I’m not sure just what it takes to qualify as a strategy and policy gadfly, but Michael O’Hanlon may be getting dangerously close.
O’Hanlon, writing at McPaper, offers this:
President Obama, who can now point to Libya as a signature example of how to lead multilaterally, encourage others to do more, and avoid the Hobson’s choice of doing it all alone or retreating into defeatism or isolationism.
The leading from behind standard made manifest in Libya is a “signature example”? If we’re supporting Libyan operations on the basis of mitigating human suffering, why not Syria or any other number of locations where human beings suffer? Similarly, in offering the “Hobson’s choice” as a binary outcome in world geo-politics, O’Hanlon falls guilty of offering the faulty dilemma. There are literally unlimited options in between. What’s the best option? You know already: it depends on what’s going on (there and here), what interests we have at stake, etc. Back to O’Hanlon:
Some might even call this [the Libyan operations] an Obama Doctrine — an accomplishment that the president can use (or that others can use for or against him) to explain his overall approach to foreign policy.
Doctrine, as it is often used, describes a sort of best practice or point of departure for future events. And as if O’Hanlon’s suddenly woken himself with such a suggestion, he goes on to immediately offer this massive qualifier:
This works up to a point, but Libya is a somewhat special case, as the stakes were modest.
“Modest,” at least as it pertains to U.S. national security and interests, is a generous description. But Libya may be far less modest for French politics and business.
Back to O’Hanlon:
Several proposals have been offered about what an Obama grand strategy might be. One scholar, Tufts University’s Daniel Drezner, depicts an administration focused on counterpunching. But while there is something to this, counterpunching by definition is not a strategy because it is reactive.
Sorry, but everything we do is reactive. That’s because the past has established a particular set of circumstances, of which any subsequent action taken is subject to and constrained by. Even the most non-reactive strategy is still quite reactive. A doctrine of “preemption,” for example, is a reaction to the 9/11 security, intelligence, and policy failures.
Everything we do, including our doctrine, is a result of events which have gone before us.