The story in July 29th’s Wall Street Journal about the death of a Libyan rebel leader also describes the unending ebb and flow of the battle lines between Kaddafi’s forces and those of the rag-tag group of “patriots” who oppose them. More generally, the situation in virtually all of the countries convulsed over the last half year by Arab spring uprisings (i.e., Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Bahrain and others) remains confused at best. With the exception of Libya and Egypt, the US has played no role in these potentially monumental events – it seems content to sit idly by while upheavals that could dramatically affect the US and its allies play out according to a dynamic that is ill understood. Incidentally, the US role in Libya was to goad the Europeans to intervene with absolutely minimal assistance from us; and its role in Egypt was to toss overboard our main asset on the ground and then withdraw and hope for the best.
Thus the new Obama Doctrine as explained in the July/August issue of Commentary by Feith and Cropsey. In a nutshell: America’s role in world affairs has been aggressive and arrogant; America owes the world an apology for failing to understand the needs of the people who have been negatively impacted by our assertiveness; and the US must defer to multilateral organizations in order to work for the world’s general good. Our belief in American exceptionalsim has done more harm than good.
This new doctrine is completely at odds with how America has seen its role in the world since it emerged as a global power approximately a century ago. The US has intervened – overtly and covertly – in numerous regional conflicts around the globe in that time. Many of the interventions were successful (Grenada, Taiwan, Korea [we didn’t win, but we prevented a Communist takeover], the Philippines, Israel [Nixon’s airlift], the Falklands [in support of the Brits], Chile, Afghanistan [helped drive out the Soviets], Dominican Republic). Some led to various degrees of failure (Vietnam, Iran [Carter’s rescue mission], Lebanon). A few remain unresolved (Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans). The point is that we saw ourselves as a force for good in the world. We took our role as a world superpower seriously and when our interests or those of our allies were threatened, we acted – with force, if necessary – to protect those interests.
No more. According to the wise one, those interventions reflected American arrogance, self-indulgence, insensitivity and almost always damaged the people whose needs we ignored in our ignoble desire to demonstrate our might. But the wise one now asserts that we have overcome such wanton disregard for our fellow citizens of the Earth. Henceforth, we shall constrain ourselves from actions that are not endorsed by the “world community”; we shall reign in and rarely display our power; we shall engage even our most implacable foes in dialog; and we shall reorient our focus toward ameliorating the ills that plague our own society before we assume the moral authority to address the plight of others.