“Leading from behind” is not a doctrine that serves the best interests of the US
Jackson Diehl takes an interesting look at the Obama doctrine for foreign policy or, as some have called it, “leading from behind”. Diehl prefers to call it the “light footprint” doctrine:
Contrary to the usual Republican narrative, Obama did not lead a U.S. retreat from the world. Instead he sought to pursue the same interests without the same means. He has tried to preserve America’s place as the “indispensable nation” while withdrawing ground troops from war zones, cutting the defense budget, scaling back “nation-building” projects and forswearing U.S.-led interventions.
It’s a strategy that supposes that patient multilateral diplomacy can solve problems like Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability; that drone strikes can do as well at preventing another terrorist attack on the U.S. homeland as do ground forces in Afghanistan; that crises like that of Syria can be left to the U.N. Security Council.
Okay. I really dont’ buy into the claim that Obama hasn’t led a “U.S. retreat from the world”, but I’m willing to stipulate that to get to the rest.
The rest, of course, has to do with the ineffectiveness and potential problems this doctrine presents. And they’re not small problems either. One thing that observers of world affairs seem to pick up on fairly quickly is that someone or something will fill a power vacuum. Say what you want about “light footprints” or “leading from behind”, it has indeed created that sort of vacuum. And other countries, notably Russia and China globally and Iran regionally, are busily trying to figure out how to fill that vacuum.
Perhaps, in the long run, it is best we do withdraw somewhat. Fiscal reality demands at least some reductions and foreign policy is not exempt. But it should be done shrewdly and according to some overall plan that carefully considers the ramifications of such a withdrawal.
Secondly, it likely makes sense not to involve ourselves too deeply in situations that don’t really concern us or threaten our security. Like Libya. It is interesting that Libya was a “go”, but Syria was a “no-go”, considering the stated reasoning (or propaganda if you prefer) for intervention in Libya.
So how has it worked? Well, for a while it seemed to be working well enough – and then:
For the last couple of years, the light footprint worked well enough to allow Obama to turn foreign policy into a talking point for his reelection. But the terrorist attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11 should have been a red flag to all who believe this president has invented a successful new model for U.S. leadership. Far from being an aberration, Benghazi was a toxic byproduct of the light footprint approach — and very likely the first in a series of boomerangs.
Why were Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans murdered by Libyan jihadists? The preliminary round of official investigations may focus on decisions by mid-level officials at the State Department that deprived the Benghazi mission of adequate security, and a failure by the large CIA team in the city to detect the imminent threat from extremist groups.
But ultimately the disaster in Libya derived from Obama’s doctrine. Having been reluctantly dragged by France and Britain into intervening in Libya’s revolution, Obama withdrew U.S. planes from the fight as quickly as possible; when the war ended, the White House insisted that no U.S. forces stay behind. Requests by Libya’s fragile transition government for NATO’s security assistance were answered with an ill-conceived and ultimately failed program to train a few people in Jordan.
Where does that leave us?
A new report by the Rand Corporation concludes that “this lighter-footprint approach has made Libya a test case for a new post-Iraq and Afghanistan model of nation-building.” But the result is that, a year after the death of dictator Moammar Gaddafi, Libya is policed by what amounts to a mess of militias. Its newly elected government has little authority over most of the country’s armed men — much less the capacity to take on the jidhadist forces gathering in and around Benghazi.
The Rand study concludes that stabilizing Libya will require disarming and demobilizing the militias and rebuilding the security forces “from the bottom up.” This, it says, probably can’t happen without help from “those countries that participated in the military intervention” — i.e. the United States, Britain and France. Can the Obama administration duplicate the security-force-building done in Iraq and Afghanistan in Libya while sticking to the light footprint? It’s hard to see how.
It certainly is. In fact, Libya is a disaster. If the purpose of US foreign policy is to enhance the interests of the US I defy anyone to tell me how that has been done in Libya. And now there are rumors we’re going to do the same thing in Mali (mainly because much of the weaponry that the Gaddafi government had has spread across the Middle East after their fall, to include terrorist groups which are now basing out of Mali).
How will the Obama administration answer these challenges? Diehl thinks he’ll rely even more heavily on drone strikes. But again, one has to ask how that furthers and serves the best interests of the United States:
A paper by Robert Chesney of the University of Texas points out that if strikes begin to target countries in North Africa and groups not directly connected to the original al-Qaeda leadership, problems with their legal justification under U.S. and international law “will become increasingly apparent and problematic.” And that doesn’t account for the political fallout: Libyan leaders say U.S. drone strikes would destroy the goodwill America earned by helping the revolution.
Anyone who still believes the myth that we’re better loved in the Middle East right now, needs to give up smoking whatever it is they’re smoking. Adding increased drone strikes in more countries certainly won’t promote “goodwill” toward America. It will, instead, provide jihadists with all the ammunition they need to demonize the country further – which, of course, helps recruiting.
I’m not contending this is easy stuff or there’s a slam-dunk alternate solution. But I am saying that doing what was done in Libya for whatever high sounding reason has been a disaster, has not served the best interests of the United States and, in fact, will most likely be detrimental to its interests.
It is, as Deihl points out, a huge red flag. The doctrine of choice right now is not the doctrine we should be pursuing if the results are like those we’ve gotten in Libya. If ever there was a time for a ‘reset’ in our foreign policy approach, this is it.