- By Daniel W. Drezner
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a senior editor at The National Interest. Prior to Fletcher, he taught at the University of Chicago and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Drezner has received fellowships from the German Marshall Fund of the United States, the Council on Foreign Relations, and Harvard University. He has previously held positions with Civic Education Project, the RAND Corporation, and the Treasury Department.
See, back in early 2009, I wrote one of the earlier posts about whether there was an Obama Doctrine or not. Glenn Thrush quoted that post in Politico last week, which led to a lot of media inquiries on the matter. Regardless of what I say on the subject, the topic du jour appears to be whether there is now an Obama Doctrine and how it holds up as a grand strategy.
I don’t have the time today to write up my substantive thoughts on the matter, but I do think it would be useful to at least define the terms properly.
First, on the Obama Doctrine — unfortunately, foreign policy discourse being what it is, that "XXX Doctrine" has devolved into a meaningless catchphrase coined by news outlets the first time that an administration initiates military or quasi-military force.* Whenever that happens, the news networks go into paroxysms of speculation about whether such action signals a new doctrine. Based on Obama’s speech last night, it seems pretty clear that the answer to that question on Libya is a clear "no," so I don’t think we need to go there.
Second, even if Libya did lead to an Obama Doctrine, that doesn’t equate to a grand strategy. The Reagan Doctrine, for example, had actual policy content — it meant the arming and aiding of anti-communist guerillas in peripheral communist countries like Nicaragua or Afghanistan. Not even the fiercest Reagan acolyte would agree that the Reagan Doctrine was America’s grand strategy during the 1980’s. It was rather a policy that was part of the larger strategy of containing Soviet communism.
Obama did not clearly articulate a grand strategy last night (and just as well, since his delivery was pretty weak). He has tried to do so in his previous speeches and strategy documents, with variable results. Far more important that what is said at the beginning of an administration is how Big Decisions are articulated ex post.
In that sense, Dan Nexon is right to say that Obama shouldn’t have articulated a grand strategy out of what was clearly an exceptional decision due to exceptional circumstances. That said, if I were Obama’s foreign policy team, I’d start thinking very hard about a speech
without the phrase "false choice" in it that clearly prioritizes American interests and values. Because unless the president defines his grand strategy, pundits will be more than happy to define it — badly — for him.
*Clear exceptions include those doctrines clearly articulated or embraced by Monroe, Teddy Roosevelt, Truman, Nixon, and Reagan.
John Arquilla earned his degrees in international relations from Rosary College (BA 1975) and Stanford University (MA 1989, PhD 1991). He has been teaching in the special operations program at the United States Naval Postgraduate School since 1993. He also serves as chairman of the Defense Analysis department.
Dr. Arquilla’s teaching interests revolve around the history of irregular warfare, terrorism, and the implications of the information age for society and security.
His books include: Dubious Battles: Aggression, Defeat and the International System (1992); From Troy to Entebbe: Special Operations in Ancient & Modern Times (1996), which was a featured alternate of the Military Book Club; In Athena’s Camp (1997); Networks and Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime and Militancy (2001), named a notable book of the year by the American Library Association; The Reagan Imprint: Ideas in American Foreign Policy from the Collapse of Communism to the War on Terror (2006); Worst Enemy: The Reluctant Transformation of the American Military (2008), which is about defense reform; Insurgents, Raiders, and Bandits: How Masters of Irregular Warfare Have Shaped Our World (2011); and Afghan Endgames: Strategy and Policy Choices for America’s Longest War (2012).
Dr. Arquilla is also the author of more than one hundred articles dealing with a wide range of topics in military and security affairs. His work has appeared in the leading academic journals and in general publications like The New York Times, Forbes, Foreign Policy Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, Wired and The New Republic. He is best known for his concept of “netwar” (i.e., the distinct manner in which those organized into networks fight). His vision of “swarm tactics” was selected by The New York Times as one of the “big ideas” of 2001; and in recent years Foreign Policy Magazine has listed him among the world’s “top 100 thinkers.”
In terms of policy experience, Dr. Arquilla worked as a consultant to General Norman Schwarzkopf during Operation Desert Storm, as part of a group of RAND analysts assigned to him. During the Kosovo War, he assisted deputy secretary of defense John Hamre on a range of issues in international information strategy. Since the onset of the war on terror, Dr. Arquilla has focused on assisting special operations forces and other units on practical “field problems.” Most recently, he worked for the White House as a member of a small, nonpartisan team of outsiders asked to articulate new directions for American defense policy.| Rational Security |