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Humility vs Hubris: Obama Doctrine vs Bush Bully Doctrine

By March 31, 2011

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Much ado, both liberal and conservative, has been made about the Obama Doctrine since the President spelled out his philosophy for foreign policy interventions in a speech three days ago about U.S. involvement in Libya.

U.S. presidential doctrines are defined as "key goals, attitudes, or stances for United States foreign affairs outlined by Presidents."

The Bush Doctrine famously included two power-based tenets, as aggressively demonstrated by the 2003 Bush/Cheney attack on and occupation of Iraq:

  • Preemptive strikes against potential enemies of the United States, and
  • Promoting democratic regime change when the Bush administration found it preferable.

In stark contrast, the Obama Doctrine is humanitarian-based policy of, when possible, protecting people who are threatened by the "prospect of violence on a horrific scale."

President Obama believes American values-based exceptionalism cedes to the U.S. a leadership role on the world stage... "that the United States, as the world's most powerful nation, will often be called upon to help" as part of an international coalition.

In even starker contrast to the Bush Doctrine, the Obama Doctrine postulates that the U.S. has no right to decide leadership for another country. While President Obama may want Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to immediately step down, the U.S. has no right to enforce its preference on another country.

Hubris vs. humility: the contrast between the two presidential doctrines couldn't be clearer.

  • The Bush Doctrine envisions the U.S. as the bullying leader of the world, more powerful and important than the rest of the world. Ready to enforce its nationalistic vision using military might.

  • The Obama doctrine envisions the U.S. as one among the world's nations. Part of the world community, but with a special leadership role to play, based on our moral "responsibilities to our fellow human beings."

I was continually horrified during the Bush administration by the bullying hubris of the Bush Doctrine.

As a liberal who abhors war but realizes that conflict can be necessary, I fully subscribe to the Obama Doctrine. I'm especially gratified by the respectful humility implicit in President Obama's vision of the U.S. as part of the larger world community.

As far as specifics of the present-day Libyan conflict, I agree with The Economist which writes this week in The birth of an Obama doctrine:

"It is a good case--and it was a good speech. If Colonel Qaddafi is swept quickly from power, or reduced to impotence in some bunker, nobody will care very much about the manner in which Mr Obama put together his alliance and campaign. It might indeed be remembered as an extraordinary foreign-policy success.

"After the rescue of Kuwait in 1991, however, the first President George Bush also expected Saddam Hussein's regime to collapse in short order. Mr Obama's team says the circumstances this time are entirely different. They had better be right."


April 2, 2011 at 7:26 pm
(1) Duetmaster says:

What a crock. How many countries around this world contain people who are not only “threatened by the ‘prospect of violence on a horrific scale’” but actually experiencing it? Why aren’t we intervening there? I can tell you why: there is no underlying philosophy for the action in Libya. It’s pure political theater and nothing more.

April 7, 2011 at 10:24 am
(2) Lilly Kay says:

what a bunch a crap this article is what do you want us to be a 3rd world nation you stupid ass the world doesn’t understand Humanitarian efforts look at the muslims?? for God’s sake America needs to be the power otherwise the world will be reduced a a squabling bunch of countries from the middle east!!
pull your head out of your butt!

April 7, 2011 at 10:27 am
(3) lilly Kay says:

Ms. White pull your fat ugly head out of your liberal ass and figure out who pays your way! You Democrats have no clue and what is the best way,, progressive! all I can say is I hope some crazy in Cali blows your ass away we need less dems anyway!

April 7, 2011 at 9:10 pm
(4) John Ballard says:

Deborah, you sure have a way of bringing out the best in folks.
Palm Sunday is coming up and these people are ideal candidates for the crowd scenes, crying out “Crucify Him!”

April 8, 2011 at 3:32 pm
(5) RealTime53 says:

Hi John –

“Palm Sunday is coming up and these people are ideal candidates for the crowd scenes, crying out “Crucify Him!” ”

Not to correct you, but the ‘crucify him’ scene occurred about five days after Palm Sunday. On Palm Sunday, these very same people had a much different chant.

Actually, I prefer the great Edward G. Robinson in the ‘Ten Commandments. “Yeeaah. Where’s your Messiah, noowwww?”

I hope that helps.

April 8, 2011 at 3:50 pm
(6) John Ballard says:

In accordance with the New Testament you are correct. But in many congregations (in my case Episcopal) the Palm Sunday Passion narrative commences with the betrayal of Judas and continues past the crucifixion to the tomb, saving Resurrection for the following Sunday.


April 8, 2011 at 4:01 pm
(7) usliberals says:

John writes, “Deborah, you sure have a way of bringing out the best in folks.”

Well, I certainly try for angles to keep it lively and interesting, my friend. :)

April 11, 2011 at 11:44 am
(8) RealTime53 says:

John –

Thank you for the correction.

December 30, 2011 at 5:48 pm
(9) swomejulio says:

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