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May 28, 2010

George W. Bush, One-Term President
Posted by David Shorr

Like Heather, I'm scratching my head over the argument that Obama's strategy is basically the same as his predecessor's, which requires serious selective memory. I'm happy to stipulate that Bush 43 tacked back toward foreign policy reasonableness in his second term. So sure, there are similarities between the new National Security Strategy and the 2006 version (and even more with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's reports on transformational diplomacy). Alas, the GW Bush presidency didn't start in 2005; you'd have to have pretty severe amnesia to view the Bush administration's latter-day course correction as representative of its foreign policy. So I guess we have to remind ourselves of the first-term policies that weren't so easily corrected:

  • The Iraq War (and associated cost in blood, treasure, and reputation)
  • Enhanced interrogation, secret prisons (and associated theories about presidential authority as commander in chief)
  • Scrapping of the 30-year-old Anti-Balistic Missile Treaty (trading stable US-Russian deterrence for the fantasy of an unproven technology)
  • Witholding mil-mil cooperation with any nation that cooperated with the ICC (talk about heavy-handedness)
  • Climate change denial (as Heather and Michael remind us)
  • Push for next-generation nuclear weapons

Heck, the Bush Administration itself struggled internally as it tried to shift direction in the second term. Even if Vice President Cheney no longer enjoyed the same dominance, the effort to take a more pragmatic approach to North Korea and Iran, for instance, was resisted at every turn by John Bolton and other hard-liners.

I wouldn't argue that every aspect of Bush policy was wrongheaded. But when you try to draw a straight line between Bush and Obama, that's a stretch, to say the least.

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I would not say that all aspects of Bush's policy was wrong. But in trying to draw a straight line between Bush and Obama, that's an exaggeration, to say the least

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This is of course right. But those of us who argue for the relative continuity of foreign policy under Obama, terming it "Bush 2.0," always make that caveat.

The argument is that Bush started as a Realist (see his 2000 campaign, the Condi Rice article in Foreign Affairs, etc.), verged into Neoconservatism post-9/11, and then tacked back into Realism circa 2005. And Obama has largely emulated the policy he thus inherited.

One can't, after all, credit Obama for "change" if he's merely doing what his predecessor was doing when he took over.

Don't you think that if a Republican president were in power and GW Bush a Democrat, there would ten times as much public discussion today about the disasters of 2001-08.

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This is silly.

To list a few problems:

* The Iraq War (and associated cost in blood, treasure, and reputation)

Has the Bush approach to Iraq (post 2006) been any different than Obama's now? Or more pressing, how has our blood, treasure, and reputation fared in Afghanistan?

Enhanced interrogation, secret prisons (and associated theories about presidential authority as commander in chief)

Bagram? Executive-approved assassination of American citizens? The recent news that Obama backed Petraues and Co.'s plan to place unauthorized 'black-ops' troops across the Persian gulf?

* Climate change denial (as Heather and Michael remind us)

Is there any proof that this change in policy is anything but cosmetic? If one were to look at the data only, it would be rather hard to tell that America was approaching climate change with a new strategy.

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