Barack Obama's foreign policy fits the personality of the man, writes Sholto Byrnes (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
Barack Obama's foreign policy fits the personality of the man, writes Sholto Byrnes (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

US ‘no drama’ policy fits Obama’s personality

Critics of Barack Obama’s foreign policy have long complained how hard it is to discern what it actually is. Statements by the US president, such as one he made in an interview in February, have not satisfied them: “You take the victories where you can. You make things a little bit better rather than a little bit worse. That’s just a realistic assessment of how the world works.”

Many might agree that that is indeed realistic, but questions remain as to whether Mr Obama has a coherent, consistent overall vision in international affairs.

This week Mr Obama provided greater illumination. In an interview with Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, he said: “You asked about an Obama doctrine. The doctrine is: We will engage, but we preserve all our capabilities.”

He was speaking in relation to Iran, but Cuba also came up in the conversation. The doctrine appears to be cautious, as is to be expected from a president frequently criticised for being professorial rather than passionate.

But its caution rests on confidence that American military might remains so great that no country can seriously imagine waging war on the US and winning. “We are powerful enough to be able to test these propositions without putting ourselves at risk,” concluded Mr Obama.

The doctrine isn’t quite realpolitik. But it is notable that the president’s discussion was devoid of airy rhetoric about democracy and human rights. Rather than framing US foreign policy as the unilateral enforcement of universal values (Western defined ones, naturally), Mr Obama said it was about advancing American core interests.

He then identified those interests in the Middle East as being “that everybody is living in peace, that it is orderly, that our allies are not being attacked, that children are not having barrel bombs dropped on them, that massive displacements aren’t taking place”.

Peace. Order. Persistent diplomacy. It certainly fits with the “no drama Obama” image. It is also consistent with many actions that his administration has taken.

The US has, for instance, made pro forma comments of concern about non-democratic interventions, such as the army takeover in Thailand last May.

But protestations by officials, publicly and privately, that they really are troubled by deviations from legal norms, should be taken with a large ladle of salt.

The message has gone out that the maintenance of internal stability in countries that are historic allies, and their continued partnership with the US, are more important than domestic politics.

The same goes for Egypt, where the White House’s attempt not to call the overthrow of President Morsi a “coup” tested semantic limits. But the US rightly views President Sisi as an ally in the fight against extremism and a more stable leader. So just recently, the arms freeze imposed after Mr Sisi came to power was lifted, and the annual $1.3 billion in military aid will also go through as normal.

This realism may be hard-headed, but it is not cold. In the case of Iran, Mr Obama understands that “even those who we consider moderates and reformers are supportive of some nuclear programme. What we know is that this has become a matter of pride and nationalism ”.

To the extent that the Obama Doctrine is based on a greater understanding that different countries may have their own value systems and historic goals of which they are proud, is to be applauded. With a Kenyan father and having grown up partly in Indonesia, perhaps Mr Obama is innately disposed to perceive such cultural nuances better than most of his countrymen.

Many of them, however, will not be convinced that the Obama Doctrine adds up to nearly enough.

His critics are both to his left and to his right. Liberal interventionists and neoconservatives would like to see a far more muscular foreign policies. the former lamenting a Democratic president’s unwillingness to be more forceful on human rights issues, the latter bemoaning American “weakness”.

The real problem with the Obama Doctrine, however, is that it hasn’t been evenly or far-reachingly enough applied.

It would have been difficult, but if the US president was really serious about engagement with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, any firm words and gestures of irritation should have been kept behind closed doors. Public enmity serves neither country and makes it harder for either to soften their stance without losing face.

The doctrine is a step back, especially from George W Bush’s adventurism. But that is no more than a sensible recognition of the US’s changing place in an increasingly multipolar world.

President Obama was quite right to say in 2009 that “any world order that elevates one nation above others cannot long survive”. Inasmuch as the Obama Doctrine is the culmination of that approach, it deserves applause. Cautious applause, naturally. Anything more enthusiastic than that wouldn’t quite fit with either the policy or the man.

Sholto Byrnes is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Affairs, Malaysia

Dubai Rugby Sevens, December 5 -7

World Sevens Series Pools

A – Fiji, France, Argentina, Japan

B – United States, Australia, Scotland, Ireland

C – New Zealand, Samoa, Canada, Wales

D – South Africa, England, Spain, Kenya

Name: Peter Dicce

Title: Assistant dean of students and director of athletics

Favourite sport: soccer

Favourite team: Bayern Munich

Favourite player: Franz Beckenbauer

Favourite activity in Abu Dhabi: scuba diving in the Northern Emirates 



Name: SmartCrowd
Started: 2018
Founder: Siddiq Farid and Musfique Ahmed
Based: Dubai
Sector: FinTech / PropTech
Initial investment: $650,000
Current number of staff: 35
Investment stage: Series A
Investors: Various institutional investors and notable angel investors (500 MENA, Shurooq, Mada, Seedstar, Tricap)

Company Profile

Name: HyveGeo
Started: 2023
Founders: Abdulaziz bin Redha, Dr Samsurin Welch, Eva Morales and Dr Harjit Singh
Based: Cambridge and Dubai
Number of employees: 8
Industry: Sustainability & Environment
Funding: $200,000 plus undisclosed grant
Investors: Venture capital and government

Bridgerton season three - part one

Directors: Various

Starring: Nicola Coughlan, Luke Newton, Jonathan Bailey

Rating: 3/5

From Europe to the Middle East, economic success brings wealth - and lifestyle diseases

A rise in obesity figures and the need for more public spending is a familiar trend in the developing world as western lifestyles are adopted.

One in five deaths around the world is now caused by bad diet, with obesity the fastest growing global risk. A high body mass index is also the top cause of metabolic diseases relating to death and disability in Kuwait, Qatar and Oman – and second on the list in Bahrain.

In Britain, heart disease, lung cancer and Alzheimer’s remain among the leading causes of death, and people there are spending more time suffering from health problems.

The UK is expected to spend $421.4 billion on healthcare by 2040, up from $239.3 billion in 2014.

And development assistance for health is talking about the financial aid given to governments to support social, environmental development of developing countries.

Company profile

Name: Tabby
Founded: August 2019; platform went live in February 2020
Founder/CEO: Hosam Arab, co-founder: Daniil Barkalov
Based: Dubai, UAE
Sector: Payments
Size: 40-50 employees
Stage: Series A
Investors: Arbor Ventures, Mubadala Capital, Wamda Capital, STV, Raed Ventures, Global Founders Capital, JIMCO, Global Ventures, Venture Souq, Outliers VC, MSA Capital, HOF and AB Accelerator.


- 5 wins in 22 months as pro
- Three wins in past 10 starts
- 45 pro starts worldwide: 5 wins, 17 top 5s
- Ranked 551th in world on debut, now No 4 (was No 2 earlier this year)
- 5th player in last 30 years to win 3 European Tour and 2 PGA Tour titles before age 24 (Woods, Garcia, McIlroy, Spieth)

Director: Nag Ashwin

Starring: Prabhas, Saswata Chatterjee, Deepika Padukone, Amitabh Bachchan, Shobhana

Rating: ★★★★


Friday (UAE kick-off times)

Cologne v Hoffenheim (11.30pm)


Hertha Berlin v RB Leipzig (6.30pm)

Schalke v Fortuna Dusseldof (6.30pm)

Mainz v Union Berlin (6.30pm)

Paderborn v Augsburg (6.30pm)

Bayern Munich v Borussia Dortmund (9.30pm)


Borussia Monchengladbach v Werder Bremen (4.30pm)

Wolfsburg v Bayer Leverkusen (6.30pm)

SC Freiburg v Eintracht Frankfurt (9on)


Engine: 6-cylinder 3-litre, with petrol and diesel variants
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Power: 286hp (petrol), 249hp (diesel)
Torque: 450Nm (petrol), 550Nm (diesel)
Price: Starting at $69,800
On sale: Now

Company profile

Company name: Fasset
Started: 2019
Founders: Mohammad Raafi Hossain, Daniel Ahmed
Based: Dubai
Sector: FinTech
Initial investment: $2.45 million
Current number of staff: 86
Investment stage: Pre-series B
Investors: Investcorp, Liberty City Ventures, Fatima Gobi Ventures, Primal Capital, Wealthwell Ventures, FHS Capital, VN2 Capital, local family offices


Directed by Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari

Starring Kangana Ranaut, Richa Chadha, Jassie Gill, Yagya Bhasin, Neena Gupta

Rating: 3.5/5

The specs: 2024 Mercedes E200

Engine: 2.0-litre four-cyl turbo + mild hybrid
Power: 204hp at 5,800rpm +23hp hybrid boost
Torque: 320Nm at 1,800rpm +205Nm hybrid boost
Transmission: 9-speed auto
Fuel consumption: 7.3L/100km
On sale: November/December
Price: From Dh205,000 (estimate)

Common OCD symptoms and how they manifest

Checking: the obsession or thoughts focus on some harm coming from things not being as they should, which usually centre around the theme of safety. For example, the obsession is “the building will burn down”, therefore the compulsion is checking that the oven is switched off.

Contamination: the obsession is focused on the presence of germs, dirt or harmful bacteria and how this will impact the person and/or their loved ones. For example, the obsession is “the floor is dirty; me and my family will get sick and die”, the compulsion is repetitive cleaning.

Orderliness: the obsession is a fear of sitting with uncomfortable feelings, or to prevent harm coming to oneself or others. Objectively there appears to be no logical link between the obsession and compulsion. For example,” I won’t feel right if the jars aren’t lined up” or “harm will come to my family if I don’t line up all the jars”, so the compulsion is therefore lining up the jars.

Intrusive thoughts: the intrusive thought is usually highly distressing and repetitive. Common examples may include thoughts of perpetrating violence towards others, harming others, or questions over one’s character or deeds, usually in conflict with the person’s true values. An example would be: “I think I might hurt my family”, which in turn leads to the compulsion of avoiding social gatherings.

Hoarding: the intrusive thought is the overvaluing of objects or possessions, while the compulsion is stashing or hoarding these items and refusing to let them go. For example, “this newspaper may come in useful one day”, therefore, the compulsion is hoarding newspapers instead of discarding them the next day.

Source: Dr Robert Chandler, clinical psychologist at Lighthouse Arabia

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