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Obama’s Two Birds with One Stone Foreign Policy

August 18, 2011

Drawing contrast from the Bush Doctrine’s foreign policy, recent trends in President Obama’s presidency point to a practical, if not always prompt, ‘Kill two birds with one stone’ approach.

Today President Obama joined a simultaneous chorus of international leaders calling for Bashar al-Assad to step down. In the wake of Libyan action, Obama has been criticized for his failure to speak out about Assad’s brutal actions. Canada, France, Germany, and the UK also called for al-Assad’s resignation today, and have placed sanctions on Syrian oil.

Earlier this week Secretary of State Hilary Clinton commented on the lack of action. “I am a big believer in results over rhetoric, and I think what we’re doing is putting together a very careful set of actions and statements that will make our views very clear — and to have other voices, particularly from the region, as part of that is essential for there to be any impact within Syria,” she said. The President has made statements in the last month that could have been either about Ghaddafi in Libya or al-Assad, that they no longer have any claim to legitimacy.

In both cases, the world seemed to wait for President Obama to make up his mind. But in both cases, he and Clinton were urging other nations to take the lead. Clinton practically dared France’s President Sarkozy to take the lead on Libya, to match his rhetoric with action or prove France’s historical caricature.

President Obama’s policy on Afghanistan, also fits this bill, though not the way Republican 2012 Candidates are saying. A swifter-than-expected removal of Surge troops has sent the message to President Karzai and NATO allies that the US will push for a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) sooner rather than later (H.R.651 demanding that troops be redeployed within one year of the agreement, with temporary forces remaining only at Karzai’s request). A RAND study released this week even states that Taliban leaders should be included, to give them an incentive to renounce terror tactics.

President Obama will not go that far, but a fundamental shift in historical foreign policy is taking place: one in which the US leads by diplomatic example (and allows our allies to do the same) rather than by force.

The Two Birds approach isn’t limited to foreign policy, it was there in May when the President worked with the auto industry (bound by a bailout) to announce new fuel efficiency standards. He is supposed to unveil a jobs initiative in September that he has dared House Republicans to block. It will no doubt pit spending against jobs in construction, green energy, and technology. If he can meet the goals he promised to activists and put a dent in unemployment, this practicality could be his greatest asset in the 2012 race.

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