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Obama on Libya: The dawn of a foreign policy doctrine?

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Still a cautious realist

His focus then on the practical limitations that would determine whether the use of force could be successful – rather than on the idealistic impulses for intervention – suggests that Obama remains what he was when he took office two years ago: a cautious realist in his worldview and in his conception of the uses of American power.

"I don't think a whole lot has changed in Obama's approach to foreign policy," says Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. "If you step back from the military operation in Libya and ask how this administration has responded to the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, they have been cautious, guided by likely outcomes rather than by an ideological agenda, and they have stayed behind the curve," he says. "That's all to say I see pragmatism in command here."

Which doesn't mean that Obama's invoking of moral imperatives to justify the Libyan intervention was not genuine. As Bob Woodward, the Washington Post journalist and chronicler of Obama's foreign policy decisionmaking, likes to say, the long-competing strains of US foreign policy – the idealism and the pragmatism, the interventionist tug yet the impulse to have the US mind its own affairs – occupy this president's head like two roommates.

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