Jonah Goldberg

Since President Obama has been having a rough time lately, let me belatedly congratulate him on his apparently successful policy of regime change in Libya.

Initially, I favored a more robust and decisive intervention when Obama seemed to dither, and then I criticized how he ultimately committed the United States to a so-called leading-from-behind strategy. But fair is fair; whatever happens next -- a big question -- Obama has succeeded in toppling one of the most loathsome creatures on the international stage.

Obviously, he didn't do it alone. Our NATO allies and, of course, the rebels deserve the lion's share of the credit. And there are quibbles and critiques one can offer. We may even grow nostalgic for the devil we knew, though I doubt it.

Still, if Obama were a Republican, he would be getting considerably more praise from the right for pursuing a relatively low-cost and low-risk NATO-led strategy that resulted in long-desired regime change in Libya. (Of course, had he been a Republican, many on the left would have denounced yet another neocon war for oil).

Obama also deserves kudos for taking out Osama bin Laden and for his mounting successes in killing other members of al-Qaeda.

And yet, there's something peculiar about Obama's foreign policy: There doesn't seem to be one. Talking about Libya, Ben Rhodes, the director for strategic communications at the National Security Council, told the New York Times: "We've resisted the notion of a doctrine, because we don't think you can impose one model on very different countries; that gets you into trouble and can lead you to intervene in places that you shouldn't."

This strikes me as wildly overstated, even bizarre. A doctrine, in and of itself, doesn't compel anyone to do anything. Moreover, some doctrines -- isolationism, for instance -- can lead you to not intervene in places you should.

Rhodes' anti-doctrine stance reflects an irony about the Obama presidency. Shortly after Obama's swearing-in, and his initial executive order to end coercive interrogation techniques and his (failed) vow to shutter the Guantanamo Bay prison, the conventional wisdom in Washington quickly jelled around the view that Obama didn't much care about foreign policy, or at least he preferred to keep it out of the headlines while he concentrated on his "transformative" agenda at home.

His administration committed itself to downplaying the war on terror. Remember the effort to rebrand 9/11-style terrorist attacks as "man-caused disasters"?


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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