20 May 2009

The “Three D’s” in Obama’s Policies: What is Missing?

Through Obama’s first 100 days in office, the administration has repeatedly called for the “three D’s”; Defense, Development, and Diplomacy, as a framework for implementing U.S. national security strategy. In his Defense efforts, the President has stressed the need to re-deploy American troops to Afghanistan to effectively combat the resurgent Taliban. In the realm of Development, the administration has promoted international development aid as a means of ameliorating the global economic crisis and to combat poverty in the developing world. In the area of Diplomacy, Obama has made efforts to engage with regional adversaries, such as Iran and Syria, with the hopes that incentivized diplomacy will advance prospects for peace in the Middle East. What seems to be conspicuously absent from Obama’s oratory however, is Democracy. Whereas the previous administration made promotion of democracy a key pillar in their foreign policy agenda, Obama seems to have eschewed this term from his rhetoric. It remains to be seen whether democracy promotion is part and parcel of the “Three D’s” policy framework in particular development one, or whether democracy is simply the end goal of what his policy framework is aiming to achieve?

The strategy which employs the “Three D’s” framework is the so-called “smart power” approach, referenced time and again by President Obama and Secretary Clinton. This strategy has been defined as the ability to use “soft power” combined with “hard power” in order to achieve the desired policy goals. Over the administration’s first few months in office, President Obama and his deputies have been laying the groundwork for diplomatic engagement in the Middle East, and promoting development initiatives which support both “top-down” aid (assistance to governments of emerging democracies), as well as “bottom-up’ aid (supporting civic grassroots efforts) in the developing world. Additionally, the administration is re-calibrating defense strategies by cutting spending on conventional warfare programs, moving in favor of counterinsurgency and unconventional programs, such as building social science expertise within the Department of Defense (DoD). It remains to be seen however, whether will such step can be consider as advocacy for democracy? From President Bush’s “Freedom Agenda”, going back to Jimmy Carter’s “values-based” democracy promotion, each of Obama’s predecessors has made Democracy a key pillar in their foreign policy agendas. To this point, President Obama has yet to elaborate where exactly democracy fits into his overall scheme. Speaking during the presidential campaign, Obama stated that “obviously we should be promoting democracy everywhere we can”, but that democracy is not simply gauged by “whether people are going to the ballot box.” Obama further elaborated that building civil society is of utmost importance in order to support the foundation of well-functioning societies. It is unclear though whether civil society is viewed as a prerequisite for democratic growth, or if he believes both can grow concurrently.

In the Middle East, it appears the political and security landscape could potentially change a great deal over the coming year. If there are negative outcomes vis-à-vis U.S. interests in the region, President Obama will be forced to further articulate and defend his “Three D’s” framework for the region. He will be forced to explain where exactly Democracy fits into the equation. His answer to this question will have a major impact on the image of the U.S. in the region, and around the world.

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