So what exactly is the Obama Doctrine?

posted at 8:48 am on March 29, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

Over three weeks ago, I asked whether anyone could identify an “Obama Doctrine” in foreign policy that covered the triggers and limits for American intervention.  One intervention and a prime-time speech later, most of us are still wondering.   If Barack Obama hoped to clarify why the US decided to attack Libya while ignoring similar scenes of oppression in nations like Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain, he left the issue muddier than ever, and not just among conservatives.  Dana Milbank, for instance, tries to argue that the lack of a doctrine is somehow a sign of brilliance, but even he admits that Obama’s losing Americans between Bush-like soundbites and opacity:

The Obama doctrine he presented Wednesday night was frustratingly nondoctrinal. Where Bush was all bright lines and absolute morality, Obama dwelled in the gray area, outlining a foreign policy that is ad hoc and situational. …

The policy Obama outlined was a cost-benefit analysis between the burdens of war and the need to defend American values across the globe. In the Obama doctrine, there is a tension between bear-any-burden aspirations and the constraints of an overstretched superpower. …

Obama, by contrast, has been so subtle in his doctrine that he’s baffling Americans. By waiting to make his case to the nation for the action in Libya, he created a vacuum and invited confusion. A new Pew Research Center poll finds that while a plurality supports the attack in Libya, 17 percent of Americans have no opinion on the question. Meanwhile, 50 percent don’t think the United States and its allies have a clear goal.

After all of Milbank’s paeans to nuance and subtlety, however, he can’t avoid the fact that Obama never answered where the line is drawn between intervention and non-intervention, and on what basis.  Why Libya and not Syria, where the US actually has significant security concerns in its alliance with Iran, and a track record given Syria’s support for terrorists and insurgents in Iraq over the last several years?  Syria also helps prop up Hezbollah in Lebanon, which provides a direct threat to our ally Israel, where Libya had been mostly rendered toothless.

Steven Thomma at McClatchy says forget about any doctrine, or any consistency, either:

President Barack Obama sent a signal to the country and the world Monday night about his decision to attack Libya: There is no “Obama doctrine” here.

Obama used his evening speech to assure skeptical Americans that he was forced to act by a madman in unique circumstances, that the U.S. role and risk would be limited, and that there is no unifying set of principles behind the Libya campaign that would guide the U.S. in other countries with similar problems. …

Meaning: The fact that the U.S. acted to stop Gadhafi from killing more of his own people doesn’t mean that the U.S. will act to stop dictators elsewhere doing the same.

Hours before Obama spoke, White House aides said the president’s National Security Council hasn’t even mentioned the possibility of military action in Syria. “There has not been any discussion of that,” said Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough said Monday.

Ben Smith leads off his report on the speech by also saying there’s no there there:

The doctrine is there is no doctrine.

President Barack Obama answered questions about America’s mission in Libya Monday night with a 27-minute address that focused narrowly on “this particular country, Libya, at this particular moment” and shied away from making sweeping statements about America’s role in the world, the larger principles that guide his decisions on using force or about the U.S. response to the unfolding Arab Spring.

For those at home wondering, would U.S. forces be deployed in Syria or Yemen or Saudi Arabia or even Iran, the answer was … . well, probably not, but hard to say for absolutely sure.

But also at Politico, his colleague Roger Simon thinks that the Obama Doctrine is that the US will only do what it can on the cheap:

“We must stand alongside those who believe in the same core principles that have guided us through many storms: our opposition to violence directed against one’s own citizens; our support for a set of universal rights, including the freedom for people to express themselves and choose their leaders; our support for governments that are ultimately responsive to the aspirations of the people,” Obama said.

Which you could call the Obama Doctrine, except we hold so few countries to it, including dictatorships that we not only do business with, but whom we also call friends and allies, that it doesn’t deserve that title.

But Libya is the right enemy at the right time because we think we can defeat Moammar Qadhafi on the cheap – – that is by using air power alone – – and supporting rebel forces.

It’s worth pointing out here that there is a serious question whether the rebel forces in Libya even qualify under this rubric.  At least one of their commanders, Abdul Hakim al Hasadi, fought for the Taliban in Afghanistan and has ties to al-Qaeda. The region is known for AQ recruitment.  Shouldn’t we have determined the nature of the rebellion before intervening on their behalf?

On the other hand, one popular rebellion did qualify under Obama’s construct — the Iranian Green Revolution in the summer of 2009.  Not only did Obama not impose a no-fly zone over Iran when the mullahs began shooting people in the street, Obama wouldn’t even give them rhetorical support for weeks in hope that a friendly pose would encourage the mullahs to trade away their nuclear program.  We didn’t “stand beside” the Iranians when they valiantly but vainly tried to throw off the shackles of the mullahs; we didn’t even stand up.

Smith and Simon come closest to diagnosing the issue.  There really is no doctrine.

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clnurnberg on March 29, 2011 at 10:44 AM

The Obama doctrine states:
The Obama administration will do exactly what George W. Bush did. If it is a success, we will take all credit. If it is a failure, we will blame George W. Bush.

Any questions?

iamsaved on March 29, 2011 at 10:44 AM

Harrell on March 29, 2011 at 9:59 AM

Yep — the deal with the Democrats when Obama ran for office is they wanted a candidate who they could use to play the race card on conservatives, in order to get all their pet programs passed by using the Absolute Moral Authority of the first African-American president. But they needed a candidate who didn’t scare off voters, including within their own party. So Obama lends his body to the cause, and never has to do anything but vote “present”, while other Democrats who did all the heavy lifting on this or that issue would give him the credit, so that they and the big media could make him out to be the biggest super-genius this side of Wile E. Coyote.

…and it worked in the campaign. The problem is once you’re president, there is nobody you can pass responsibility off to, but that doesn’t mean Obama still isn’t trying his darndest to do so. Doing the grunt work was never part of this deal; the whole thing was Pelosi, Reid, Hillary, Gates, etc, do all the work, Obama takes all the credit, and just his very personage in the Oval Office then allows other Democrats and the media to brand all of his and their opponents as racist.

That was the deal Obama signed on for, but the damned Tea Partiers screwed up the domestic side (it’s hard to demonize people by personalizing the issue in Alinsky fashion when you’re talking about demonizing other people’s neighbors, as opposed to some politician, talk radio host or other conservative activist you’ve never met). And all this unplanned Arab world turmoil is fouling up the foreign policy side, which is why he has been in hiding on the issue on the past month and when he does show up, acts like a petulant 8-year-old denied the latest video game by mom and dad.

Shoving the responsibility for the Libyan action off on the NATO is just another way to have a warm body to throw under the next arriving bus, though Hill, Sarkozy, Cameron and even the U.N. Security Council may already be in the queue if Qaddafi is still in power this summer.

jon1979 on March 29, 2011 at 10:45 AM

So what exactly is the Obama Doctrine?

I don’t know, but I heard it has five pillars.

steebo77 on March 29, 2011 at 10:50 AM

Doctrines in a world where circumstances are constanly changing are detrimental. Your fixation on this and inability to recognize how a nuanced approach to dynamic events has already benefitted us in the Middle East (see Egypt and Tunisia) shows either your lack of intelligence or integrity, or both.

underceij on March 29, 2011 at 9:20 AM

New troll?

steebo77 on March 29, 2011 at 10:52 AM

The Dither Doctrine.

hillbillyjim on March 29, 2011 at 10:54 AM

New troll?

steebo77 on March 29, 2011 at 10:52 AM

Not new; not necessarily a troll. Still seeing skittles and rainbows? Probably.

hillbillyjim on March 29, 2011 at 10:57 AM

underceij on March 29, 2011 at 9:20 AM

Dig your head out of your @ss you moron. ANY doctrine must be in line with the constitution. On this, Obama is an utter FAILURE.

csdeven on March 29, 2011 at 10:58 AM

ObaMao’s inner bracket (designed by Zombie): h/t powerlineblog

onlineanalyst on March 29, 2011 at 10:59 AM

The Obama doctrine is a kite being blown the West wind (George Soros) and the East wind (UN).

shick on March 29, 2011 at 10:59 AM

No precedents, no principals. i.e., they’re making decisions by throwing dice. They’re batshit insane.

LarryD on March 29, 2011 at 11:03 AM

Ok, sumbuddy help me out, here, please.
What we see is the ‘honorable’ touchy-feely liberal motivation for warfare.
(at least not in Lybia, atm)
Has there ever been a war that did NOT start that way ???
So the do-gooders insist we intervene,
Sounds like the Obama doctrine to me.

God help us all !

pambi on March 29, 2011 at 11:06 AM

The Obama Doctrine: operating from the seat of your pants while simultaneously maintaining an impeccable crease in your trousers.

Mr. D on March 29, 2011 at 11:08 AM

Obama has always tried to show strength riding upon the coattails of others. He did it with legislation, as an example:

In hopes of some electoral juice, I think he and his team thought that this would be a quickly won war that would show his strength to voters. He could announce it, hand it off, let someone else win it, and then swoop in to say, “Marvel at my military brilliance. How could you not want this massive intellect to rule you for another four years?”

Typical Obama.

kagai on March 29, 2011 at 11:13 AM

LOL … When it doubt, Google presidential schedule…
4:45 PM
The President delivers remarks at the dedication of the Ronald H. Brown United States Mission to the United Nations Building
USUN Building
Open Press

Will Billy attend with tears to be wiped off his cheek (facial) ??

pambi on March 29, 2011 at 11:22 AM

There really is no doctrine.

Unfortunately for us, there isn’t. Of course, given the ineptitude of his foreign policy crew, it isn’t certain that an “Obama Doctrine” wouldn’t be worse in application than decisions made on an ad hoc basis based on the politics of the moment.

These people don’t have a clue. The real world doesn’t fit their silly liberal/progressive template, and their actions don’t produce the anticipated results. They are lost in the woods, and they are just now beginning to realize it.

novaculus on March 29, 2011 at 11:27 AM

As a person who has no experience or skills in administration, and who lacks core values, Obama can neither formulate a strategy nor execute a plan.

He hides from hard decisions and lurches from this to that, apparently guided by hatred of America and prejudice against any and all ideas coming from others.

His administration will forever be known as the most miserable failure in US history, and he will forever be the “Two Trillion Dollar Mistake.”

landlines on March 29, 2011 at 11:43 AM

So what exactly is the Obama Doctrine?


faraway on March 29, 2011 at 11:44 AM

Your guess is as good as mine.

tinkerthinker on March 29, 2011 at 11:45 AM

Maetenloch over at Ace’s says this:

“In so far as Obama actually has an Obama Doctrine it seems to boil down to stabbing in the back friendly dictators, sucking up to unfriendly ones, and bombing the ones that France tells us to.”

Sounds about right.

catmman on March 29, 2011 at 11:50 AM

Two TEN Trillion Dollar Mistake.”

landlines on March 29, 2011 at 11:43 AM


hobbit on March 29, 2011 at 12:01 PM

The first tenet of the Obama Doctrine:
There is no Doctrine.

steebo77 on March 29, 2011 at 12:03 PM

The Obama Doctrine is mostly the Carter Doctrine: dither.

With more words attached to it, along with vacations and golf games. Yet the outcome is the same.

ajacksonian on March 29, 2011 at 12:06 PM

The Obama Doctrine: Quick Convenient No Risk Humanitarian Intervention Anywhere
So far, Libya has downed one plane, with no deaths (except the six civilians on the ground who came out to greet one of the crew).

J_Crater on March 29, 2011 at 12:13 PM

underceij on March 29, 2011 at 9:20 AM

yeah that Monroe doctrine was real bad /

unseen on March 29, 2011 at 9:26 AM
Many indigenous peoples would agree with that.

darwin-t on March 29, 2011 at 9:29 AM

yeah because they are so upset the USA didn’t allow the UK, France and european powers to colonize them.

unseen on March 29, 2011 at 12:28 PM

The Obama doctrine

Hope there’s change.

BobMbx on March 29, 2011 at 12:30 PM

Obama Doctrine: To incite violence, back Al Quada,
back Muslim Brotherhood, promote Sharia, promoting
OPEC by refusing domestic energy production.

lilium on March 29, 2011 at 12:48 PM

The Obowma doctrine?

Nope and rearrange, as in the deck chairs on the Titanic.

dthorny on March 29, 2011 at 1:20 PM

Said it before. Will say it again.


DuctTapeMyBrain on March 29, 2011 at 1:22 PM

The Obowma doctrine, part deux:

Repicking his NCAA Final Four and the finalists, stating he had all 4 teams in his REAL bracket, a staffer gave him the wrong bracket during that important televised event. Yea, nothing else going on in.

dthorny on March 29, 2011 at 1:25 PM

Don’t look for a doctrine, there isn’t one. ‘Doctrine’ requires consistency, principles, etc. Little Bammie is not intelligent enough or informed enough to form a doctrine.

slickwillie2001 on March 29, 2011 at 1:26 PM

His administration will forever be known as the most miserable failure in US history, and he will forever be the “Two Trillion Dollar Mistake.”

landlines on March 29, 2011 at 11:43 AM

That was 3 trillion ago, he’s at 5 trillion now.

Impossible to believe Obowma has made Jimmah Carter look Jeffersonian.

dthorny on March 29, 2011 at 1:28 PM

Obama Doctrine? Here it is……..

Winning in 2012 !!!

PappyD61 on March 29, 2011 at 1:47 PM

Does every president have a “doctrine”? I know about the Bush doctrine because of the question posed to Sarah Palin (I never heard of it before that) but was there a Clinton doctrine? A Reagan or Nixon doctrine ? Carter certainly didn’t have one.

LODGE4 on March 29, 2011 at 1:59 PM

Mooo-ooo-oooo-ving on uuuuup,
To the East Side.
We finally got a piece of the pie.

viking01 on March 29, 2011 at 2:07 PM

Pretty simple doctrine.

As long as Obama can keep everyone guessing, he doesn’t have to commit.

As long as he doesn’t commit, he doesn’t have to accept responsiblity for any failures.

Lawrence on March 29, 2011 at 2:48 PM

Checking back with an old Italian friend,Machiavelli, and my German buddy Von Clausewitz I find the following advice.
Arm them enough,let it drag out long enough, you let both sides slaughter at will. This kills off future breading stock,warriors,ruins the country,so that it weakens one player on the chess board of the ME. Might break up OPEC as well as screwing the French who are really wanting an old Colony back for oil.The French can re Colonize,assume the burden,restart the Foreign Legion or do whatever. The UN will ring its hands and Bono will hold a sing along for some “Victims.”
Pragmatic solution and if it spills over to other OPEC countries we will finally DRILL in our own self interest.
Watch the Chinese as they need oil.

Col.John Wm. Reed on March 29, 2011 at 3:20 PM

The Obama doctrine:

1. Aid the semi-secularist rulers in the ME and North Africa to fall.
2. Aid Iran in its nuclear power development, which is far more advacnced than you know.
3. Help Iran to rule the region.
4. Start war among Shia and Sunni.
5. Help winning party to take over Europe and America.

In parallel, leave Venezueala and Mexico alone. They aide Iran all the way.

In parallel let China own the U.S. financiall and otherwise.

In parallel make socialism/communism flourish the world over.

Schadenfreude on March 29, 2011 at 3:24 PM

The Obowma doctrine:

A steaming pile on the cool wet grass.

dthorny on March 29, 2011 at 3:24 PM

The ME and North African ‘spring’ will turn into an icicly winter in no time.

All parties over there hate you and your children and want you dead.

Schadenfreude on March 29, 2011 at 3:25 PM

Smith and Simon come closest to diagnosing the issue. There really is no doctrine.

The charlatan loves it this way. See this

Schadenfreude on March 29, 2011 at 3:24 PM

Schadenfreude on March 29, 2011 at 3:29 PM

The Chauncey Doctrine?

Fallon on March 29, 2011 at 9:15 AM

Not at all. He only wants you to believe so. See his aims

Schadenfreude on March 29, 2011 at 3:24 PM

Schadenfreude on March 29, 2011 at 3:31 PM

Looks like a strong CYA posture to me.

mojo on March 29, 2011 at 4:22 PM

Obama Doctrine = Blame Booooosh

Philly on March 29, 2011 at 6:05 PM

Obama Doctrine: Always Double Down.

If spending a trillion dollars doesn’t work, send two trillion!

If Ghaddafi doesn’t step down willingly, say he knows everyone wants him to step down, then say everyone in his circle wants him to step down.

Repeat until you win for your own self-aggrandizement. If you fail, well, that’s America’s problem and you had nothing to do with it. BUSH’S FAULT!

BKennedy on March 29, 2011 at 9:15 PM

New troll?

steebo77 on March 29, 2011 at 10:52 AM

Connie on March 29, 2011 at 9:31 PM

Obama’s Doctrine:

Extremely naive stupidity and gullibility.

Otherwise known as, “Let others question, ‘No way can they be that stupid. They must be up to something else…'”

Danny on March 30, 2011 at 12:13 AM

Obowma: You Americans are so cynical. I won a Nobel Prize remember? You should appreciate my great, greatness. My wonderful ability to confuse the masses and to convert those to my side in all matters. That takes someone special like me to be right on all matters. I really love me, some me.

The Obowma doctrine is just another steaming pile by the anointed one.

dthorny on March 30, 2011 at 1:42 PM