A Right Turn reader this week wrote to me to point out President Obama’s muddled foreign policy execution stands in stark contrast to former president George Bush, who was falsely accused of being disengaged. The point is an important one, worthy of some discussion, I think.
President Obama appears to both long for disengagement in the world, which he hopes would no longer expect U.S. power to be exercised or U.S. moral leadership to be demonstrated, and unwilling to let any key decision be made or even shaped outside the Oval Office that is dominated by political hacks (e.g. David Axelrod in the first term, Valerie Jarrett in both).
Out of Iraq. Out of Afghanistan. Do nothing on Syria. Waffle on Egypt. Shun the Green Revolution. The common theme is retreat and reduction of the U.S. profile in the world. He’s no fool, so the Bush anti-terror mechanisms remain largely in place but this entails only discrete actions (drop a drone on a terrorist’s head) that do not attempt to shape events to our advantage. But the White House is very much in control, to the detriment of any cabinet department, agency or individual who might have expertise. Apparently, he even selects the Kill List targets, his leakers tell us.
No one doubts the White House calls all the shots and has instilled underwhelming if not totally unqualified people in key posts. That leaves little for many well-meaning people to do; the White House has monopolized the action by its policy of sloth. No matter how wonderful the speeches given by the new ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power on human rights, her words are drowned out by the realty of U.S. policy dictated from the White House. We still aid Egypt and we do next to nothing for Syrians.
In short, the president doesn’t command bold or specific action; he prevents it from being undertaken in favor of photo-op trips (to Israel and Africa) and empty rhetoric (in Egypt in 2009 and Berlin in 2013). It is not hard to see, as our reader points out, that we are neither loved nor respected in the world.
Contrast this with President George W. Bush. It was he who immediately cast the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as a war not a crime. It was his passion that launched the anti-AIDS initiative that saved lives in Africa. It was he who went over the heads and around the Pentagon brass to rescue the Iraq war effort and launch the surge. It was he, as documented by the important book, Tested by Zion, who re-conceived our approach to the Palestinians, isolated Arafat, demanded reforms in the Palestinian Authority and, line-by-line, crafted the famous Rose Garden speech that put the United States squarely in favor of a two-state solution based on the premise the PA would move toward a democratic and peaceful state.
There are dozens more examples documented in the memoirs of the key players in the Bush administration. Those advisers clashed frequently and their accounts differ in some respects, but they share common perspectives on their former boss. He was immersed in foreign policy development and execution. He believed passionately that the United States was a force for good in the world. He considered it his first obligation to defend the country and to support our military. He was convinced human rights was an integral part of a successful and moral foreign policy. He was a devoted friend to Israel.
Come to think of it, Obama really is the un-Bush.