What Is the Obama Doctrine?

How President Obama's Nobel acceptable speech articulates his approach to foreign policy

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President Obama's speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize drew immediate reaction for its hawkish tone, its articulation of "just war," and its discussion of violent extremism and al-Qaeda. Now many analysts are reading more deeply into the speech to trace the lineaments of a possible "Obama Doctrine." The previous administration operated under the Bush Doctrine, widely understood as the justification of preventative, unilateral war against potential threats. But is there an Obama Doctrine? Many pundits think Obama laid it out in his speech Thursday, but they disagree on the contours.

  • 'Mulilateralism With Teeth'  The Atlantic's Chris Good heard Obama describe "engagement with teeth, coupled with a strong international commitment." He explain, "It was also a reaction against the Bush doctrine--of preemptive war--but it was not that doctrine's opposite: if the Clinton era saw the U.S. engage in nation-building efforts, and the Bush era saw the U.S. adopt an aggressively retributive--and ultimately a preemptive--posture toward enemies, Obama's speech marked a return to the former, with an emphasis on internationalism and human rights."
  • All About Intervention  The American Prospect's Adam Serwer describes "unflinching defenses of American military intervention" and "American exceptionalism that demands certain standards of American conduct, not one that justifies our actions when we fall short.  It neither justifies violence as a solution to all problems nor condemns it as useless." Serwer writes, "It was a lengthy defense of American military intervention from World War II to Desert Storm, and a forceful justification of the escalation of troop levels in Afghanistan. It was a stirring defense of human rights, and an indictment of violence and extremism. Obama at once dismissed the idea of a military solution for problems of hunger and disease, while justifying military intervention on humanitarian grounds."
  • Ending 'Politics of Fear'  Spencer Ackerman writes, "Notice this is not about forswearing violence. It is about what to do over the long term to make violence less necessary. Obama said he would end a counterproductive war, and do so gradually. That’s exactly what he’s done. Obama said he would escalate a war he considered in the national interest. That’s exactly what he’s done." Ackerman says he thinks Obama is trying to close the Bush Doctrine and bring "the end of the politics of fear."
  • 'Realism With A Heart'  Politico's Ben Smith explains. "Obama is trying to sell his foreign policy at home and abroad without public reference to human rights, viewed by this White House as cheap -- as used by Bush -- and potentially counterproductive. The challenge is to make cold-eyed realism appealing -- to create a kind of realism with a heart."
  • Improved, Humanitarian Realism  The New Republic's Jon Chait says Obama "rebuked the left" as well as "the blinkered nationalism of the neoconservatives" to arrive at "a careful middle ground between the bloodlessness of realism and the unrealistic hope that America can stop evil everywhere." But that doctrine is "weakest" on "his response to ethnic cleansing," which Chait says ignored "the choice between intervention and complicity."
  • Realism Merged With Idealism  The Plum Line's Greg Sargent suggests, "Obama seems to be trying to recast idealism in foreign policy as of a piece with realism, in the sense that a realistic and self-interested view of the world should hold that American ideals are more likely to foster peace and stability. Realistic idealism? Idealistic realism?"
  • ..That's Old Territory  The New Republic's Michael Crowley rejects the idea that combining realism with idealism is anything innovative. "[L]et's pause to note that setting up these alternatives and then embracing some synthesis between them is a hoary cliche of foreign policy speechmaking. Hillary Clinton, among many other people,made the same case more than two years ago. So did Robert Gates."
  • Obama Doctrine Is Bush Doctrine  RedState's Erick Erickson thinks so. "I was surprised by Obama's speech. Parts sounded like full throated support for the Bush doctrine." He's not alone among conservatives.
  • What Doctrine?  Wonkette's Jim Newell rolls his eyes. "Every president needs his own Military Doctrine, and sure, this'll do. The Obama Doctrine appears to be 'War is bad, but also good when there’s a really really tough enemy like Hitler, but make no mistake war is tragic, but again, sometimes necessary, but still, so much blood, and yet that blood is important…' etc.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.