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The Obama doctrine

at 07:59 AM ET, 03/29/2011

A firm President Obama gave one of the most detailed foreign policy speeches of his presidency on Monday, laying out a broad philosophy for the looming conflicts in the Middle East while responding directly to his critics on Libya.

Much of the coverage of the speech will be devoted to what Obama said in response to those critics, and it was noteworthy, to be sure.

But perhaps more long-lasting and significant were his more general remarks about foreign policy. As America deals with increasing uncertainty in many places overseas, Obama took the opportunity to set forth his agenda going forward and tried to clarify why some nations rise to the level of U.S. involvement, while others do not.

Obama irritated both extremes by going into Libya (liberals disapproved) but not aiming for Moammar Gaddafi’s ouster (conservatives disapproved).

But in his speech Monday, the president remained content to press forward with very much a middle-ground approach, positioning himself as more of a hawk than Bill Clinton and more of a dove than President Bush. In fact, Obama alluded directly to the conflict in Bosnia (Clinton) and the war in Iraq (Bush), arguing that the response in Bosnia took far too long, while pushing for regime change in Iraq was foolhardy.

Obama pushed back on the notion that the United States should police the world, but also left the door open to getting involved when American interests — or even values (a much lower standard) — are at stake.

The key to Obama’s remarks, though, was the idea that the United States should act in concert with allies.

“In such cases, we should not be afraid to act,” he said. “But the burden of action should not be America’s alone.”

“Real leadership creates the conditions and coalitions for others to step up as well,” Obama said. “That’s the kind of leadership we’ve shown in Libya.”

Obama’s remarks about working with other nations are unlikely to sooth conservatives who have criticized the president for “apologizing” for America — a key theme of the nascent GOP presidential race.

Nor are they likely to alleviate criticism on the left, which might bristle at the idea of that the costs of conflict “cannot be an argument for never acting on behalf of what’s right.”

Obama is staking out very much a middle ground on foreign policy. And the increasing uncertainty oceans away will continue to test the doctrine — call it “the Obama Doctrine” — that he set forth Monday.

The middle ground is generally some of the easiest political territory to inhabit. But as we’ve seen in recent weeks, it’s not always so easy to be stuck in the middle when it comes to foreign policy.

Americans divided on Libya: Fifty percent of Americans in a new Pew poll said the mission in Libya is not defined, while 39 percent say it is.

Less than a majority of people — 47 percent — approve of the decision to launch air strikes in Libya. But just 36 percent oppose taking action and 17 percent had no opinion. People are similarly divided about trying to remove Gaddafi from power, with 46 percent supporting and 43 percent opposed.

But there’s plenty of room for opinions to move. Just 15 percent of people say they are watching the situation in Libya closely, which is far less than say that about the earthquake in Japan.

Report: Obama to announce reelection bid in mid-April: Obama is less than three weeks away from announcing his reelection campaign, according to the National Journal.

The report says Obama will make it official with a web video, before which Obama will have let supporters know about his decision via text message and opened a campaign committee with the Federal Election Commission.

A seemingly likely date for the announcement is April 14, when Obama will headline a Democratic National Committee fundraiser in his hometown of Chicago.

Pawlenty hawkish on Syria: Just as Obama was making his case for the U.S. intervention in Libya, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty was calling for action in another Middle Eastern country.

“Our interests in Syria are at least as strong, if not stronger, than in Libya,” Pawlenty told radio host Hugh Hewitt. He called on Obama to publicly support protesters there and pressure allies to do the same, recall our ambassador to the country, and invoke new sanctions.

Pawlenty is following in the footsteps of some neoconservatives, who have agitated for greater involvement in Syria. Obama made the case last night that he would intervene in other countries when it was in our interests and when there was a moral imperative.

Bad press for Haley: South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R), hailed after her election last fall as a new Republican talent, has been weathering some bad press in recent days.

First, there are questions over a discrepancy between her 2007 tax returns and a job application that year. Her application to work at the Lexington Medical Center says she made $125,000 a year, but her tax return shows she made only $22,000. Haley says she never put that number on the application, but the hospital says it would be hard for someone else to have filled out the form.

Then there’s her decision to remove a popular philanthropist, Darla Moore, from the state Board of Trustees and replace her with a campaign donor. That move drew criticism from conservative Post columnist Kathleen Parker, who said “this jaw-dropping move has created a furor, prompting a statehouse protest and an anti-Haley campaign that has some talking about her political ruin.”

So far these stories haven’t gotten much traction outside the state, and Haley isn’t up for reelection until 2014. But it’s put a bit of tarnish on the Haley star.

Fixbits:

Ambassador the China Jon Huntsman’s not-quite presidential campaign has signed up two New Hampshire advisers.

Former Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) says he will decide whether to run for Senate in the next two weeks. Meanwhile, he joins the criticism of state Republican Party Chairman Bobby Schostak.

Former Indiana state House speaker John Gregg (D) is looking at running for governor in 2012, which would fill a hole on the Democratic side to run against Rep. Mike Pence (R).

Indiana state Treasurer Richard Mourdock (R) says he raised $125,000 in his first month as Sen. Richard Lugar’s (R-Ind.) primary challenger. Mourdock estimated he would need $3 million for the primary.

Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean has endorsed California Secretary of State Debra Bowen (D) in the special election for former Rep. Jane Harman’s (D-Calif.) seat. Bowen faces Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn in the primary.

Pizza magnate Herman Cain’s (R) presidential campaign is backing off Cain’s assertion that he would not hire any Muslims in his administration.

Rep. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) raised $125,000 at a fundraiser for his new Senate campaign Monday night.

Must-reads:

Indiana Dems to end boycott, return to state” — AP

Supreme Court skeptical about Arizona’ campaign finance law” — Robert Barnes, Washington Post

Budget crisis keeps Barbour at home” — Kevin Landrigan, Nashua Telegraph

Barbour courts Huckabee” — Jonathan Martin, Politico

Redistricting draws unregulated cash” — John Bresnahan, Politico

 
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