'Obama Doctrine': Does U.S. Intervention in Libya Chart New Course?

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In his speech Monday night, Obama did emphasize U.S. "interests" in supporting democratic movements around the world and employing "unique abilities" to help affect change. He also suggested that the United States take the lead in fulfilling a moral responsibility where innocent civilians' lives are at risk.

But, Donnelly said, Obama stopped short of connecting those values with a broader vision or goal.

"There were the trappings of a doctrine," he said. "But his speech was more a description of what's happened."

Michael O'Hanlon, a foreign policy analyst at the left-leaning Brookings Institution, agreed.

"I think it's premature to credit anybody with a doctrine at this point," he said. "But at a conceptual level, Obama did try to advance a notion that he hopes he can back up on the ground.

"It only works if it works, and we're only 10 days in," O'Hanlon said. "It's not going to be a doctrine if the mission fails."

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