Why, this has the makings of a truly great foreign-policy presidency

Obama took a lot of stick for not being more forceful on Egypt in February, but he was right to be cautious—there were lots of stakeholders involved, and sorry, but the president of the United States just can’t say every sweet thing romantics would like him to say. He then, as noted, took heat for moving too slowly on Libya, but here again he was correct. The nature of the Libyan regime is not a direct national-security issue, so there absolutely had to be a specific trigger to justify acting. That trigger was Gaddafi’s threatened assault on Benghazi…

Next comes Syria. Conservatives are pushing Obama to take stronger steps. Maybe he should. I argued back in the spring, before Obama imposed sanctions on Assad, that he needed to be more forceful. But now he has imposed those sanctions and said Assad should step down. Doing much more seems dubious. Bashar al-Assad will go. It’s a matter of when. Better to let it play out. If a true R2P situation arises, then Obama will have to make some decisions. But it’s far better to let the Syrians do this themselves, if they can. We cannot prevent every casualty.

That’s starting to sound like a doctrine to me. Call it the doctrine of no doctrine: using our power and influence but doing so prudently and multilaterally, with the crucial recognition that Egypt is different from Libya is different from Syria is different from someplace else. According to the foreign-policy establishment, if you want to have a self-respecting big-D doctrine, you’re not supposed to recognize differences. The doctrine must guide all cases. But that is exactly the kind of thinking that has led—always—to tragedy.

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