Joe Podelco / Photo editor
Last Thursday’s announcement of the death of former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi brings forth yet another example of how President Barack Obama’s approach to foreign policy and the war on terror has been more successful than the “Bush Doctrine” established by his predecessor.
Former President George W. Bush’s policy was one of military intervention. Bush took an increasingly isolationist approach to foreign policy with his order that America withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty and the Kyoto Protocol. The Bush Doctrine called for a preemptive stance with regard to military action and the fight against terrorism. It declared that any country that “harbored” suspected terrorists were compliant with those terrorists and therefore subject to United States military action.
Bush’s approach to foreign policy was focused on American economic interests and terrorist threats first and foremost. Humanitarian debates were a lesser concern, which is one possible explanation for Bush administration officials having a working relationship with (now former) leaders such as Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi. Specifically in the Middle East, the Bush administration focused on oil reserves and on forming alliances with Middle Eastern nations that would support their war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan. These two wars, and Bush and Obama’s policies on them, would highlight the entirely different approach the two leaders take to the world stage.
In 2001, very few Americans would have said that the military invasion of Afghanistan to defeat the ruling Taliban regime was anything but justified. The initial invasion and the occupation of the country were met with widespread support not just in America but throughout the world. This part of the Bush doctrine seemed justified because Osama bin Laden and his terror group, al-Qaida, ordered and planned the 9/11 attacks and the Taliban regime were hiding them. Intelligence showed that bin Laden had set up camp in Afghanistan (especially the tribal region near the Pakistan border) and that because the Taliban refused to turn him over to American officials for trial, an intervention was justified.
To think in October 2001 that the war in Afghanistan would eventually become a controversial issue would’ve seemed laughable. But that is exactly what happened because in March 2003, Bush went after his true target: Iraq. Iraq and its former leader, Saddam Hussein, were a haven for fear and for suppression of civil liberties. I do not deny that, but Bush did not make the argument that Hussein was a bad guy as the principle motivating factor for the war. Instead Bush tried to sell the war by claiming Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction,” including nuclear weapons, and by trying to create a link between Hussein and 9/11. These accusations that were used to justify the Iraq war were all proven to be false, but once America invaded, Bush spent all of his energy on that war. More and more, Afghanistan became less of an issue and indeed bin Laden became less of an issue to Bush. Bush famously said about bin Laden in 2004, “Honestly, I don’t think about him all that much.” His shift in focus would ultimately help lead to him leaving office on Jan. 20, 2009, with the lowest approval rating for a departing president in American history at 19 percent.
Obama has taken a different approach. Iraq is not the end-all, be-all for Obama’s foreign policy stances. In fact, he is trying to end that war. On Aug. 31, 2010, Obama declared that all combat troops were out of Iraq (a recent report says some combat troops are still there helping the Iraqi military) and Obama ordered that all military forces are to be out of the country by the end of this year. In Afghanistan, Obama is cleaning up the mess that Bush made. Some conservative pundits and politicians are now trying to claim that Afghanistan is “Obama’s war,” but that is not reality. Bush ordered the invasion of Afghanistan a decade ago, to mass public support, and for the last five years of his presidency, he ignored the war and caused the country to be even more unstable. Obama is working to fix that mess and finally end the war his predecessor started.
When the “Arab Spring” of protests began last winter, the Obama Administration stood back and watched it unfold. They took a passive approach with Tunisia. In Egypt, they eventually convinced the international community to put pressure on Mubarak to step down. Does anyone think if Bush paid attention to the Arab Spring protests that he would not have taken a more hard-line, hawkish approach? And when the U.S. did have to get involved, as in Libya, Obama worked with our allies in NATO and let them take the lead (spearheaded by France) after a few weeks of heavy American involvement. The result was less American involvement, few to none American casualties and the fall of Libya’s dictator, ending in his eventual death.
Perhaps no distinction is greater than the success Obama had in doing what Bush could not: avenging Sept. 11 by killing Osama bin Laden. While Bush was declaring that he didn’t think about bin Laden “all that much,” Obama focused on finding and killing the former al-Qaida leader. On May 1, 2011, that is exactly what happened. Obama ordered a precision strike, instead of massive military movement, on a compound in Pakistan where bin Laden was finally killed.
Bush tried to sell himself as the guy with the better foreign policy goals. Republicans for years have tried to convince the American people that they are the best when it comes to security. Obama is proving them wrong. Unlike Bush, he is ending the Iraq war. He is focusing our attention where it matters: on Afghanistan. He worked with the international community to bring a new day to Libya and he killed America’s greatest enemy in bin Laden. Obama has many faults but his approach to foreign policy and security has brought real, tangible results, putting the issue of security squarely in Obama’s column.