Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Monday, May 30, 2011

Pragramatic Flexibility vs Doctrinaire Foreign Policy

So the latest in Libya is that 8 high ranking officers in the Libyan army are defecting to the rebels. This comes after a series of cabinet officials, including the Oil Minister and Foreign Minister, have defected. Qaddafi is rapidly losing friends. The time is coming soon when Qaddafi will be hold up in some bunker somewhere with a thousand or so "dead enders."

Meanwhile, in Syria, the military has "surrounded" several towns (see BBC story here). Over a thousand people have been killed. However, because of Syria's military strength, alliance with Iran and sensitive quasi-peace with Israel, the world has largely taken a hands off approach.

Perhaps, more worrying, China has declared martial law in a number of cities in Inner Mongolia where demonstrations have taken place (see story here). To expect the world to react to China the same way they react to Libya (or even Syria) is just absurd. We cannot hope to move China with military force. Nor can we expect that economic sanctions against China would be a realistic option.

The critics of President Obama's reaction to Libya have focussed on the lack of a "doctrine" that would be consistently applied around the world. But what I like about the President's approach is its pragmatism and its flexibilty. Syria and Libya are doing exactly the same things. If Obama were to adopt the doctrinaire approach favored by the right, we should be bombing Damascus right now. But I doubt even McLieberman and the other neo-cons would advocate doing that to China. Obama's policy recognizes that different countries require different approaches.


Dr. Strangelove said...

I thought President Obama laid out his doctrine pretty clearly in his speech regarding his decision. It is, as RbR says, a pragmatic and flexible doctrine. When he gets to the part of the speech where he seeks to explain his reasoning, he begins:

"It’s true that America cannot use our military wherever repression occurs. And given the costs and risks of intervention, we must always measure our interests against the need for action. But that cannot be an argument for never acting on behalf of what’s right. In this particular country -– Libya -- at this particular moment, we were faced with the prospect of violence on a horrific scale. We had a unique ability to stop that violence..."

It's pretty good. Unfortunately, he then goes on to explain why we should not seek regime change in Libya, which we are now manifestly doing, so I suppose the thought was not complete.

Raised By Republicans said...

But see, this is my point. He explained why regime change in Libya was desirable but not worth paying a lot for. It's all about cost-benefit calculation. Getting regime change in Libya is worth some drone attacks, some cruise missiles and even some air strikes. It's even worth enabling the French and British to stick their necks out. But it's not worth a ground invasion. I think that's a very accurate and valid assessment of what regime change in Libya is worth to the United States.

It might be worth a lot more to France, the UK or Italy and that's why they are taking the "front man" job on this gig.

Raised By Republicans said...

Suppose instead that Obama had declared that regime change in Libya was our goal regardless of costs. That's more or less the approach the Bush administration took in Iraq. As soon as the President says something like that, he's stuck. What's good (and frustrating) about what Obama's trying to do is that he's being honest about his intention to fold if he decides his hand is played out.

To continue the poker analogy, the Bush strategy would be to declare they'd go all in before their hand was even dealt. Obama is declaring he'll never bluff and will fold as soon he figures the odds are against his winning. Neither is a perfect strategy perhaps, but I'd much rather live in a country where the guy with control over our military takes the latter strategy.

Dr. Strangelove said...

I certainly prefer Obama's approach. If you parse his language, he says that sometimes doing "what is right," which in this case means protecting the Libyan people, outweighs a naive cost-benefit calculation. I might have preferred it if he had tried to frame it in a larger sense, declaring that protecting the Libyan people *is* part of our national interest... But maybe that's a stretch.

And I guess I do wish Obama had been a little more forthright that regime change was at least on the table, if not the underlying goal. I would have liked some formulation like: "Our mandate is to defend the Libyan people, not to change their regime. But if Qaddafi proves determined to slaughter his own people, and it becomes clear that only his removal will prevent that, then we will not abandon our mandate."

The trouble Obama may find himself in now with Libya is that, once engaged in a conflict, extricating oneself with anything short of "victory" is politically very difficult. That is one reason (though certainly not the only one) why we remain embroiled in Bush's wars. To continue your poker analogy, Obama may find himself "pot committed," meaning the consequences of folding are high enough that one will continue to throw chips into the pot, even as success appears less likely.

But of course, you are absolutely right: I am much happier having a Commander and Chief who recognizes these issues.

Raised By Republicans said...

I like it... pot committed. Yep. That could be the result. I think that's why Obama was so reluctant to say ANYTHING about Libya for so long. He really wanted the public face of the whole mess to be Anglo-French. The more this appears to be an Anglo-French operation (even with a lot of US support), the easier it will be for Obama to avoid being "pot committed."

Sarkozy though is well and truly stuck. We're free riding off the French for a change! :-)