Had Obama's rising star not coincided with George W. Bush's plunging disasters, and had he then lacked the splendid fortune of being opposed by the drifting cluelessness of McCain-Palin, Obama, I am convinced, would never have had a realistic shot at the presidency. For Obama is the near textbook embodiment of complex policies that meet the needs of reality and the moment, rather than what the body politic and the commentariat so often pine for, which is abundant simplicity and tidy slogans.
"There’s just no quick way to define it," the New America Foundation's Steve Clemons told Politico, in eager search of an Obama Doctrine, in of course the arena of foreign affairs. "He’s genuinely committed to human rights but in actualizing those principles he’s fundamentally a pragmatist. He runs against cookie-cutter approaches. So he knows what you do in Egypt isn’t the same as what you do in Libya and that isn’t the same as what you do in Bahrain."
That's not only refreshing (to me at least), it also mirrors the profoundly complex pragmatism of the foreign policy designs of FDR, who was, however, extraordinarily fortunate not to have 24/7, sensationalist news operations and talk, talk, talk radio and the blogosphere second-questioning his every thought, hounding his every move, and demanding the unwavering articulation of an explicit FDR Doctrine.
Roosevelt, for example, sprang on Churchill the fresh war policy of "unconditional surrender" just to placate the momentary feelings of Stalin, yet NBC and CBS radio and the New York Times soared not into a palsied panic, nor did they conclude our doom because Roosevelt had gone and done the unexpected.
Furthermore, Obama's UnDoctrine is a universe away from the uniform simplicity of Wilsonian or Bushian idealism, which is better left to German philosophers than foreign policies. Idealism is a word closely aligned with ideology, and for good reason: It is a straitjacketing term that, once out of the bag and affixed to its proponent, too often coerces that proponent into grossly ill-advised actions for consistency's sake.
Obama's critics and Republican opponents are naturally all too delighted to confuse his internationalist pragmatism with an absence of principles, when in reality these -- pragmatism and principles -- are no antithesis. It would be a happy world indeed if the constant application of idealism always achieved the principled objectives pursued, yet history indicates its near abject failure in nearly every instance (see preceding paragraph), whereas our hyperpragmatic presidents, from Washington to Lincoln to FDR, achieved nearly all of their principled goals.
To widen his path to reelection, I'm sure Obama's speechwriters will invent some pithy, one-sentence-fits-all description of his reassuring Weltanschauung till he and 2017 do part, which Obama, because he's Obama, will nevertheless intelligently ignore at will. But my goodness, he'll at least have himself a formal Doctrine, which in itself should calm a few critics who just cannot seem to be at peace without one.