Obama’s Foreign Policy Doctrine Finally Emerges With ‘Off-Shore Balancing’
What does America’s disastrous bombing of Pakistani soldiers this week have to do with President Obama’s much-ballyhooed trip to East Asia last week? Between them, they suggest that the Obama administration may be, finally, edging toward a foreign-policy doctrine.
First, Pakistan. The bombing was a mistake, but it comes after a series of very conscious decisions—most significantly the assassination of Osama bin Laden—in which Obama put killing al Qaeda terrorists ahead of America’s relationship with Pakistan. That’s not the tradeoff many expected when Obama came into office determined to eschew unilateralism, reinvigorate diplomacy and improve America’s relationships with the Muslim world. But it makes sense when you realize that the Obama administration has largely given up on trying to remake Pakistan and Afghanistan.
As Bob Woodward’s Obama’s Wars made clear, Obama never considered the Taliban a real threat to American security. And after giving Gen. David Petraeus and company a chance to try counterinsurgency, Obama is increasingly pursuing the policy that Vice President Joe Biden proposed from the beginning: leave Afghanistan to the Afghans and keep al Qaeda off balance with Special Forces and attacks from the air.
Indeed, as the U.S. withdraws its ground forces from Afghanistan and Iraq, the centerpiece of its military policy in the Muslim world is becoming drones to attack al Qaeda (the Washington Post recently reported that the Obama administration is building secret drone bases in the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa) and military aid to contain Iran (last fall, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia agreed on the largest weapons sale in American history).
One way of understanding America’s shifting policy in the Middle East is that we’re moving offshore. Instead of directly occupying Islamic lands, we’re trying to secure our interests from the sea, the air and by equipping our allies. That’s in large measure what the Obama administration is trying to do in East Asia, too. The central message of Obama’s trip last week to Australia was that the U.S. finally is focused on restraining China’s rise in the Pacific. And how will the U.S. do that? A token deployment of Marines in northern Australia notwithstanding, the Obama administration’s strategy will be to buttress America’s naval presence in the Pacific and aid those nations on China’s periphery that fear its hegemonic ambitions.