Foreign Policy: Bush v. Obama

Of the diverse reactions from the Right on the raid that ended Osama bin Laden, one coming from some of the “serious” Republicans is that Obama’s foreign policies are just a continuation of Bush’s policies, so we were right.

You see this opinion in an op ed from Russ Douthat today.

For those with eyes to see, the daylight between the foreign policies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama has been shrinking ever since the current president took the oath of office. But last week made it official: When the story of America’s post-9/11 wars is written, historians will be obliged to assess the two administrations together, and pass judgment on the Bush-Obama era.

Jed Lewison at Daily Kos points out that Douthat was saying something else entirely less than two months ago, but let’s overlook that for the moment. The “Obama is just another Bush” song has been popular with some of our more cognitively challenged excitable lefties since before Obama was inaugurated, and I suppose it’s noteworthy whenever elements of the Left and Right find agreement with each other.

But how true is the charge? I appreciate that much of what Obama has or has not done has not been different enough from Bush’s policies to suit many people. I’m not entirely happy with his policies, either. But I also see significant differences.

For example, on Guantanamo Bay and torture — the Administration says that failure to close Gitmo is not because Obama agrees with Bush’s policies there, but because Bush’s torture practice left him with some prisoners who can neither be tried nor released. And note that the torture supporters today, including Dick the Dick, are expressing renewed outrage that the Obama Administration is investigating CIA agents who interrogated suspected terrorists. I realize there is plenty of room to criticize what the Obama Administration might be doing with terrorist suspects, and perhaps some could argue there is merely a difference in degree, not in kind. But I disagree that there is no difference at all.

Then there’s a matter of style. In researching what others had to say about Obama’s vs. Bush’s foreign policies, I came across this Foreign Policy blog post from 2009 by Thomas Ricks

George W. Bush came into office with many of his national security officials thinking that their adversary would be China. The overarching foreign policy task of his administration, some of them thought, would be to manage the rise of China and the decline of Russia. This was reinforced by the EP-3 knockdown incident with China just six weeks into his first term. But nine months into that term, Bush found out different, as Islamic extremism got his notice with acts in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. He reacted, characteristically, with panic. Sometimes that manifested itself as a deer-in-the-headlights look, and at other times as pelvis-thrusting bluster.

I think Obama may be having his own 9/11 moment, finding out that things aren’t gonna go like he planned during the campaign. He came into office, I think, believing that his tasks were to engage or contain Iran, manage the withdrawal from Iraq and change the war in Afghanistan. On Iran, I think, he has done pretty well-trends are certainly pointing toward a multilateral containment effort.

But Obama has done nothing much on Iraq except screw up a couple of appointments there and break a campaign promise to withdraw a brigade a month this year. And on Afghanistan, when told recently what it would take to implement the strategy he announced in March, he appeared to balk. So he reacted, characteristically, I think, by dithering. Some readers of this blog think this looks like leadership, but I disagree–it isn’t leading of you do a multi-month review of Afghan strategy, decide what it is going to be, ask the general in charge how to implement it, and then respond by deciding to review strategy again for a few weeks. Sometimes Obama’s stance manifests itself as professorial pomposity; at other times as repeated policy reviews.

The post is titled “Bush and Obama: Panic vs. Dither.”

The crew at Foreign Policy generally have continued to be critical of Obama policies in Afghanistan, and I can’t say i disagree with them. But I think if recent events have told us anything, it’s that while the President may be willing to take risks, he is not one to rush into situations prematurely. And until then, he holds his cards close to the vest. What looks like dithering may just be caginess.

There is considerable speculation that the President will escalate a troop drawdown in Afghanistan, now that bin Laden is dead. On the other hand, Dick the Dick thinks any withdrawal from Afghanistan would be a big mistake. That’s an argument in favor of getting out, I would say.

But I think Ricks made a good point; Bush’s entire foreign policy post 9/11 was based on panic. He and Dick the Dick could strut around and thump their chests with the best of them, but that’s about all they could do. So many of their decisions — from the invasion of Iraq to the torture — were born of emotion rather than rational thinking.

President Obama, on the other hand, is the Ice Man. He thinks things through. You (and I) may still disagree with his conclusions, but he doesn’t panic easily.

Michael Hirsch has a column at The Atlantic pointing out the differences in he way Bush and Obama have handled Iraq. Do go and read it; I think it makes a clear argument that Obama’s and Bush’s policies in Iraq are entirely different. Among other things, Hirsch writes,

Behind Obama’s takedown of the Qaida leader this week lies a profound discontinuity between administrations–a major strategic shift in how to deal with terrorists. From his first great public moment when, as a state senator, he called Iraq a “dumb war,” Obama indicated that he thought that George W. Bush had badly misconceived the challenge of 9/11. And very quickly upon taking office as president, Obama reoriented the war back to where, in the view of many experts, it always belonged. He discarded the idea of a “global war on terror” that conflated all terror threats from al-Qaida to Hamas to Hezbollah. Obama replaced it with a covert, laserlike focus on al-Qaida and its spawn.

If only that had been the case after 9/11. See also P.M. Carpenter.

8 thoughts on “Foreign Policy: Bush v. Obama

  1. Yes, the similarities are absolutely stunning!

    Outside of Iraq, which was a “GO!” the minute the SCOTUS handed the election to Little Boots, the entire Bush ‘Reign of Error’ was to create enough distractions and misdirections to take the publics eye off of the team that allowed 9/11 to happen in the first place, despite countless warnings.
    The singlular quote that ought to be remembered is Bush’s, ‘Well, you’ve covered your ass’ after he was told about Al Qaeda,because that’s all THEY tried to do from there on.

    So, yes, the similarites are there if you know where to look.
    -Bush and Cheney, or rather, Cheney and Bush, after the attack came up with the ‘1% Solution.’ They called their lame efforts “The Global War on Terror,” on something that is a tactic. They tortured, they renditioned, they broke International Law, they broke the Geneva Conventions, the made a mockery of the Constitution, they occupied nations, they staffed the occupation with religious zealots who not only couldn’t speak the language, but had no experience in the Middle East, let alone Muslim nations.
    Bush and his cronies couldn’t catch bin Laden, and gave up the effort in a petulant shit snit fit.

    -Obama changed their panicked approach back to treating terrorism as criminal behaviour, not the actions of evil superhero’s worthy of any and every tortured reason to punish and maim. There wasn’t much he could do with Gitmo due to prior events and a cowardly Congress. He eventually caught and killed bin Laden.

    So, if indeed the similarities are there if you know where to look, I’m not looking in the right places.

    As for Douthat, he’s just another ignorant know-nothing yammering Conservative fool paid to opine on subjects he wouldn’t know shit from shinola about if you offered to polish his shoes with bat fecal matter.

  2. This will all come out in the wash. When the dickster comes suddenly alive, and calling for for the acceptince of a cowards way of obtaing information, this will be another BS moment. didn’t want to end on that this way but I get so flumoxed, when I think about how bad this country I love so much is diveded like I have never seen in my life time.

  3. Unfortunately Obama has to clean up Bush’s mess so the transition in policies might not be easily detectable through superficial observation at this point. Two readily visible differences between Bush’s policies and Obama’s would be the arrogance displayed in publicly articulating policy and the intelligence level in understanding the objective of what a particular policy is capable of achieving.

    So for Obama it’s sort of like weaning yourself off of heroin by the use of a methadone program. You just don’t stop cold turkey, you incrementally make the transition to get clean. When you think about how encompassing a Global War on Terror can be, and how unrealistic in it’s scope the objective was defined, naturally you make subtle changes that aren’t perceptible —but are significant. Just like Obama is currently doing.

    All the King’s horses and all the King’s men can’t clean up the mess that the decider began!

  4. You might almost say that Osama bin Laden became the centerpiece of Bush’s foreign policy. And domestic policy.
    When Bush announced, six months after 9/11, “I don’t know where bin Laden is. I have no idea and really don’t care. It’s not that important. It’s not our priority” — he meant that eliminating the scare-value of OBL was exactly what he did not want to do.
    But sure, Obama’s just continuing Bush’s foreign policy. And black is actually a continuation of white, and up is a continuation of down.

  5. Well, of course there’s a difference between Bush and Obama.

    Whenever Bush gave a speech, he sounded like a hillbilly. But then whatever policy he read from the teleprompter, no matter how ridiculous, actually got rammed through Congress and became law.

    Whenever Obama gives a speech, he sounds like someone who actually graduated from college. But then whatever policy he reads from the teleprompter, now matter how intelligent, never gets passed by Congress and becomes law.

    Though their style differs, the net result is the same.

    Estamos jodidos, amigos!

    • Whenever Bush gave a speech, he sounded like a hillbilly.

      Not that there’s anything wrong with being a hillbilly. I have deep hillbilly roots, you know. Bush’s accent isn’t exactly hillbilly, anyway. I’m guessing it’s more middle-class Texas.

  6. Privately, I’ve always held the notion that Bush, given his family’s close ties to the Saudi royals and the binLaden family, never intended to apprehend binLaden. (On the other hand, some accounts I’ve read argue that binLaden was kicked out of Saudi Arabia by the royals, whom he hated for allowing infidels on sacred Muslim soil, pledged revenge and Bush in the presidency was a round-about opportunity, 9/11, to get back at the Saudi royals.)

    Lots of intrigue here, but as history shows us intrigue is usually a (hidden) factor in most final decisions made by national leaders.

  7. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a hillbilly. I have deep hillbilly roots, you know. Bush’s accent isn’t exactly hillbilly, anyway. I’m guessing it’s more middle-class Texas.

    Or whatever an easterner like Bush thinks a middle-class Texan sounds like.

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