His major foreign policy point seems to be a promise of a rapid military drawdown in Iraq and redeployment to Afghanistan, which he sees as the central front of the war on terrorism. In debate with McCain, he went on to say that he would send American troops into the tribal areas of Pakistan to hunt down Osama bin Laden. This assertion, consistently made over the fall campaign, might fairly be called the Obama Doctrine, at least if we could attach a larger meaning to it. Is it a smart policy? What happens if bin Laden is hunted down and killed or captured? Is the war over? What does the Obama Doctrine imply about the future of American involvement in the Middle East?
Based on what we know now, the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a mistake. It was tactically unnecessary at that time and, much worse, undertaken without an endgame plan. That said, it is hard to believe that the status quo of 2003 would have endured to the present day. UN sanctions were clearly along the road to abandonment. US planes enforcing a no-fly zone were being fired on every day with the odds increasingly tilting toward a shootdown or a flameout. The Iraqi regime, we now know, appeared strong but was rotten at the core, banking on the illusion of "weapons of mass destruction" for its survival. If sanctions had been lifted, it likely would have resumed work on those weapons. It seems distinctly likely that US military intervention might have been necessary at some point.
Whether that was the case or not, once we became involved in Iraq, extrication was no easy matter. We could not simply declare victory and go home with no real consequences for ourselves. We could do that in Vietnam, where we had no vital interests; only the Vietnamese suffered. Iraq is at the heart of the Middle East, an area of immense strategic interest for the United States and Western Europe. How do we withdraw from Iraq without appearing to withdraw from the Middle East? How could, say, King Abdullah of Jordan have any faith in our promises? Could the Israelis conclude that the US would always be there in extremis, or would they feel compelled to establish a first-strike capability against Iran?
We should have no great optimism that one hundred percent success in Iraq is possible, but we do seem on the right path and capable of a resolution there that will be more tolerable than the likely consequences of leaving prematurely--internal chaos, an al Quaeda resurgence, and likely Iranian domination of the region south of Baghdad.
A transfer of resources to Afghanistan and raids into the tribal areas of Pakistan seems much less promising than our course in Iraq. What outside force in modern history has been able to establish control in this remote and rugged area? Would it be possible to go about trying it without destabilizing the already-precarious Pakistani government? If the government of Pakistan begins to come apart, just how secure is its nuclear weapons stockpile? How do we even move in forces and supplies without Pakistani cooperation? And other than the satisfaction of capturing or killing Osama bin Laden, what are our long-term strategic interests there?
Where, in sum, does the Obama Doctrine lead us? Away from an area of vital interest into a quixotic manhunt? Or is the whole business about a new “central front” a rhetorical cover for “come home America” isolationism?
I’m sure there are plenty of readers out there with opinions.