Obama Needs a Mixed Bag Foreign Policy Doctrine


soros japan twn.jpgMost know George Soros as either the world’s most consistently successful investor or as a philanthropist — but more should know him as a philosopher and strategist about complex systems. Soros thinks that mankind is constantly working to establish points of equilibrium and while these may hold for a while, particularly through the efforts of people and governments to hold things in balance, eventually that balance is eroded and things shift. This is a small part of what he refers to as “reflexivity.”
Soros once said at a Council on Foreign Relations meeting that central bankers do their best — but ultimately, their fate is to lose control of things. This is an inadequate and too brief description of part of Soros’ thinking on ‘reflexivity,’ but I think he has a very valuable insight into the eruptions we are seeing in the Middle East.
To a certain degree, America’s longstanding investments in Egypt as a peace partner for Israel and in various other totalitarian regimes either as friends or even as managed foes is part of keeping order and balance in the West’s national security portfolio. But the equilibrium has collapsed and everything is shifting.
Former Senator Chuck Hagel, now co-chair of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board and Chairman of the Atlantic Council, has an important tour de force article out that captures this point: there is no one size fits all doctrine for the complex realities of the world today and American strategy needs to work on that premise.
hagel.jpgHagel writes in a piece that should be read in full:

This unprecedented rate of change in the Middle East will require careful and deliberate planning for peaceful and politically sustainable transitions. There is no one model to apply to how this wave of unpredictability and reform will affect each country of this region, or how the U.S. should or will respond in each specific case.
The Middle East of 2011 has many of the same problems as the Middle East of 2010. The demands for reform take place as some see U.S. influence in the region waning, evident by setbacks in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, the influence of Iran in Iraq, and the role of a more assertive China, at least economically, throughout the Persian Gulf and internationally.
The uncertainty of the months ahead may, however, bring with it the chance for the U.S. to regain some of the credibility that it has lost as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the continued stalemate in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
U.S. diplomacy must continue to actively engage our Arab allies to seize the initiative and begin a dialogue and program of reform with the next generation of Middle East leaders in their parliaments, universities, businesses and civil society sectors. The U.S. should encourage but not interfere. The Arab ruling elites should consider this dialogue and encouragement as a partnership for the future, not a vindication of the past or a threat to the present.
There is a historic opportunity in the Middle East to bridge the gap between rulers and citizens. This is the time for wise, visionary and steady statecraft. These U.S. diplomatic initiatives cannot be considered as optional or secondary. They are vital to U.S. interests and for the peaceful process of change and reform in the Middle East.
Reform and change share the ledger with stability and security; there is no longer a trade-off — and never really was. The U.S. and its allies in the past got away with “transactional relationships.” Dictators and authoritarian governments were accepted and tolerated because they fulfilled the basic criteria which defended our interests.
We were often caught — and still are — in the hypocrisy zone standing for democracy but supporting dictatorships. A distinction between reform and stability is now a false distinction. Democratic transitions are as exciting as they are complicated — but always unpredictable. We must remember that democracy is more than an election. In a region where many governments for decades have tolerated little or no space for political thought, debate or opposition, reform will not come quickly, easily or without setbacks.

I’ve been thinking about how the Obama administration’s steps taken during this fluid time will become to be known — and think that the emerging Obama doctrine will include a mixed bag of approaches to problems to match the mixed bag realities of the international order today — some mix of US interests, US values, and a message to regimes that they are on their own if their social contract between the governed and those who govern explodes.
— Steve Clemons


5 comments on “Obama Needs a Mixed Bag Foreign Policy Doctrine

  1. Orwell says:

    A masterminded or occupation forces minded diplomat in Washington DC uttered some nasty words of harmony breaking and aroused a furor among Japanese and Okinawan people.
    Japan US security treaty should be rectified on equal basis and Japanese self defense capabilites should be increased while American military presence could be reduced. Assymetrical alliance is not a true alliance of equal partnes, and only a master-servant relations. The Direcotor for Japan may have spoken with sincerity but the treaty only gave him edge to be a master status and Japanese who fought the war several decades ago with pride will not pardon his vulgar comments about its culture and tradition of harmonoby. A Question can be asked who broke the harmony? Then Japan should stop paying the astronomicaol amount of fees to support the military forces in that region.


  2. Chumanist says:

    It goes without saying that for the US to join the people of the Middle east in the present move of the ‘democratic transition’ seems a logical order.


  3. Warren Metzler says:

    I object to Hagel’s analysis. It implies the US has some active role; when I claim the US has destroyed its capacity for change.
    I feel sad that almost no one, Soros being an example, allows themselves to realize that each human has a spiritual component; and that this recent push for change in the Arab world is coming straight out of a need for these people to develop a political system, that supports their pursuit of what each one inwardly knows is optimal (in every area of their lives).
    Every human, alive during the 1960’s or latter, now has installed in them the awareness they can be optimal in every area of their lives: to become autonomous (able to be their own person is all circumstances, regardless of what external agreement exists); in work to eventually consistently experience being productive, skilled, creative, and contributing to one’s clients; in social encounters get to where one experiences intimacy (richness and fullness), love (deeply valuing the other), and that each long term relationship is a dynamic community (all members repeatedly empower each other).
    These current M / E happenings are manifestations of the citizens of each involved country collectively demanding they now have the freedom to achieve what I just described. Or another way of stating this, these happenings are manifestations of those people pushing to have their version of our 1776 revolution.
    The best the US can do is present “right on”, and announce it is immediately halting any support for the ruling people in each such country. Let these people produce their own destiny. Stop acting as if the US is capable of creating a world it likes. GET OUT OF THE WAY!


  4. Dan Kervick says:

    On what basis does enduring US power in the Middle East lie?


  5. questions says:

    It’s worth thinking through what tips the equilibrium out of balance. I can think of two mechanisms off the top of my head — first that all parties in a system are constantly evolving and or/mutually adapting so that each quickly changes strategies in response to the other. We learn from each other and change.
    The second version is that the equilibrium is false. There seems to be a stability, but in fact it’s far less stable than we realize from our particular vantage.
    And maybe a third, related to the second, is that our explanatory mechanisms, or our understanding of a situation, is generally partial and is therefore subject to change. I think this point fits with Thomas Kuhn’s basic insight. The point here is not evolutionary because it’s working with fixed rather than evolving systems, and so is rather epistemic — our knowledge falls short.
    I’m not sure how much space there is between the second and third, but it seems that there might be some.
    At any rate, I think it’s quite correct that policy and international stability are far more fluid than we like to think, even as domestic politics is fluid and social relations in general are. We know that we adapt over time, we evolve, we change interests and activities. There really is no reason to think that we as individuals are at all different from us as collective states.


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