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 Americaâ€™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.