This vision of a global rule of law exemplifies what we are coming to understand as Obama’s way of thinking — optimistic, rational, practical. But like the mantra of “change” that got him elected, it is an empty vessel waiting to be filled with the details of real life. It’s not a strategy. It’s a formula for how to solve problems — which is not the same as global leadership.

Obama hasn’t applied this doctrine directly to Afghanistan, but let me briefly try: The international community has made a commitment, through the United Nations and NATO, to help rebuild Afghanistan. That mission is limited, but it does carry continuing responsibilities. Training the Afghan army and promoting security is one; supporting economic development and better governance is another; encouraging Afghan political reconciliation is a third.

The notion that the United States can break with that mission — and opt for a more selfish counterterrorism strategy that drops the rebuilding part and seeks to assassinate America’s enemies with Predator drones from 10,000 feet — would not fit well with any reading of the Obama doctrine. That approach, to be blunt, would be lawless.