The Obama Doctrine, Cont'd

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Jeff ventured into The Facebook today for a live discussion with Uri over his new cover story, pondering deep questions like “Do you think there’s a Prince Saudi in Turkey?” and responding to others from readers. Here’s the video if you missed it:

Jeffrey Goldberg discusses The Obama Doctrine with Uri Friedman.

Posted by The Atlantic on Monday, March 14, 2016

Over the past week, we’ve published a trove of pieces related to “The Obama Doctrine” and the past seven years of U.S. foreign policy. A quick review:

A reader sounds off:

I am a well-traveled attorney who worked for a Republican Senator in the 1980s. Obviously I may not have the experience or study in the subject matter as some others, but I wanted to comment on Mr. Goldberg’s article.

“Obama’s Doctrine” will not be looked upon fondly.

It will be remembered as a failure. While the media simply parrots the common narrative on Iraq, and few are given voice for its defense (other than Dick Cheney), the Iraq War was an appropriate response to the circumstances we faced at that time. The damaged lives in Walter Reed are only victims because the media has lazily accepted the leftist and elite version of events.

Iraq was a war won—after a badly botched occupation plan. It was legal, moral, and just. The removal of Saddam Hussein was existing bipartisan U.S. law, signed by Democrat Bill Clinton. The original Gulf War ended in a ceasefire, not a surrender or defined treaty. The ceasefire was violated by Hussein hundreds of times, all of which were acts of war, combined with two attempted assassinations of a former U.S. president. After 9/11, President George W. Bush advocated a policy which said we would preemptively remove regimes which could support terror networks, just as we were doing at the time in Afghanistan. This policy received bi-partisan support, and the president was re-elected in 2004 having advocated this policy.

The horror of the occupation from 2004-2007 was turned around by President Bush, and Iraq was becoming a normally functioning state (relatively speaking) by 2009 when Obama took over, and was largely stable and at peace in 2011 when Obama decided to disregard the importance of demanding (not negotiating, demanding) a new SOFA. We were still in Germany, still in Korea, still in Japan, hundreds of bases worldwide, but the one place our presence was needed, we left.

So Iraq was not a gamble or a blunder. Take out the flawed (or alternatively fudged) intelligence, and you still have virtually every government on the planet with a clandestine service saying Iraq had, or has the capacity to develop, WMD. If we had acted like a great power, none of the Middle East devolution would have occurred. That is on Obama.

The Arab Spring was to any rational, sane non-D.C. infected person a disaster.  Agreeing to the Muslim Brotherhood coming to power and the overthrow of our ally Mubarak was a fool’s decision. The neo-cons helped provide him cover with their freedom agenda, but in reality, anyone could see that protests for democracy in the Middle East lead to one election. The Islamists win it, and then the freedom and the democracy everyone wants is taken away by a new autocrat, usually more violent than the original authoritarian.

Then you can add in the Iran deal—flawed from the beginning. The Syrian red line. The Russians regaining a foothold in the Middle East. The removal of Gaddafi and Libya. Gaddafi had given up his nukes and was helping us in the war on terror. Now Libya is a collapsed failed state.

The list is simply too long to cover by a layperson such as myself. But here is my conclusion, which the facts are not in dispute: we don’t need to wait for the historians; this Obama Doctrine article should have been titled “The Failure of the Obama Doctrine.” The Middle East is less stable, less secure, and more violent. There are more failed states. Our relationship with Israel is in tatters. The Russians have reclaimed a great power role in the Middle East after we had expelled them in 1973. The region is in flames. Iraq, which we had spent so much treasure and blood, is breaking into three parts. And yes, our CREDIBILITY was shattered when we drew a red line and then did nothing when it was crossed.

The idea that there is a “doctrine” that is good for America that came from this presidency is simply laughable. Mr. Goldberg is an excellent writer, and I enjoy reading his material all the time. But this is a puff piece, with a puff piece cover to the magazine, which gives away a partisan bias. Because even if you support the president domestically, and cheered a man of color reaching the White House, under no standard of reason could this “doctrine” be classified a success.

Disagree? Email your counterpoints to Update: Followup from readers here.