No more ‘cowboy diplomacy’ for US

New strategy rooted in engagement and cooperation, rejects ‘Bush Doctrine’

24 May 2010

United States President Barack Obama has outlined a new national security strategy rooted in diplomatic engagement and international alliances as he repudiated his predecessor’s emphasis on unilateral American power and the right to wage pre-emptive war.

Eight years after then President George W. Bush came to the US Military Academy to set a new course for American security in the aftermath of the Sept 11 attacks, Mr. Obama on Saturday used the same setting to offer a revised doctrine.

Setting out his vision for keeping the US safe as it fights wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Mr. Obama stressed international engagement over Mr. Bush’s ‘cowboy diplomacy’ and signalled his likely repudiation of his predecessor’s justifications for pre-emptive war.

‘The burdens of this century cannot fall on our soldiers alone, it also cannot fall on American shoulders alone,’ Mr. Obama told graduating cadets at West Point.

Mr. Bush in 2002 had laid out the ‘Bush Doctrine’ asserting the right to wage pre-emptive war against countries and terrorist groups deemed a threat to the US, part of a policy he called a ‘distinctly American internationalism’. What followed was the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq despite the lack of formal United Nations authorisation.

Since taking office last year, the Obama administration has fuelled speculation that the President’s new strategy will officially back away from that controversial concept.

Though Mr. Obama did not explicitly revoke the Bush Doctrine at West Point, he emphasised the need to prevent attacks through multilateral cooperation with intelligence agencies ‘working seamlessly with their counterparts to unravel plots’. He also asserted that the only reason US forces continued fighting in Afghanistan was because ‘plotting persists to this day’ there by Al-Qaeda militants.

Mr. Obama said the US must strengthen existing alliances, build new partnerships and promote human rights worldwide as it pursues a strategy of global leadership.

‘We are clear-eyed about the shortfalls of our international system,’ he said. ‘But America has not succeeded by stepping out of the currents of cooperation… We have to shape an international order that can meet the challenges of our generation,’ he added.

He said the US ‘will be steadfast in strengthening those old alliances that have served us so well’ while also trying to ‘build new partnerships and shape stronger international standards and institutions’.

He added: ‘This engagement is not an end in itself. The international order we seek is one that can resolve the challenges of our times.’

Mr. Obama’s call for global cooperation was also a message to Nato allies in Afghanistan to stiffen their resolve when questions are being raised about their commitment to the war.

The President also kept up his outreach to the Muslim world. While accusing Al-Qaeda of distorting Islamic values, he avoided using terms like ‘war on terror’ and ‘Islamo-fascists’ that Mr. Bush employed regularly and which alienated many Muslims.

The Obama administration is set to officially release the President’s first national security strategy this week, and observers said Mr. Obama’s preview on Saturday suggested it would be far different from the first one offered by his predecessor in 2002.


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