I didn't have time to write about the President's speech yesterday, and since so much has been written -- I recommended this summary here -- I'll reserve myself to just a few quick points.
One is -- calling his speech an encapsulation of the Obama Doctrine is OK. But, really, calling it a "doctrine" makes it sound theoretical. But Obama is actually working on the things he is talking about. It's more of an Obama Action plan than a doctrine; it's not prescriptive; it's descriptive. That cuts both ways. You can read the speech as an (extremely well conceived) retroactive justification for decisions made, or as a revelation of a blueprint -- something he's had in his head all along. Also, we tend to think of a doctrine as something that reveals a trigger point for a response of some sort. There wasn't any of that in the speech. If you're a bad country trying to figure out what the limits of Obama's patience are, you're still searching today.
Two -- Reconciling war and peace, recognizing the presence of evil in the world; these were the less remarkable parts of the speech. War and peace cannot be reconciled until war becomes unnecessary; Obama's counseling about how we create the mental space to imagine this future and the moral underpinnings for the actual real-life structures to achieve it is certainly more subtle and more nuanced and more satisfying than anyone else has been able to come up with since he was elected president.
Still, it hews to the principle that America has both particular and international interests, and it is Obama's intention to do his darndest to bring these together.
What I found most interesting was Obama's conscious recognition of and endorsement of nationalism; of the American oath of executive office, which itself borrows a bit from the Christian scholastic tradition. Here's one part of Thomas Aquinas's definition of a "just war" in the Summa. "And as the care of the common weal is committed to those who are in authority, it is their business to watch over the common weal of the city, kingdom or province subject to them." Here is Obama:
But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people.
Of course, Aquinas was defending the concept of Holy War. Obama, explicitly, rejected Holy War.
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