President Barack Obama invited ESPN into the White House yesterday so that The Worldwide Leader In Sports could tape his picks for the 2011 NCAA basketball tournament. The President picked all frontrunners. Good for him. Meanwhile, 5,000 miles away, a Libyan rebel defending the town of Ajdabiya from Muammar Qadhafi loyalists told The Washington Post: "These politicians are liars. They just talk and talk, but they do nothing." One hundred miles north, in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, rebel spokeswoman Iman Bugaighis told The New York Times that Western nations had "lost any credibility."
President Obama cannot be blamed for the failure of the rebels to hold off advances by Qadhafi's army. But he can be blamed for raising expectations for U.S. military action beyond what he was prepared to commit. On March 3, President Obama said: "With respect to our willingness to engage militarily, … I've instructed the Department of Defense … to examine a full range of options. I don't want us hamstrung. … Going forward, we will continue to send a clear message: The violence must stop. Muammar Gaddafi has lost legitimacy to lead, and he must leave." Heritage Vice President for Foreign and Defense Policy Studies Kim Holmes writes: "This is the worst of all worlds. People in the Middle East (not to mention Americans) are rightly confused by the mismatch between the Administration's rhetoric and actions."
The tragedy unfolding in Libya is just another example of why the Obama Doctrine was destined to fail. The Obama Doctrine is ill-suited to dealing with the world as it is. It assumes that big problems can be solved with big words while the messy details take care of themselves. It places far too much confidence in international entities, disregards for the importance of American independence, and fails to emphasize American exceptionalism.
Diplomacy is fundamental to the conduct of American foreign policy. That is why the Founders removed the conduct of diplomacy from the states of the Union and placed its practice under the President of the United States. But the Obama Doctrine misunderstands how diplomacy ought to be practiced. Heritage Senior Research Fellow Ted Bromund explains:
"The purpose of American diplomacy never changes: It is to secure the national interests of the United States. … Irresponsible diplomacy comes in many forms. Diplomacy without strength does not even merit the name of diplomacy. Treaties that fail to respect President Ronald Reagan's dictum of 'trust, but verify' are reckless. Treaties that are negotiated merely to encourage foreigners to think better of the United States are unwise."
Far too often, President Obama has hoped that fancy words, grand apologies, and supplicant treaties would strengthen our security by making the world think better of us. They do not. This does not mean that the Obama Administration should do something rash, like implement a no-fly zone in Libya, just so it looks like it is doing something. It does mean that to save his presidency and protect the interests of the nation, business as usual in the White House has got to stop.