The Cheerios Doctrine

Whitehouse.gov

President Barack Obama participates in an interview with Scott Pelley, Anchor of CBS’s "Evening News" to discuss Syria, in the Blue Room of the White House, Sept. 9, 2013.

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  • The Cheerios Doctrine solves nothing, deters nobody, and is an immoral use of deadly force.

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This is what America's post-World War II security policy has become: the Cheerios Doctrine. Jim Geraghty has a nice post on the insipid statements coming out of the U.S. government. But for those fortunate enough to have missed the latest Mensa mumblings from the Obama administration, an unidentified senior official said that as a result of potential airstrikes:

If Assad is eating Cheerios, we're going to take away his spoon and give him a fork. Will that degrade his ability to eat Cheerios? Yes. Will it deter him? Maybe. But he'll still be able to eat Cheerios.

Forget that this is as muddled and condescending a statement as proferred even by today's minimal standards. Ask what it means militarily. Why do anything at all if what you're aiming to accomplish is essentially maintaining the status quo over the long term? No longer does the administration even pretend that Assad will be deterred, which is ostensibly the whole point of U.S. military action. The Cheerios Doctrine solves nothing, deters nobody, and is an immoral use of deadly force. If it were about the president's credibility, well, then it would be a lost cause from the beginning and, in a better world, an impeachable offense. Nor is is about America's credibility, for so-called red lines are not upheld by a brief, spastic release of powerful weapons.

If this is the best that the U.S. government can do to articulate why the mightiest nation in the history of the planet should militarily intervene in a two-year civil war that has claimed 110,000 lives, then we are truly standing at the precipice of intellectual incoherence. Thucydides showed how Athens' fall was precipitated in part when the words spoken by orators no longer had any meaning. Combine the Cheerios Doctrine with John Kerry's De Minimus Doctrine (the contemplated airstrikes will be "unbelievably small") and you have final proof of the utter collapse of strategic thinking in this country. While it may not be their fault, every "strategy" program (grand or otherwise) in the country's universities should be forced to close their doors until they have held the equivalent of a Lateran Conference to figure out just what "strategy" is; that way, no one can go into government without having had even a minimal training in moderately complex thinking and clear speaking. 

One truly wonders at times if these people understand they are dealing with matters of life and death. But, good citizens want to support their government in times of crisis, and so I urge the administration to forgo the Cheerios Doctrine and start wearing their Lucky Charms, instead. They need the help.

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About the Author

 

Michael
Auslin
  • Michael Auslin is a resident scholar and the director of Japan Studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where he studies Asian regional security and political issues.


    Before joining AEI, he was an associate professor of history at Yale University. A prolific writer, Auslin is a biweekly columnist for The Wall Street Journal Asia, which is distributed globally on wsj.com. His longer writings include the book “Pacific Cosmopolitans: A Cultural History of U.S.-Japan Relations” (Harvard University Press, 2011) and the study “Security in the Indo-Pacific Commons: Toward a Regional Strategy” (AEI Press, 2010). He was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, a Marshall Memorial Fellow by the German Marshall Fund, and a Fulbright and Japan Foundation Scholar.


    Auslin has a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, an M.A. from Indiana University at Bloomington, and a B.S.F.S. from Georgetown University.


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