Many on the left seem to think that there is no difference between Bush and Obama in foreign policy – the idea being that since neither regarded sovereignty as inviolable, and both sought to decrease the number of regimes in the world unfriendly to US interests, the two were following identical foreign policies. There is a key difference, however, between current policy and the Neoconservative philosophy that I think can be summarized by the sound advice – Make hay while the sun shines. A reasonable foreign policy does just that – reacts to situations and opportunities as they arise, using circumstances to its advantage. A Neoconservative position, on the other hand, makes hay and demands that the sun shine. It’s a position of extreme arrogance, and is highly ineffective. The difference between policies is clear observing how Bush and Obama handled the revolutions taking place during their respective terms.
You see, Bush had his own set of opportunities in the form of the Color Revolutions in the former Soviet Republics. However, his administration did next to nothing to react to them, because they had already set the agenda – bring down the axis of evil, spread democracy in the middle east, and, most importantly, win re-election as a war time president. The US welcomed those new leaders in Georgia and Ukraine, but the priorities were already established and little was done to integrate those countries economically or politically into the ‘West’. As a result, they were vulnerable to economic manipulation and upheaval. Moreover, somehow Georgia came under the impression that they had a free hand to act aggressively against Russia, and the US and NATO failed to back them up, even as Georgian troops were fighting alongside NATO ones in Afghanistan. This can only be attributed to a failure in communication with Shaakashvili’s administration, compounded by a squandering of resources in Iraq and Afghanistan that left NATO and the US embarrassingly powerless.
The gravest failing of the previous administration, however, was to fail to react to the Andijan massacre in Uzbekistan. Rather than adjust their worldview to take into account the changing situation and to distance themselves from a regime that was demonstrating its brutality, as Obama did with Egypt and Yemen, the administration closed its eyes and pretended that what was happening fit their worldview – terrorists were causing trouble with a secular government. That the reality was of course different was obvious to everyone besides the US, China, and Russia, and a clear message was sent – our embrace of democracy coming to Christian former SSRs did not extend to the Muslim ones, and we are willing to accept ‘fighting terrorism’ as an excuse for any abuse (a fact Egypt, Israel, China, Russia, Colombia, and India, among others, noted with glee). The Andijan massacre was not an ideal situation to get tough on terrorism or stand by secularism in the Muslim world, but that was the hay the administration wanted to make, and they didn’t care one whit whether the sun was shining.
Obama’s treatment of the Arab spring? I’ve been over it too much already, but he has much more effectively taken opportunities when and to (only) the extent that they present themselves (Libya, Syria, Iran), cut losses where necessary (Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen), and kept his nose clean where the result was inevitable (Bahrain).
I know I’ve written far too much, but the evidence is copious and deserves to be heard. You needn’t agree with Obama’s policies to see a clear difference in their execution, compared to those of the previous president. It’s also difficult, having seen the results of both, to deny the superiority of our current administration to that which preceded it, and to any of its likely replacements.