The Obama Doctrine

The U.S. presidential election is finally over.  Barack Obama is poised to make history: the first African American president, the largest popular vote total ever, the largest percentage win by a Democrat since the 1960s, a decisive win in the Electoral College, and an increase in the Democratic majority in Congress.  Like most political scientists, I stayed up late into the night discussing the results with friends and colleagues.  Today, the blogosphere is alight with debate over the outcome.  A great deal of debate centers on the scope of Obama’s mandate, the degree to which Congressional Democrats will “owe” Obama for their victory, and the reasons for his electoral success

Worldwide reaction to Obama’s win has been strong.  A Gallop global survey before the election indicated world preferred Obama to McCain by a 3:1 margin.  The Kenyan government declared a national holiday to celebrate, and Obama has received congratulatory calls from Gordon Brown and Nelson Mandela, among others.  In his blog, Tony Barber quotes a few members of the European Parliament, including Daniel Cohn-Bendit (a former 1968 student rebel leader) who said, “We should recognise that the American people have achieved something truly great in electing Obama. Today marks the end of an era of American cowboys – the second death of John Wayne.”  Peter Drysdale analyzed “What Obama Means for Asia.”

An interesting report on NPR this morning suggested that the Russian government was unsure of how to respond—and so it responded by announcing its intention to expand missile bases along the Russian-Polish border.

But so far little consideration has been given to what an Obama foreign policy would look like.  A March article from the American Prospect gives some suggestions.  It notes a speech Obama delivered in October in which he argued

This election is about ending the Iraq War, but even more it’s about moving beyond it. And we’re not going to be safe in a world of unconventional threats with the same old conventional thinking that got us into Iraq.

The article goes on to describe a foreign policy based on

a doctrine that first ends the politics of fear and then moves beyond a hollow, sloganeering ‘democracy promotion’ agenda in favor of ‘dignity promotion,’ to fix the conditions of misery that breed anti-Americanism and prevent liberty, justice, and prosperity from taking root. An inextricable part of that doctrine is a relentless and thorough destruction of al-Qaeda. Is this hawkish? Is this dovish? It’s both and neither — an overhaul not just of our foreign policy but of how we think about foreign policy. And it might just be the future of American global leadership.

This certainly represents a dramatic break from the Bush Doctrine supporting the unilateral and preemptive use of force against perceived threats.  But what does it mean for the ongoing crises in places like Darfur and the Democratic Republic of the Congo?  Only time will tell.

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