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Anne-marie Slaughter On The Obama Doctrine

We asked Anne-Marie Slaughter, Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton and Co-Director of the Princeton Project on National Security, to respond to Eli Lake's cover story on what an Obama Doctrine would look like if he were to become president. Lake suggests that Obama's approach to foreign policy would resemble Ronald Reagan's far more than Jimmy Carter's largely because Obama isn't afraid to reach out to undesirables if they could help produce a good result for the United States. Slaughter sees things a little differently:  

In my assessment of Obama's speeches, positions, and advisers, an Obama Doctrine would go something like this: "Talk to anyone, but live up to American values in what you say." That is consistent with the Reagan who met Gorbachev at Reykjavik, against the advice of many of his advisers, and discussed denuclearizing the world. But it doesn't fit the Reagan Doctrine that brought us the secret mining of Nicaragua's harbors by the CIA, an action that incurred the wrath of even as staunch a conservative as Barry Goldwater, or the decision to send Robert McFarlane to Tehran bearing a cake and a Bible in an effort to circumvent Congressional restrictions on procuring arms for the Nicaraguan contras.

An Obama Doctrine would be tough and pragmatic, but principled. As both Rand Beers and Richard Clarke make clear in the excerpts quoted by Lake, they would work with almost anyone if necessary to advance common objectives--but they are not prepared to give anyone a free pass. U.S. money and aid comes with strings attached to the extent possible, and where impossible, then at least with a lecture. That may sound like nothing, but as any diplomat or businessperson knows, the overwhelming temptation when doing business with foreign partners is simply to avoid the deep unpleasantness that scrutinizing their behavior will immediately create.

The Obama doctrine that I have described is in many ways like Obama himself. He's smooth and poised and willing to wade into any crowd. But he is equally willing to voice some unpleasant truths on subjects ranging from fuel subsidies to race. His tools of choice are words, but words that over time can help create emotional and then political space for action. As someone who came of political age during Watergate and who had to flip through picture upon picture of napalmed villages and children in Vietnam, I remember that Jimmy Carter's proud words standing up for human rights helped many Americans hold up their head again. They also gave strength and courage to the victims of the horrors of the dirty war in Chile and Argentina.

In this regard Obama has no reason to run from Carter. Carter also brought us peace between Israel and Egypt, an agreement that required plenty of pragmatism to help hammer out. The only reason Obama's willingness to talk to anyone gets so much attention is the doctrinaire attitudes of the George W. Bush administration; the only reason that Obama has to be so uncompromising on living up to American values on issues like interrogations has been the Administration's flagrant disregard of those values. Lake's parallels to Carter and Reagan notwithstanding, there is really no need to dig deeper into political history than that.

--Anne-Marie Slaughter