Michael Gerson

But the spreading heroism of Middle Eastern protesters has been enough to melt the indifference of even the most frosty realists. History has pushed Obama toward a binary choice: Betray freedom or embrace it. With reluctance, he has embraced it. So in his speech to the nation on Libya, Obama said, "Wherever people long to be free, they will find a friend in the United States." Here is Bush's second inaugural: "When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you." It is not that Obama sounds like Bush; it is that both sound like Americans.

The final element of the Bush Doctrine is an emphasis on fighting global poverty and disease -- based on the theory that hopeless and lawless parts of the world export problems such as terrorism, human trafficking and the drug trade. Here Obama has acknowledged continuity -- even praising Bush on AIDS relief -- but without adding much boldness of his own.

There are, of course, large differences in approach and emphasis between Obama and Bush. Obama talks with more enthusiasm about multilateralism. This commitment, however, is yet to be seriously tested. Would Obama have stayed out of Libya if the U.N. Security Council had balked? Would he have accepted the reduction of Benghazi to ruins in order to demonstrate his multilateral convictions? Based on Obama's own reasoning -- that he could not "wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action" -- he would have acted anyway.

It is tempting -- oh so tempting -- to observe that Obama is growing in office. That he is learning on the job. That he is a good note-taker, cribbing a bit here and there, but finally getting his lessons down.

But this wouldn't be fair. Obama is not copying. He is responding to a set of objective circumstances that have not changed. In the post-9/11 world, every president will seek to pre-empt terrorist attacks, influence the milieu that generates them and encourage the advance of hope against hatred. Perhaps it is needlessly confusing to call this the Bush Doctrine. It is, instead, a set of rather obvious strategic reactions to a continuing, undeniable threat. It is not a mystery that Obama should share these commitments -- or that he should be so uncomfortable in admitting it.


Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
 
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