More than twenty years ago, President George H.W. Bush pledged a “new world order” as he sent U.S. troops to the Persian Gulf: a world “freer from the threat of terror, stronger in the pursuit of justice, and more secure in the quest for peace.” The idea was that American power, unchallenged as communism crumbled, could be the best guarantor of freedom and justice around the world, and bring about a new ear of peace and prosperity.
President Barack Obama’s foreign policy ideas may have been shaped by so-called “realists” who hold up the elder Bush as a model, but the essence of his approach is to roll back American power and to forget about the cause of freedom around the world. Obama’s focus is domestic policy, and his goal is a redistributive state that can fix the problem of economic inequality. He views the rest of the world vaguely, through an egalitarian lens.
For the past several years, Analysts have groped in vain for a definition of the “Obama doctrine.” In an interview last month with David Remnick in the New Yorker, Obama finally produced a clear strategic vision, at least for the Middle East. Gone is any idea of a “new world order” based on freedom: instead, Obama says, we need a “new equilibrium” that balances rival powers such as Iran and the Sunni states, without bothering the U.S.
It does not seem to worry Obama–whose only real foreign policy cause, after the anti-apartheid struggle, was nuclear disarmament–that the likeliest “balance” between Iran and Saudi Arabia would involve both obtaining nuclear weapons. His main concern has been making sure that Israel does not upset the balance with a pre-emptive strike on Iran, and that the Iranian people do not upset the balance by overthrowing their government.
It is important to understand just how far Obama’s strategy goes, not just in unraveling the interventions of George W. Bush, but in undermining the professed foreign policy ideals of his father, who became an icon for the “realists” largely because–let’s be honest–he was willing to stand up to Israel to appease the Sunni Arab states who were seen as the key to protecting American interests in the Middle East in the post-Soviet era.
The phrase “new world order” soon became associated with anti-government conspiracy theories (and pro wrestling). Yet it did stand for something real, and–at that time, anyway–possible: the spread of democracy and free markets under American auspices. Obama’s “new equilibrium” makes him, essentially, Iran’s new strategic partner, allowing the benighted tyranny of the Iranian ayatollahs to continue to haunt the world.