The Monroe Doctrine is a famous US guiding principle concerning military intervention that, even though it was established back in 1823, is to a large extent still relevant today.. It was clear, concise, and achieved its main purpose by warning potential adversaries and causing them in most cases to simply avoid any actions that might trigger the US intervention. The Bush Doctrine, in contrast, was an attempt to retroactively explain and justify foreign military intervention, was not concise, and did not survive his presidency.

It is astounding to me that given what is happening in the world today no one in the US feels the need to articulate a new doctrine that will govern the US actions in the world. That president Obama has not done it is clear. He is a modern-day isolationist. His best attempt to give some guidance as to US policy in the world was down to “don’t do stupid stuff.” Really. Even Hillary Clinton had to admit that this is not a foreign policy—it sure ain’t and it is no “doctrine” either (to be precise, it seems that his exact quote—given how uncouth this president can be at times—was: “Don’t do stupid shit”. Reporters, who were so shocked, invented the more “refined” version. The truth, of course, leaked. Everything does.).

Other Obama “pearls” that guide US policy these days are “leading from behind” and being the anti-Bush—both not very helpful as the state of affairs worldwide indicates.

But even Republicans, be it in Congress or, more appropriately, any of the presidential candidates, have avoided putting together their foreign policy and intervention “doctrine” and that is very disappointing.

Here is what I believe should be the US foreign policy doctrine:

  1. The US will intervene in armed conflict and/or initiate one only if at least one of the following elements exist in a conflict:
    • The US intervention is morally just. Saving civilians from massacre is morally just. Helping democratic movements to shed the bonds of dictatorship is morally just, etc.
    • The US intervention is in support of one or more of its allies. Even the US cannot exist without a network of allies. Defending them and assisting them is important to maintain the US power and commercial economic interests.
    • The US intervention is in defense of its own direct national interest. That goes without saying but on its own is very limited because it could be interpreted to mean only direct attacks on the US homeland which, given geography, are very unlikely.
  2. Any intervention should be proportionate, so that if the only element that exists in justifying an intervention is the first one enumerated above, the intervention should be limited. Sending 600 Special Forces to Africa to hunt and destroy a warlord tormenting a certain area in Africa is justified. Sending a 60,000-man army is probably not. Providing Libyan rebels with the air support they needed to topple Gaddafi is justified. Sending a 100,000-man army to do that, probably not. Of course, when defending an ally is concerned, the proportionality is more elastic, as not defending one ally risks losing them all. Needless to say, there is hardly any proportionality consideration if a direct US national security interest is attacked. That is paramount.
  3. Any intervention must involve overwhelming force and a clearly defined goal. The current administration’s “a dollar short and a day late” type intervention is ridiculous, ineffective, and indeed damaging. If the US is unable or is not prepared to use overwhelming force in any conflict to achieve its goal, don’t get involved.
  4. Any intervention MUST include a long-term element: nation building. Contrary to current mood, the ONLY successful military conflicts fought by the US are those where the US was willing, and did, commit long-term military involvement. See Korea (over 60 years of involvement), Japan (over 65 years), and Western Europe/NATO (over 65 years). Compare and contrast that with Iraq (8 years and out . . . and total loss), Libya (few weeks and out . . . and total loss), and Afghanistan (14 years and the jury is still out, but less equivocation by the US regarding the long term would enshrine the fragile achievements there). The US has HUGE interest in nation building as long as that building is in its mold. A democratic, human rights, free market mold. That is, in the long term, in the US national interest and in any case, as history shows, any intervention that does not provide for long-term involvement is doomed to fail.
  5. “War is the continuation of politics by other means,” said Clausewitz. It should be the policy of the US to clearly espouse its goals in diplomatic discussions where they are feasible. But it should be made clear to any counterparty that if those goals are not met quickly and securely via the diplomatic process, military intervention will follow to achieve those goals and more. If the US re-establishes its power of deterrent (i.e. the counter parties will actually believe that the US will indeed commit itself to military intervention), the likelihood is that it will achieve its goals without bloodshed (See: Reagan and the defeating of USSR in the “cold war”).

This is simple enough and it is striking to me that not one of the people on the US political scene has the courage to put together such a doctrine.

We are witnessing the eclipse of leadership in the free world.