Obama reveals his new doctrine

In President Barack Obama’s egocentric world, everything – civil war in Syria, Russian power grabs in Ukraine, Chinese claims to Vietnamese and Japanese territory in the South China Sea, and peace in the Middle East – revolves around him. Has there ever been a more self-absorbed commander in chief in our nation’s history? Not that one could imagine listening to the president talk this week about his role – and, by extension, the role of the United States of America – in the world.

The president took the occasion of the commencement address to West Point on Wednesday to define the Obama Doctrine, which occupies pretty much any position the president deems fit on any given foreign policy or defense issue at any given time, including reversing a position when he feels like it.

We’ve come to expect U.S. presidents to adopt eponymous doctrines in foreign affairs. President Monroe warned Europe that the United States would not tolerate European meddling in our hemisphere in the 19th century. After World War II, President Truman warned the Soviets that the United States would not allow the spread of communism into Greece and Turkey, and promised economic, political and military aid to those under threat of Soviet aggression.

The Truman Doctrine was the beginning of the global fight on the part of the United States and its allies against the spread of communism. The Reagan Doctrine extended the Truman Doctrine to provide U.S. assistance to anti-communist guerilla movements primarily in Africa and Latin America during the 1980s.

Faced with a new kind of threat from Islamist terrorism, President George W. Bush established a new policy that staked out the United States’ right to protect itself from attack with preventive war. The Bush Doctrine, most often associated with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, made clear that “the first duty of the United States government remains what it always has been: to protect the American people and American interests. It is an enduring American principle that this duty obligates the government to anticipate and counter threats, using all elements of national power, before the threats can do grave damage.”

So what is the Obama Doctrine? Well … it depends. “American isolationism is not an option,” the president proclaims. But then again, “to say that we have an interest in pursuing peace and freedom beyond our borders is not to say that every problem has a military solution,” according to the president. Or as he put it more graphically, “Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail.”

But when it comes to stating guiding principles and what issues are at stake, Obama is more adept at setting up straw men than articulating clear policy.