Historically, however, a presidential doctrine has served to define the national interest of a specific administration in a public manner, informing the American people and their allies, as well as putting potential adversaries on notice. Presidential doctrines did not define a specific strategy a president would pursue, their administration's worldview, or how they would utilize American power.
Assumptions form the bedrock of any strategy. The choice of ways and means to achieve a particular outcome or objective is based on the assumption that those choices will lead to an expected result. Assumption is just one of many reasons flexibility is the key to good strategy - assumptions must be continuously analyzed for their efficacy. One major assumption at the root of the United States’ strategy in the Middle East has stood the test of time: the US needs Arab oil, or the continued flow of oil out of the Middle East, therefore it must remain on good terms with its oil-exporting Arab allies. It would follow that Arab disdain for Israel suggests the US should put distance between itself and Israel in favor of better relations with its Arab allies. Dennis Ross, in Doomed to Succeed: The US-Israel Relationship from Truman to Obama, is rethinking this assumption and Middle East analysts, policy makers, and strategists should listen.
This book had a lot of promise. If O’Brien had taken a more serious look at Obama’s engagement with the world—explaining why he thought it was wrong instead of presupposing it was—it could have been great. Still, this book can serve as an interesting read for people on the Hill, historians, and foreign policy partisans. Its great contribution is the exposition of political differences in foreign policy, but it will not help solve many of the world’s problems.
War, we are told by a wise elder, is the “pursuit of policy by other means.” In fact, this famous statement was perhaps more an aspiration on Carl Von Clausewitz’ part than a statement of metaphysical truth. It is often observed that German generals in the succeeding generations completely forgot this famous dictum, which demoted them relative to civilian leaders they often held in contempt. But American generals do not seem to be immune, either.
Understanding presidential decisions for and against increased force in ongoing conflicts is a significant and important endeavor. The implications include the impact on future decisions to commit troops in the first place—such as in Syria. National security decision making also affects civil-military relations, as well as the balance between executive and congressional powers. Finally, as escalation and de-escalation involves either mission creep or the need to adjust policy aims by taking an appetite suppressant, understanding its dynamics will illuminate leader perceptions, the difference between wartime realities and prewar expectations, and the impact on the U.S. debt and the American public.
Amid the media response to the ongoing crisis in Crimea, a surprising theme has emerged in certain political circles: Putin-envy. The Russian president who has strived to cultivate a macho image has garnered praise for authoritative leadership and strategic acumen, ostensibly in contrast to his chief international rival, President Obama.