WASHINGTON — An Obama ally and rumored vice presidential candidate criticized the administration’s foreign policy as being in "reactive mode," and stressed the need for an overarching foreign policy doctrine.
"Many of the decisions they’ve made I strongly support … but we are kind of going from crisis to crisis," Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., told reporters at a Defense Writer’s Group breakfast Thursday. "The president has said one his doctrine is ‘don’t do stupid stuff.’ That’s not a big enough doctrine. … By not doing stupid stuff, you’re often not doing stuff that is stupid not to do."
The negative appraisal marked the second recent instance for Kaine, one of Obama's earliest supporters and short-listed as Obama's running mate in 2008. Though Kaine months ago called for Congress to debate and pass legislation to grant Obama permission to go to war against the Islamic State group, his call is growing louder as the sun sets on Obama's final term.
Kaine, who sits on the Senate's Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, told reporters Thursday that the US has been in combat since August 2014, when it began its air campaign, and he dismissed debate to the contrary as "foolish."
"We have been waging offensive war which has really been without legal justification," right now," Kaine said.
Kaine did not reserve his criticism for Obama, calling Congress' paralysis around the authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) as "impotent." The issue needs a public airing to hammer out a strategy, particularly as the administration chases ISIL's spread into new countries.
Asked about Congress' tabling of State Department nominees, Kaine said, "I'm not sure Congress gets the value of diplomacy," and cited its obstruction on the ratification of the Law of the Sea, International Monetary Fund rules and United Nations treaties on the rights of women and the disabled.
"Look at all these areas where we should be engaging diplomatically, and Congress is getting in the way," Kaine said.
Though Kaine said, "I don’t think the administration really has a cohesive strategy" in the Mideast, he praised its use of multilateral diplomacy — symptomatic of an "anti-hubris" approach that respects the limits of US power — such as in evidence in its approach to Libya, which was to intervene only if it could be done multilaterally.
"I actually think multilateralism is a good thing, but as far as an overall strategy I find it kind of lacking," Kaine said.
The administration’s reluctance to advance an overarching foreign policy doctrine, Kaine said, stems from President Obama’s aversion to ideological or theoretical thinking. That top-down wariness is in part fueled by the conflicts of the last 15 years, but "you’ve got to have a lens through which to view these decisions," Kaine said.
"This guy is real pragmatic and very suspicious of ideologies and grand strategies because he thinks they're often wrong, and you really need to be focused on the facts on the ground," Kaine said.
Kaine, in his own nascent doctrine, sees the US in a three-way competition among democracies, authoritarians and non-states. The US should be shoring up democracies, have tailored approaches to each authoritarian regime and work to defeat the non-states militarily and otherwise.
Within this construct, the US would work with Russia on their common goal, the stability of Syria, he said.
Among Obama's "sins of omission," Kaine said, was his failure to set up a humanitarian zone earlier in the war, which would have dramatically slowed the exodus of Syrian refugees. Kaine said he changed his mind and now supports the no-fly zone championed by Senate Armed Services Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
Kaine, and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., co-signed a letter with McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., in April that called for creation of "one or more humanitarian safe zones" — an idea that has yet to gain traction in Congress, but has been championed by Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, Kaine noted.
"It's going to be up to her to paint the picture of how she will look at this challenging situation," Kaine said. "I think she's probably better equipped than anyone else running for president."