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Against the Obama Doctrine of Decline

Author: Elliott Abrams, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
October 2011


With the race for the Republican nomination well under way, an America not led by Barack Obama seems to optimists to be just around the corner. A Republican president would face economic recovery as his chief task, but foreign policy would intrude fast.

Just as Obama sought to differentiate himself from his predecessor, a new president would surely break with Obama quickly in his approach to the world. In critical ways, Obama has reversed not just Bush policy but every president's approach to the world since the Second World War, save for that of his soulmate Jimmy Carter. Obama has eschewed American leadership, adopting in its place what the New Yorker famously called the policy of "leading from behind".

Libya is the perfect example, and the administration's self-satisfied claims of victory when Gaddafi was driven from power may have provoked bitter laughter in Benghazi. For by restricting the use of American power in Libya, by keeping back American assets such as the A-10 air-to-ground warplane that allies lacked, he stretched what might have been a six-week war into six months and thereby lengthened the Libyan casualty lists by tens of thousands. A side product of this approach has been to weaken Nato and the confidence of America's partners in US willingness to act. If Nato has trouble in Libya, right on the doorstep of all those European bases, where can it risk any serious challenge? In the Obama view such a conclusion is presumably a good thing, likely to check adventurism.

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