Victor Davis Hanson‘s latest column at National Review Online poses the question of whether the president is ready for an updated “Obama Doctrine” that would mirror former President Jimmy Carter’s change of mind about pursuing a “new American stance abroad.”
By January 1980 there was a new Carter Doctrine, warning the Soviet Union that the Persian Gulf would be protected by force if necessary. Saudi Arabia may have been a misogynist, fundamentalist, and autocratic monarchy, but human-rights advocate Jimmy Carter declared it was central to Western interests and vowed to protect the Saudi royals.
In an effort to embarrass Moscow, the host of the 1980 Summer Olympics, for the first and only time in history America boycotted the games. Carter stopped the Nixon détente practice of exporting U.S. grain to the Soviet Union. He began arming the rebels in Afghanistan. He hiked defense spending up well over 4 percent of GDP — and well over the levels that had been promised by the hawkish rival presidential candidate Ronald Reagan in 1976. Cyrus Vance and Andrew Young both had left the administration by then. Carter stopped sending appeasing envoys to Iran. He suggested that he would not rule out another effort to rescue the hostages, even though his first attempt had failed miserably.
The rest is history. Carter’s efforts were all too little, too late. Ronald Reagan came to power. He ended Carterism, and won the Cold War by projecting U.S. strength and confidence to a tottering Soviet Union.
Will Obama follow the Carter script? His foreign policy, like Carter’s in late 1979, is wrecked. Vladimir Putin saw Obama’s trashing of George W. Bush and loud boasts about “reset” as weakness to be exploited, not as outreach to be matched. Any former Soviet republic that has a large minority of Russian speakers feels that it is next in line for Putin’s bullying — and does not believe Barack Obama’s now-empty “step-over lines,” “red lines,” or “deadlines.”