[dropcap]M[/dropcap]any of the supporters of the Obama Doctrine are appalled by what is clearly a cynical policy of fear-mongering by the right, one that is more concerned with galvanizing the power-base than it is with explain the facts of the world we live into them. But, the supporters argue, while the world might indeed be going through a turbulent and violent phase right now, America is actually quite safe.
Thinking about security from a purely military angle, our doctrinaires are indeed right, and it is exactly because America is safe that it needs to be more involved in making the world safer for others. But this not something that can be achieved by entering into Faustian deals with corrupt and authoritarian regimes, as this step will only empower these regimes and legitimate their extremist ways. Rather, making this world a safer place requires drawing real red lines when it comes to genocide and mass murder, and that could be accomplished by enforcing the legal doctrine of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) which was elaborated for this purpose.
At one point back in 2007, presidential hopeful Barack Obama made this amazing statement:
“We can’t say ‘never again’ and allow it to happen again. As President of the United States, I don’t intend to abandon people or turn a blind eye on slaughter.”
But turning a blind eye is exactly what Obama did once in office, and not only in regard to the genocide in Darfur, in connection with which the statement above was made, but also in connection with the much more publicized genocide in Syria, as well as mass slaughter elsewhere in the region and the world. The candidate has become a president and can now afford to turn his back on some of his promises like so many before him had done. But Obama’s was not a simple about-face. It came as a downright betrayal of the very doctrine of R2P that was mostly elaborated by his ideological camp, and of the people and ethos who pave the way to its emergence.
R2P may not have acquired an official status until 2005, but ever since diplomats, legal scholars and human rights activists began working on it since the late 1990s, the move generated a growing sense of confidence among prodemocracy activists around the world, encouraging them to push their democratic reform agendas with much more vigor. After all, they felt the world, and the United Sates in particular, has their backs, that the specter of unbridled violence that would have given them pause earlier was no longer something of which they needed to be afraid anymore. No, no one expected democratic transformation in the Middle East and elsewhere to be a cakewalk, sacrifices were expected, and so were bloody crackdowns by the corrupt and authoritarian regimes involved. But work on the R2P and its eventual adoption signaled something to the activist and dissident communities round the world: the existence of a threshold which, once reached, the international community, led by the United States, would interfere to stop, if not prevent, any slaughter, and make sure that political processes, no matter how flawed (after all, no one thinks the situation in Bosnia or even Kosovo is ideal), are put in place to address the underlying issues.
This expectation emerged not only before the US-led invasion of Iraq, but even before the 9/11 tragedy. That is, it did not come as a result of neocon policies, as some would contend, but as a result of promises and pledges made by the leaders of the free world from all ideological camps. In the U.S., this meant that both Democrats and Republicans were on board with this, that this commitment reflected a rare bipartisan agreement.
Unfortunately, Obama’s legacy will prove too enduring, and much blood will be shed across the world before the situation is “rectified.”
Obama undid all that. And he did it just when the need for a strong demonstration of the moral power of R2P was desperately needed. He did it in connection to a well-publicized, well-documented, mass slaughter in the heart of the Middle East. He did it in order to appease an autocratic expansionist regime. His timing, methods, logic and style have created a rift that will not be easily bridged by a simple change in administration. Unfortunately, Obama’s legacy will prove too enduring, and much blood will be shed across the world before the situation is “rectified.”
But, and if we are to out this issue aside for a while, or, to be more specific, accept that it is already there, as far as America is concerned at this stage, let’s briefly revisit the issue of America’s safety.
Is America really as safe and secure as the Obama Doctrinaires want us to believe?
If we examine this issue from a traditional military angle, the answer must be a resounding yes. Not even China or Russia poses much of a treat to America at this stage. They might create problems ad headaches for her in places around the world, but they can never really threaten her domestically. That is, if we insist on thinking in traditional terms. But ours is not a traditional world.
Welcome to the 21 Century, that time in our collective history when Russian hackers can read Obama’s emails, Chinese techies can hijack the entire internet, American citizens, including a variety of professionals, as well as respected members of the academia and the think tank community, can still be used, and/or lured or tricked into “spying,” willingly or inadvertently, for America’s enemies, where American banks can be used to transfer and launder “trillions” of dollars in illicit funds with almost no consequence, and where corrupt authoritarian regimes, organized crime syndicates (including drug and human traffickers) and terrorist cells and networks can work together and form lasting alliances.
And welcome to a world where few believes American promises anymore, be they made by Republicans or Democrats, and fewer even believe in the American Promise itself: that America can and should be the anchor of global order, a world where the only alternatives to American power is adventurous antidemocratic regimes seeking to increase their share of the pie. Even the Obama Doctrinaires have long ceased to believe in this promise, so much so, they advocated its abandonment and got their wish.
But is this better America? Are we really secure here? I don’t think so. For while I don’t subscribe to the prevalent policies of fear-mongering, I do believe in this simple fact: asymmetric nontraditional threats to America’s security are no less threatening and existential than those posed by traditional militaries. I am not sure whether it is hubris or a simple lack of imagination that makes so many others incapable of seeing the same. To me it is as obvious as daylight.
I hope that I am wrong, because I can take a hit to my ego and live. But, if I am right, can America truly take the hit to her security? Perhaps she can, but at what cost? And what cost for those hundreds of millions around the world who truly need her to be strong and involved?
Indeed, Obama has ushered in a paradigm shift in American foreign policy, but he did so at a tremendous cost and while underestimated the role of ideology, identity politics and parochial interests that often trump rational geopolitical thinking in so many quarters around the world where the champions of zero-sum mentality continue to rule the day, where people would take things to the edge, then jump, just out of spite, and because this is not really their edge. Where an Obama, armed with his geopolitical mind and calculations based on national interest sees an edge, others, living in far more cynical parts of the world, and armed with their strictly parochial mindset see simply another line in the sand to be crossed and another meaningless boundary to be ignored. For them, and so long as they remain in power, all other considerations are secondary, including the destruction of their countries and decimation of their peoples. Neither nation- nor tribe-building is a top priority for them, acquiring and maintaining their hold on power is. We are told that “the civilized Persians” are much different than those “barbaric Arabs” in this regard. Obama definitely seems to think so. As a part-Arab, part-Kurd, part whatever, I may not be seen as a neutral observer in this situation, so I’ll hold my peace, with a knowing, though pained, smirk on my face.