The Obama ‘Middle Eastern’ Doctrine

Abdullah Hamidaddin
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Jeffrey Goldberg’s The Obama Doctrine could have well been entitled The Obama Middle Eastern Doctrine. In this very long - yet interesting read – we were given a peek into the way Obama thinks about my region and how America should deal with it. All of the tenets of that doctrine are presented as a rationalization of previous decisions Obama made on the Middle East, or as a preemptive testament before the court of history.

The fact that Obama is leaving office in less than a year may lead many to read his doctrine as a chapter in Obama’s forthcoming biography. I think it is more prudent to read it as a first draft of a new American Middle Eastern Doctrine. This is because the discussions in which those tenets are couched in echo Neo-Realist wisdom, American popular sentiment and they resonate with America’s global interests.


We all know that a new chapter between America and the Middle East has been open in the White House, and we have seen some of its pages. That the Middle East is of less importance to the US is a given. Sadly this lack of importance is being embedded with a condescending view toward the Middle East. Our region, according to Obama, is a hopeless case, full of “malicious, nihilistic, violent parts of humanity”. Moreover it is a distraction to the US from other regions where “young people yearning for self-improvement, modernity, education, and material wealth”.

Whatever the case, Obama is now giving us a sneak preview of that new chapter. He is telling us that America is revising its alliances and it is also changing its rules of the game. Obama took great pride when speaking about not abiding by what he called the “Washington playbook”; a set of expectations and prescriptions towards international events.

Washington playbook

Obama is encouraging future presidents not to abide by that book, perhaps re-write it, warning them that the “conventional expectations of what an American president is supposed to do” can sometimes become traps. He is also telling us not to make expectations based on our knowledge of the current Washington playbook.

The fact that Obama is leaving office in less than a year may lead many to read his doctrine as a chapter in Obama’s forthcoming biography. I think it is more prudent to read it as a first draft of a new American Middle Eastern Doctrine.

Abdullah Hamidaddin

From the article I extracted what seemed to me the core tenets of the new Middle Eastern doctrine:
1. America’s global leadership is going to be based on its capacity to set the global agenda not on its capacity to direct regional events.
2. An American president should not “place American soldiers at great risk in order to prevent humanitarian disasters, unless those disasters pose a direct security threat to the United States.”
3. America’s pronounced moral position vis-à-vis a situation is not a signal that it will intervene.
4. When action is needed, America will not work alone rather with other countries.
5. America shall no longer welcome free riders as allies.
6. American will not commit US military forces unless they would change “the equation on the ground.”
7. Terrorism is not an existential threat to the US.
8. America’s credibility, while important, is also over rated and lead to decisions that damage US interest.
9. Stability in the Middle East can only come through “some sort of cold peace” based on sharing and not competition.

Each tenet has immediate implications on the security of the region. And we had already seen quite a few of them. I will not discuss those implications now. What I want to say is that we need to understand them quite well if we are going to be able to understand current and future US behavior and more importantly if we want to have an intelligible communication with American leadership.

In the Middle East we’ve gotten used to a totally different doctrine, one based on extensive American interventionism. Many policy advisors, political analysts have always had that different doctrine in the back of their minds whenever they try to understand or criticize the US. They think: “your doctrine says you will do so and so; why aren’t you doing it?” Diplomats also had that doctrine in mind when they communicate with the US; and they formulate their communication in a language compatible to the now old doctrine.

The US will continue to be the indispensable ally no matter what its shortcomings are. And if we want to sustain an intelligent discussion with it we should read Goldberg’s piece well, again and again.
Abdullah Hamidaddin is a writer and commentator on religion, Middle Eastern societies and politics with a focus on Saudi Arabia and Yemen. He is currently a PhD candidate in King’s College London. He can be followed on Twitter: @amiq1

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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