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New York Times: Half a Doctrine Will Have to Do

Author: David E. Sanger
May 21, 2011

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New York Times columnist David Sanger explains the Obama Administration's mixed approach to unrest in the Arab world through the lens of 'half a doctrine'.

Watching President Obama deal with the cascading uprisings in the Middle East this year has been a little like watching the Army Corps of Engineers try to stay one city ahead of the Mississippi River floodwaters. Every week, it seems, has brought a new decision: Mr. Obama supported Hosni Mubarak until it was clear that Egypt’s own army would not, and then he waved as Mr. Mubarak was swept away. He tried to pile sandbags around friends in Bahrain, while blasting barriers away from an old foe in Libya. The leaders of Yemen and Syria refuse to go with the flow, as Washington points both toward the falls.

The contradictory approaches have startled some of America’s allies. Even inside the White House, some officials were at pains to explain why Saudi forces rolling into Bahrain merited a mild news release, but Muammar el-Qaddafi’s forces in Libya were bombed. “Pragmatism is a great thing,” a senior aide to Mr. Obama said over lunch in April. “But somewhere in all this we have to lay out some principles.”

On Thursday, Mr. Obama tried to do just that — arguing, after five months of pursuing American interests, that he is now ready to assert traditional American values as the “top priority” of American foreign policy. Even in the hardest cases, he said, “there must be no doubt that the United States of America welcomes change that advances self-determination and opportunity.”

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