Likewise, Obama’s read of the Syrian conflict as holding only narrow implications for American interests was a signal failure to recognize the risk that Syria’s civil war could spill over in ways that directly implicated U.S. interests. As we now know, ISIS used the security and governance vacuums created by the Syrian civil war to consolidate a territorial and financial base that the U.S. has been seeking since late 2014 to undermine, with limited success.
- At the same time, the metastasizing threat from ISIS is forcing Obama to order limited military strikes in Libya and build up military commitments to the Sunni Arab states of the Persian Gulf.
- Inaction is not obviously better than action as a moral choice in foreign policy. The U.S. is a global power that roots its power in a set of universal moral claims. As such, America’s choices (whether to do, or to not do) have global implications, and carry moral responsibility.
- The new war on ISIS reminds us powerfully that threats to others, left unaddressed, very easily land on America’s doorstep.
The writer is a senior fellow and the director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.