Sunday, February 5, 2012

Barack Bush?

Peter Feaver, a scholar-practitioner at Duke, is a regular contributor to Foreign Policy's "Shadow Government" blog. A staffer on the NSC in both the Clinton and Bush administrations, he also is a distinguished scholar on civil-military issues. [I agree with him on most of those matters, although I find his "principal-agent" analysis is incomplete because it doesn't account for Congress' role as an alternative source of civilian control.] I consider him a friend, and think his loyalties are more to policies and principles than to a political party.

Recently he has urged Republican presidential candidates to give more credit to President Obama's foreign policy. His reasoning is that "Obama's foreign policy successes have come when he has followed Bush policies; his failures have come when he has struck out on his own."  Mainly, he means that Obama was not as radical in pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan as many Republican foreign policy pundits had expected. 

In fact, of course, Obama followed the Bush policy -- codified in a formal agreement in November 2008 -- of keeping the 2011 deadline for troop withdrawals from Iraq, and of refusing to let Iraqis try U.S. military personnel for alleged crimes. Obama also surged more troops into Afghanistan -- and got U.S. military leaders to agree to begin drawdowns after a year.

I'm not sure what counts as Obama "failures." He tried to engage Iran and got a stiff arm. But he has rallied the Europeans to adopt progressively tougher sanctions that are having a significant impact on the Iranian regime. He also has begun a "pivot" to Asia. which I suspect any U.S. President would have wanted to do.

It would be nice -- though not very likely -- if presidential candidates looked for common, nonpartisan ground on foreign policy instead of pretending that the incumbent it totally wrong and they would somehow be totally different and better.

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