Obama’s new foreign policy doctrine should sound pretty familiar to Republicans, since it was their own prevailing view for nearly two decades prior to the presidency of George W. Bush.
In a speech at West Point on Wednesday, Obama explained what many are referring to as the “Obama Doctrine” — with a sentence that sums up his views on using the U.S. military in the future:
“When issues of global concern do not pose a direct threat to the United States, when such issues are at stake — when crises arise that stir our conscience or push the world in a more dangerous direction but do not directly threaten us — then the threshold for military action must be higher.”
While a sharp rebuke to his Republican predecessor — who argued for a policy of preventive war against potential or perceived threats — Obama’s view seems in many ways shaped by Republicans of the past, most notably former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and former Secretary of Defence Casper Weinberger.
In Nov. 1984, Casper Weinberger, who was then President Reagan’s Secretary of Defence, gave an influential speech outlining what would later be called the “Weinberger Doctrine.” It consisted of six points that must be met in order to use military force (via PBS):
- Either the United States’ or its close allies’ vital national interests had to be at risk;
- The war had to be fought “wholeheartedly, with the clear intention of winning”;
- We should employ decisive force in the pursuit of clearly defined political and military objectives;
- We must constantly reassess whether the use of force is necessary and appropriate;
- There must be a “reasonable assurance” of Congressional and public support;
- Force should be used only as a last resort.
Later, it was Colin Powell who carried the torch in a similar fashion, updating and expanding upon Weinberger’s notions in 1992. But this doctrine remained largely unchanged.
But as Michael Cohen wrote at World Politics Review, “Over the next dozen years, leading policymakers would nibble away at the constraints put in place by the Doctrine.” Liberal hawks called for humanitarian intervention in Somalia and the Balkans, while neoconservatives pushed for increased military action in the years following 9/11.
“A strategy that involves invading every country that harbors terrorist networks is naïve and unsustainable,” Obama said. “I believe we must shift our counter-terrorism strategy — drawing on the successes and shortcomings of our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan — to more effectively partner with countries where terrorist networks seek a foothold.”
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