By Judd Gregg - 05/19/14 06:00 AM EDT
President Obama has spent almost five and a half years in office but can you put a name to his foreign policy doctrine, purpose or structure? Probably not.
There is no understandable or viable principle or purpose regarding our response to the present difficulties in Eastern Europe. Russian President Vladimir Putin makes a move and, without any logical or consistent path of action, the administration reacts.
To call this a back-of-the-envelope approach would be generous.
Iran goes on and on with what looks like a drive to build a nuclear weapon. Israel is the primary target, the United States is the secondary target. There is no clear policy that sets forth a reaction that is not tempered by looking to others — principally our European allies — for direction.
Following the Europeans is not, by definition, leadership. In fact on matters of national security, following the Europeans is hardly a doctrine. They are directionally challenged on all things that require strength of purpose.
China is flexing its considerable muscle, and Japan is being forced to respond. This is dangerous for us, for Asia and for the world. These are not two-bit players.
Our goals and role here should be clearly and unequivocally set out. This is not a situation where policy that is defined by drift is good. In fact, it is extremely unsettling in the midst of an already-unsettled situation.
No one takes responsibility for the death of our ambassador and three other courageous Americans in Benghazi, Libya.
Instead the parties in the chain of command hide behind a YouTube video. Our foreign policy denies the obvious and opts to declare us victims of the Internet.
We orchestrate a departure from Afghanistan without any clear statement of what we will do if it returns to being a training camp and sanctuary for Islamic fundamentalist terrorists.
Even John Kerry had a doctrine to deal with this when he was running for president in 2004. It was called: the over the horizon doctrine. Now Kerry is secretary of State, yet our course for future action there is opaque at best.
It might be useful to actually have our people and the folks who look to us around the world for leadership know what it is that is guiding our approach.
For all those who faulted President George W. Bush — President Obama and his people included — at least we knew the doctrine that lay behind how we approached the foreign policy issues that most threatened us or our friends.
It was basically this: “If you are a terrorist threatening America or our friends, we will find you and deal with you. If you are a nation that harbors such terrorists, then you are our enemy and we will deal with you also.”
It was a clear, concise policy in the tradition of Reagan, Kennedy or Truman.
Where it went wrong was in the ad hoc collateral policy which drew us into nation-building in parts of the world where nation disassembling was the ingrained coarse.
Thus, the outcome of that collateral effort was not good.
But our success on delivering and acting upon the primary elements of the Bush doctrine was extraordinary.
Isn’t it time that Obama set forth a clear statement of purpose?
Where does he expect America to be in five years or 10 years or even next month, in relation to our role in the world and especially our goals in the world in the context of the threats and issues we confront?
An Obama doctrine would be refreshing even if it was not universally praised.
Defaulting to the guidance of friends such as our European or Asian allies, or to a reactive position that chases the threat rather than confronts it, is a prescription for making serious and dangerous mistakes.
Bush’s Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once famously noted that there are “unknown unknowns,” things that one is not even aware one doesn’t know.
But to not know what one should know, such as what one’s guiding principles are when speaking for our nation and to the world, is just as perilous.
Judd Gregg is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee.