David Brooks is right to understand Barack Obama's national security team as the maturation of thinking that began in Iraq and Afghanistan and focuses more on building civic capacity than destroying military capabilities. This is the post-Iraq consensus between liberals and realists, and it will hold as long as the question is Iraq. But what if the topic changes? If China triggers a confrontation over Taiwan or a threatening genocide cries out for a swift intervention? Where does Gates, or Jones, stand then?
There are many different standards by which America goes to war.
Self-DefenseThere's clearly a united consensus that if the United States suffers a direct attack, we will respond in some fashion.
1. Is a vital national security interest threatened?
2. Do we have a clear attainable objective?
3. Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?
4. Have all other non-violent policy means been fully exhausted?
5. Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?
6. Have the consequences of our action been fully considered?
7. Is the action supported by the American people?
8. Do we have genuine broad international support?
Unfortunately, Powell did not stand up for the Powell doctrine on Iraq (all of them except possibly 7 turned out to be wrong; 4 + 8 we knew wasn't there at the time without UN support; the intelligence community disputes most of the rest). But it is still a solid standard of going in to war, even if its architect let it fall apart.
Where do the members of the incoming Administration stand? This is a question that I would ask them if I got them in a serious interview. I think this is a standard that most of the Administration can agree upon, except with regards to the next standard.
"Genocide is in and of itself a national interest where we should act" and "we can say to the people of the world, whether you live in Africa, or Central Europe, or any other place, if somebody comes after innocent civilians and tries to kill them en masse because of their race, their ethnic background or their religion, and it's within our power to stop it, we will stop it."
Although I think in President Clinton's mind, this is part of the Powell Doctrine (an extension of the term "national interest"), that's a fairly controversial stance--it is difficult, but not impossible, to allege that mass genocide in Sudan will lead to American deaths, or even American national interests being defeated.
Of course, I happen to agree with President Clinton about genocide being "just cause", but I don't think that's what the Powell Doctrine means. My personal belief is that the "national interest" in point one of the Powell Doctrine should be replaced, or abutted, with "Are many innocent lives at stake?" I think that should apply equally to US Citizens, French or Indian citizens, or Sudanese.
But, of course, we have to remember the rest of the Powell Doctrine. Somalia was a failure because we didn't understand what was going on; we didn't have the plans, the necessary force, etc.
The Clinton Doctrine, I think, will be most strongly represented by Susan Rice, and possibly by Hillary Clinton. No idea about anyone else.
Bush Doctrine: according to wikipedia:
1) Unilateral action, if required
2) Terrorist-sponsor nations
3) Preventative strikes
4) Democratic regime change
The foremost, I think, is not supported by almost any of Obama's incoming Administration, nor the second one. The third has been explicitly endorsed by Barack Obama (cross-border raids into Pakistan count). I think where Obama parts ways with Bush is whether full scale war is appropriate for the preventative strike, or whether surgical strike action is better. That one may become contentious in a future situation.
The last, I think, will only gain currency if it's attached to something else; humanitarian + regime change, or imminent threat + regime change.