Bush v Obama Foreign Policies Research Paper

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The administration's disregard for international norms led to the excesses at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq, and attempts to circumvent congressional oversight over the activities of the Administration backfired. Faced with increasing criticism at home and the inability to stabilize Iraq, the Bush Administration began to temper its approach with realism. The Administration agreed to a bipartisan Iraq Study Group, led by former Secretary of State James Baker and Democratic Congressman Lee Hamilton (Baker & Hamilton, 2006). The report prepared by the group was quite critical of the Bush Administration's policies in Iraq, and though many of those criticisms were rejected, the Administrated still took the criticism seriously, and a year later began to pursue a new approach, which eventually helped to decrease the level of violence in Iraq.

The Obama Administration's approach to Iraq War reflects the liberal views of Obama who warned in 2002 that "a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences" was not a good strategy for the United States to adopt (Obama and Iraq, 2008). In Obama's view, the manner in which America went to war against Iraq was against the liberal tradition of conducting foreign policy in American history. Immediately after becoming President, Obama outlined a plan of Iraq troop withdrawal which would start in sixteen months so that the responsibility of maintaining order in Iraq could be transferred to Iraqi authorities. Obama's policy in Iraq thus also reflects realism as it considers the limits of American power and understanding that preserving American security is more important than spreading democracy in Iraq. "We have sent our young men and women to make enormous sacrifices in Iraq, and spent vast resources abroad at a time of tight budgets at home," Obama stated, while announcing the end of combat mission in Iraq in the summer of 2010. "Through this remarkable chapter in the history of the United States and Iraq, we have met our responsibility. Now, it's time to turn the page" (Cooper & Stolberg, 2010).


Prior to 9/11, the Bush Administration had no significant problem with Afghanistan. So the war the Administration unleashed against Taliban was largely a response to 9/11 which was perpetrated by terrorists who had been trained in Afghanistan. The terrorist mastermind, Osama bin Laden, was also protected at the time by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. The Bush Administration had a clear goal of ousting the Taliban regime but had no clear strategy of exiting the Afghanistan involvement. The U.S. military quickly gained the upper hand over Taliban in 2001 and early 2002, but soon after, the Bush Administrated diverted its attention and resources to Iraq War, relegating the Afghanistan problem to a secondary significance. Because of pursuing these short-sighted goals and strategies, the United States was not able to stabilize Afghanistan. Reflecting upon the Afghanistan war, one American diplomat wrote: "Are we trying to pacify Afghanistan? Defeat the Taliban? Develop Afghanistan, its institutions, and its economy and transform its mores? If so, we are doomed to failure" (Wisner, 2009, p. 361). But the Bush Afghanistan's seven-year-long Afghan war strategy reflected precisely this strategy.

As for Obama, he considers Afghanistan war a "war of necessity" and has consistently argued that the real fight against terrorism must be conducted in Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Realizing the failure of the Bush Administration to tackle the insurgency problem in Afghanistan, Obama unveiled a new strategy for Afghan war in March 2009. The strategy outlined by Obama emphasized the importance of addressing the changing political and security realities in Afghanistan. The Obama Administration viewed the Afghan problem not as a separate issue on its own but in connection with extremism in the neighboring Pakistan. The Obama strategy also identified U.S. goal in a limited manner, focusing on destroying the al-Qaeda movement and preventing its return to Afghanistan, rather than attempting to transform Afghanistan into a Switzerland. "Such limitation in the overall strategic objective of the U.S.-led international forces in Afghanistan," as one observer argues, "implies that the United States does not intend to transform Afghanistan into a Westernized democracy, as the neoconservative discourse during the Bush Administration seemed to suggest" (Ahmad, 2010, p. 194).

The Obama strategy also seeks to co-opt moderate Taliban members who are ready to disassociate themselves from al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. "There is an uncompromising core of the Taliban. They must be met with force, and they must be defeated," Obama stated. "But there are also those who've taken up arms because of coercion, or simply for a price. These Afghans must have the option to choose a different course" (Ahmad, 2010, p. 195). The Obama strategy in Afghanistan also stresses the importance of investment for civilian development projects rather than reliance on military goals. And because of considering Afghan-Pakistan border as the hotbed of terrorist activity, the Obama Administration has had two troop surges -- 21,000 troops in the first surge and 30,000 troops in the second surge -- to militarily deal with al-Qaeda and the uncompromising members of Taliban. The Afghanistan strategy demonstrates the limits of Obama's liberalism in foreign policy. But the Obama Administration also has sought greater participation and cooperation from regional powers such as Russia, India, and the Gulf states -- in true tradition of Wilsonian liberalism.


Pakistan was an ally of the United States during the Cold War. But the country became a more important partner for the United States as a result of Afghanistan War. In 2001, Pakistan was the only state in the world to officially recognize the legitimacy of Taliban government and provided financial and logistical support for the movement. When the United States and NATO began a military campaign against Taliban, the Bush Administration demanded that Pakistan make a choice: be either with the United States or against the United States. The Musharraf government of Pakistan chose the latter option, although influential forces within the Pakistani government and security forces kept supporting various extremist and anti-American groups. But for the Bush Administration, the most important issue was Pakistan's official stance. As long as Pakistan supported the U.S.-led war on terrorism, the Bush Administration saw the country as a friend -- at one time Bush describing Musharraf, the authoritarian ruler of Pakistan, as "truly . . . somebody who believes in democracy" (Bush Now Praises Musharraf, 2007).

The Obama Administrated shifted its policy on Pakistan by viewing it as part of the Afghanistan problem. The Obama Administration speaks about the Af-Pak strategy which emphasizes the importance of viewing these two countries as two separate countries but presenting one unified challenge. Like in Afghanistan, Obama's Pakistan policy stresses the importance of civilian assistance rather than the military one. For example, Kerry-Luber-Berman Act, signed by Obama in November 2009, granted Pakistan $7.5 billion in civilian aid. The Obama military strategy also focuses intensely more on Pakistan than the Bush Administration did. Under Obama, drone attacks against suspected terrorist nests in Pakistan's tribal areas have significantly increased, which affirms that the Obama Administration takes a military option on tackling Af-Pak problem seriously (Ahmad, 2010).

The Middle East

"The Bush Administration's thinking about the Middle East was fairly simplistic," one British diplomat said. "There were good guys and bad guys, states and rogue states, an axis of good an axis of evil" (Ramsay, 2009, p. 43). It was pretty much driven by neo-conservative agenda, which characterized those who accepted American leadership as the "good" guys, and those who challenged the legitimacy of American leadership as the "bad" guys. But the Bush policy was also at times tempered by realism as the Administration mended relations with Libya and made overtures to Syria. The Obama policy, in contrast, tries to reaffirm America's liberal tradition of supporting freedom and democracy through cooperation and diplomacy -- as reflected in Obama's Cairo Speech in 2009 (Obama, 2009) -- but also reflects the limitations of American liberalism in Obama's tackling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Bush Administration pursued an aggressive policy backed by military force in the Middle East but the realization of the limits of American power forced the Bush government to be more realistic, while Obama's aggressive diplomacy is tempered by realization that diplomacy works to a certain extent.

North Korea and China

If there was an area where Bush and Obama policies resembled each other most, it was the U.S. policy vis-a-vis North Korea and China. Before 9/11, the Bush Administration did not see North Korea as a serious threat. For a moment, George Bush added North Korea to a list of state sponsors of terrorism, constituting "axis of evil." But the Administration was never able to back its rhetoric against North Korea with military force. The Bush Administration supported six-party talks, involving the United States, North Korea, South Korea, Russia, Japan, and China in dealing with North Korea's nuclear program, and in 2008 resorted to realism by removing North Korea from terrorism blacklist in…[continue]

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