In the run up to the 2008 Election, Spencer Ackerman wrote the defining piece on the Obama campaign's intellectual approach to foreign policy, appropriately titled, "The Obama Doctrine."
The Obama foreign-policy team describes it as "the politics of fear," a phrase most advisers used unprompted in our conversations. "For a long time we've not seen much creative thinking from Dems on national security, because, out of fear, we want to be a little different from the Republicans but not too different, out of fear of being labeled weak or indecisive," another top adviser says. Identifying that fear as the accelerant of the Iraq War mind-set is the first step to a new and innovative foreign policy. John Kerry was not able to argue for fundamental change in foreign policy because he was consumed by that very political fear. Obama's admonition to Democrats is much like Pope John Paul II's to the Gdansk shipyard strikers -- first, be not afraid.
Obama hasn't abandoned the language, the concept behind ending the politics of fear, but it's increasingly all that distinguishes him from the previous administration. Obama's initial instinct -- not to grant al-Qaeda the attention and significance it sought with the Christmas bombing -- was the right one.
Yesterday, in his remarks to reporters, Obama said:
Here at home, we will strengthen our defenses, but we will not succumb to a siege mentality that sacrifices the open society and liberties and values that we cherish as Americans, because great and proud nations don't hunker down and hide behind walls of suspicion and mistrust. That is exactly what our adversaries want, and so long as I am President, we will never hand them that victory. We will define the character of our country, not some band of small men intent on killing innocent men, women and children.
This is irreconcilable with an administration that has pursued indefinite detention, a two-tiered legal system for trying suspected terrorists, and now an ethnic profiling system for Muslim travelers that will do little more than strengthen al-Qaeda's narrative of a clash of civilizations between Islam and the West, and alienate Muslims the president claims he wants to "engage on the basis of mutual interest and mutual respect." His administration, while outlawing torture, is studiously protecting its legal architecture, so that it might rise like a corpse in a George Romero film the next time the GOP takes the White House. What are these, if not policy positions driven entirely by the kind of fear the Obama Doctrine was created to disperse?
The president has not abandoned the high-minded rhetoric of the Obama Doctrine. But he has abandoned virtually all the substantive policy positions it was created to defend, leaving the administration with a shrinking patch of ground perpetually under siege from Republicans who want to turn the United States into a country that tortures people suspected of crimes and denies them any semblance of due process. It's impossible for me to see how the president isn't on the verge of squandering the "new beginning" with Muslims communities he claims is vital to preserving American security.
-- A. Serwer
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