Obama Doctrine on the line in Iraq

7/4/2014

By Lesley Clark and Anita Kumar

By Lesley Clark and Anita Kumar

McClatchy Washington Bureau

(MCT) — The conflict in Iraq presents the sharpest test yet of the foreign policy doctrine of President Barack Obama.

That philosophy, most recently outlined at a May speech at the U.S. Military Academy, resists pressures to intervene militarily at flash points around the globe; limits military force to cases where U.S. interests are clearly at risk, Americans are threatened or allies are in danger; and puts greater emphasis on allies or foreign governments.

Under that doctrine, Obama has ruled out sending combat troops to Iraq, instead announcing plans to send up to 300 military advisers. Another 200 troops were authorized this week to defend critical interests such as Baghdad's airport.

While his actions in Iraq may be consistent with his doctrine, critics charge it's not comprehensive enough for the complexities of the threat posed by the chaos in Iraq.

"Retreating from the world stage, in my view, is not an option," said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. "It only undermines our allies and leads to more chaos that puts Americans at risk."

Barry Pavel, vice president and director of the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council, warned that Obama's reluctance has fueled "perceptions among U.S. allies that think the U.S. does not have the will to defend certain interests."

Obama's first step is not unusual. The U.S. already has military advisers in more than 70 countries. But it is very much in keeping with a president who has always been "very cautious" on his use of the military, said James Goldgeier, dean of the School of International Service at American University in Washington.

"This is not a major move. It's pretty minimal," Goldgeier said of the U.S. advisers in Iraq. "I really don't think we are going to have a major impact on the future of Iraq."

Many observers say they'd be surprised if Obama ordered airstrikes, although the administration has not ruled them out. A senior administration official who was knowledgeable about the situation but was not authorized to speak publicly as a matter of administration policy said that strikes would be considered only after Obama receives "better information" about the situation in Iraq. Some officials have said the U.S. still lacks the intelligence information required to conduct effective strikes.

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