News broke seemingly without warning this afternoon that the U.S. is significantly increasing its military assistance to Uganda, enough that U.S. president Barack Obama felt it necessary to send a letter to Congress for War Powers purposes. The soldiers will be noncombat advisers helping regional militaries fight the Lord’s Resistance Army and its leader Joseph Kony.
The sheds some light on the “doctrine” of the Obama Administration. American administrations typically have a doctrine associated with them–the Truman doctrine, for instance, was a standing offer to assist any nation threatened by Communist agitation, while the Reagan doctrine supported rolling back and undermining Communist influence. Presidential doctrines seem to become more complex with each Administration–the (George W.) Bush doctrine, for instance, included a range of propositions about how the U.S. would prevent threats from overseas and resists straightforward definition (thus, with chagrin, I must admit that the normally oversensitive Sarah Palin was justified in claiming that an interviewer’s question about it may have been a trap intended to make her look foolish). We are more than halfway through the Obama Administration, yet it has so far not made a clear statement of doctrine. This has drawn some praise–the post-Cold War world is complicated enough to resist those who would simplify it. However, the Uganda and Libya actions suggest that if there is not a doctrine, there is certainly a tendency. Behold, the Obama Doctrine:
Barack Obama has had a terrible summer. A key provision of his healthcare reform was ruled unconstitutional at the circuit court level. Unemployment remains high. Republican rivals are stealing the spotlight. Solutions in Syria and Yemen are elusive. The al-Maliki government in Iraq was unable to extend the U.S. troop presence. The economy is stagnant. Afghanistan policy is paralyzed while casualties mount. The national credit rating was downgraded. The debt ceiling crisis was resolved on terms so unfavorable to the President that comedian Stephen Colbert joked that Republicans even made him give up his 50th birthday. Even his legendary skills as an orator seem to have deserted him. This is hardly the resume Obama wants to present to the American people in 2012; if he isn’t re-elected, he certainly won’t enjoy reading this chapter of the histories.
However, in one area, Barack Obama has consistently excelled. His policies are a sensible, effective, and measured responses to the problem, and he faces little serious opposition. His successes have stolen headlines–indeed, one was so big that Americans poured into the streets to celebrate. Charitable historians will remember Obama as the counterterror president.
There are three key points on which Obama’s counterterror policy has succeeded. He has taken control of Afghanistan policy despite formidable opposition, he has killed Al Qaeda’s leader, and he has maintained the drone policy in the face of much screeching on his own side of the aisle.
Obama in the Situation Room, observing the operation would kill Osama bin Laden. (Image via Middle East Post)
You have to wonder about the timing of this story–with the debt ceiling thing on everyone’s minds around the world, it’s a great time to slip in a new policy without getting a lot of bad press. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced a serious peace bid for the first time in his tenure. The basis of negotiation will be pre-Six Day War 1967 borders, and Palestine will trade land in its territory that hosts settlements for Israeli land beyond the 1967 lines–there will be “mutually agreed swaps.” That phrase, of course, is taken from Barack Obama, who was subjected to extensive criticism for it from his own domestic audience, even though everybody from Toronto to Tehran knows that that is the only realistic basis for peace talks. Any peace policy that doesn’t recognize the Palestinians’ more reasonable claims (i.e., we’re leaving out right of return here) will not get their support–any such policy is not a policy. The folks at J Street must have been extremely unhappy, as the criticism of Obama was a testimony the ability of the Likudniks–and not left-leaning groups like themselves–to get their talking points airtime, regardless of sensibility. To see Israel’s reliably rightist PM quietly taking a position that just a few weeks ago was deplored as foolish pie-in-the-sky leftism in the US shows the very weird way that the Middle East peace process is discussed in America.
But back to Bibi. It’s obvious that the reason he’s suddenly making serious steps in the peace process is the Palestinian bid for increased recognition at the UN next month. As I’ve argued in this space many times before, Israel has nothing to worry about from this. It will move the peace process forward by about an inch, because Palestine already has standing to take a lot of actions in international forums, and because the peace process will forever be between Israel and Palestine only, not Israel and the international community. An Israeli Prime Minister, especially one as seasoned as Netanyahu, should know that. Elements in the international community have been at Israel’s throat since Ben Gurion read out the Declaration of Independence, and Israel has continued to exist and thrive. In spite of this, there have been many rumors that Netanyahu was terrified of the UN bid, that he thought it would bring a “diplomatic tsunami” against Israel. We can now see that those rumors are true. They fit perfectly with Netanyahu’s image as a paranoid politico, always watching his back for maneuvers. That’s a sensible stance in the chaotic world of the Knesset, but it’s a bad way to make decisions in a state protected by one of the world’s most effective militaries and sitting on strategic, surprisingly defensible land. Netanyahu has restarted the peace process on realistic grounds due to threats from an imagined enemy. It’s as if Don Quixote, while jousting windmills, had accidentally lanced a real giant.
(Drawing by G.A. Harker, via MainLesson)
The Daily Telegraph is reporting that the US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, made some very strong remarks at a recent event in Washington. Speaking about September’s Palestinian bid for recognition in the UN, Rice remarked that a successful recognition vote would be “exceedingly politically damaging in our domestic context” and that there could be “[no] greater threat to our ability to maintain financial and political support for the United Nations in Congress.” In other words, if Palestine gets recognized by the UN, the Obama Administration will be unable to fight off Congressional Republicans (and probably some Democrats too), who would presumably make an effort to defund the UN. The government has distanced itself from Rice’s remarks, saying that they “were informal remarks in a domestic setting.” Still, it is shocking to hear these comments coming from such a senior figure. American UN ambassadors are typically closely supervised by the State Department and have little or no autonomy to make decisions on their own. One would think that being in this position would make her extremely cautious in her public comments. What, then, are we to make of this remark? It’s definitely a headline-grabber, though I haven’t seen it making the rounds in the media just yet. It could be an attempt by the Obama Administration to create some breathing room on the issue by aggressively changing the direction of debate. It could be an attempt to make the world push the Palestinians harder to renew peace talks and shelve the statehood issue for now. What seems most likely, however, is that it was an accidental disclosure by Ambassador Rice of conversations in the corridors of power. People within the Administration are apparently worried, perhaps with cause, that Congress would react to Palestinian success at the UN with defunding.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice. (Image: Daily Telegraph/AFP)
Fellow Government in the Lab contributor Michael Omer-Man, an American writer based out of Jaffa, Israel, wrote an excellent analysis of US President Barack Obama’s latest Middle East policy speech. As Omer-Man points out, all sides are “over-reacting” to Obama’s assertion that the 1967 borders should be the basis for a final settlement. The Middle East Quartet, for instance, has already expressed “strong support” for Obama’s remarks, for his remarks were consistent with decades of American policy, and the policies of most other aspirant brokers. Netanyahu’s reaction has been overplayed in the media, and was likely nothing more than an attempt to show off to his fragile and hawkish domestic coalition while riling up Israel’s friends in the American political sphere. Netanyahu was certainly not surprised by the content of Obama’s remarks, since they reflected a known US position. What’s more, Obama’s refusal to extend support to the Palestinian statehood bid–which he referred to as “symbolic actions to isolate Israel”–would have gone over quite well in Tel Aviv, as would his line about “efforts to delegitimize Israel,” which might as well have been penned by Avigdor Lieberman himself (well, in a good mood). The media storm will blow over quickly, and the diplomatic storm was likely more of a drizzle.
The US was abuzz last night as news broke–slowly, and with swarming rumors–that al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had been killed by American forces. Spontaneous celebrations broke out all over the country as the news was confirmed. The killing of bin Laden is a national triumph for the United States, but it is also the end of a national embarrassment, for bin Laden’s ability to avoid the intense search efforts of the US and its allies for more than a decade added to his legend in radical circles while demoralizing the American public. As many have been quick to point out, bin Laden’s death is by no means the end of al Qaeda, for it has fragmented into a number of splinter and affiliate movements. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has likely been the most dangerous al Qaeda organization for several years now, as we have seen from the many recent plots that have been tied to Yemen. The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, a pseudo-affiliate, is also undergoing a period of prominence, with some of its personnel reportedly serving as mid-level commanders in the anti-Gaddafi rebellion. We have hardly seen the last of al Qaeda and its subsidiaries. However, we must not be too cynical–this is indeed a major symbolic victory. Terrorism relies on symbolism and representation to make its attacks meaningful and draw in new recruits. Bin Laden provided this symbolism. His death does not silence his story, but it removes some of its mystique.
Arab Americans rejoice on the streets of Dearborn, Michigan, upon hearing news of bin Laden's death. (AP)