There are many differences between President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush — unfortunately, foreign policy is not one of them. Although they differ wildly on social issues, when it comes to national security and foreign policy, the two have much in common. Both Dubya and Obama exude an aura of neoconservatism when it comes to foreign relations, despite initially campaigning as anti-interventionist candidates.
Before I drone on, here is the definition of neoconservatism as it pertains to foreign policy:
Neoconservatives are of the mindset that national security can and should be attained by promoting democracy abroad through foreign aid, diplomatic efforts, and, when necessary, military intervention. The neoconservative movement has been criticized, however, for the use of aggressive interventionist tactics. Former President George W. Bush is a modern-day neoconservative who embodied this ideal for the entirety of his term, post 9/11 (see: Iraq War, 2003 – 2010).
To be fair, Obama could be classified as ”neocon lite,” because there are still some instances, such as the decision not to intervene in the Iranian Green Revolution, in which the President acted differently than either a Bush, McCain, or Romney likely would have.
Nonetheless, Obama’s foreign policy is a far cry from the “hope and change” liberalism voters were promised in 2008.
During his 2008 campaign, Senator Obama painted himself as a staunch opponent of the War in Iraq, harshly criticizing Senator Hillary Clinton for her pro-war stance. In spite of this, he still went on to appoint her as Secretary of State — a position which put her directly in charge of foreign relations.
Then, in a 2010 speech marking the end of combat in Iraq, the President said this about the war:
“This milestone should serve as a reminder to all Americans that the future is ours to shape if we move forward with confidence and commitment. It should also serve as a message to the world that the United States of America intends to sustain and strengthen our leadership in this young century.”
The Senator who had been staunchly opposed to the war was now using it as an example of how the United States should promote democracy around the world. This prompted even conservative writers to label the speech as neoconservative.
Sure enough, President Obama kept his word that the United States would continue to “sustain and strengthen our leadership” by expanding the targeted killing program that began under Bush as a means of taking out Al-Qaeda operatives. The program has allowed Obama to show his true neocon colors, as he shows no signs of slowing down United States military intervention in certain parts of the Middle East. The President has issued nearly four times as many drone strikes as his predecessor, killing hundreds of Pakistani and Yemeni civilians in the process.
While civil war wages in Syria, President Obama — in typical neocon fashion — has vowed to drive Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power. This means he will have to make a decision soon as to whether military intervention is necessary, since reports indicate that the situation in Syria is worsening. Pressure is also coming from Congress as Senators McCain (R-AZ) and Corker (R-TN) are calling on the President for action.
Most recently, with the Associated Press and NSA scandals coming to light, the Obama administration has shown just how tightly it has embraced certain Bush-era policies. In both situations, the administration tried to justify overreaching government intrusion as necessary to “protect national security”. This same tact was also used by the Bush administration in 2001 to gain support for and pass the PATRIOT Act, which has since been renewed under Obama — despite his opposition to it in his 2008 campaign.
The President has a ways to go before completely transforming into Bush 2.0 on foreign policy, but with three years left in his second term there’s still plenty of time for it to happen. Sadly, this complete transformation would not be surprising.
Obama is light-years away from the anti-war, anti-interventionist presidential candidate he pretended to be five years ago.