Obama and the Third Bush Term — A Competent One

In recent days Barack Obama has sought to establish bluer water between himself and John McCain over Iraq.

Did he succeed?

Timothy Lynch and Robert Singh

Obama and McCain duel over foreign policy in this NY Times article

Yes, he has succeeded to a degree. He has made it clear that Afghanistan will be the first front in his revised war on terror. By wrapping up Iraq quickly – most US brigades, save for a residual force, to depart with sixteen months – he is promising to redirect US violence on the Taliban. McCain, alternatively, says that the Iraq war should not be judged according to a timetable established in a US electoral campaign. If winning takes time then time it shall take. The war on terror is not a debate between Iraq-firsters and Afghanistan-firsters. It is a global war on multiple fronts that demands attention to all those fronts.

Two features are worthy of note. First, despite what elements of his domestic base may be hoping, a President Obama is not seeking a withdrawal of US forces from the Middle East theater. Rather, he is pledging to redeploy American troops so as to better advance the war on terror. His initial caution over the Iraq liberation was not grounded in a leftist pacifism. It was, instead, the product of his empiricism. The Iraq war was a tactical misstep which he is pledged to correct. But the essential strategy of Bush’s war on terror has not been disavowed. President Bush stands accused by the Illinois senator not for being a warmonger but for being an incompetent war monger. ‘Make me commander in chief,’ Obama is saying, ‘and I will make violence abroad more effectively. Pakistan watch out.’

This position will no doubt induce a good deal of buyer’s remorse among his ideological base. But Obama is no ideologue. He is smart – ask Hillary Clinton who was so comprehensively outplayed by him in the primaries – ruthless – ‘I know ye not Reverend Wright’ – and of flexible principle – making decisions on the basis of evidence not theory. These are characteristics that might be unattractive on a personal level but are to be welcomed in a war president.

Despite the recent attempts to make Iraq a clear issue of difference, McCain and Obama are implicitly telling us that the Bush strategy is sound. Where they differ, with him and each other, is on tactics. Tactics are technical affairs, tweaked to advance a strategy. The Vietnam war was a tactic within a wider, longer strategy. That tactic, as with Iraq, was the cause of significant dissensus. The strategy it was supposed advance – the containment of communism – was not. It commanded consensus.

Both candidates have pledged that they will alter tactics to advance the strategic goal – of keeping WMD out of terrorist hands – but wont disavow the goal itself. They are thus both running for the third Bush term – but this time a component one.

Timothy Lynch and Robert Singh are authors of After Bush: The Case for Continuity in American Foreign Policy.

Dr. Lynch will be at several US speaking engagements this month.

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One Response

  1. Obama is running for a third Bush term because he supports the war on terrorism? Ummm OK… I guess one issue makes him a Bush clone. It would seem you know nothing about Mr. Obama. Everyone is against terrorism so this has nothing to do with Bush.

    “‘Make me commander in chief,’ Obama is saying, ‘and I will make violence abroad more effectively. Pakistan watch out.’”

    “…McCain and Obama are implicitly telling us that the Bush strategy is sound”

    Huh? The sable rattling towards Pakistan and looking for them to take responsibility is warranted if you are looking to fight terrorism. That does not mean Obama would invade Pakistan but limited bombing is possible. This idea is the total opposite of Bush’s in regards to Pakistan.

    I really find funny the right’s new tactic of taking McCain’s weaknesses and projecting them on Obama.

    McCain totally flip-flops on most of his positions to run for President so they try to point at Obama and call him the flip-flopper.

    McCain who supports almost all of Bush’s polices and of course is in the same party has problems distancing himself from Bush. The right’s response is that Obama is running for a third Bush term.

    I am at the point that just can’t wait for election day and be done with this campaigning nonsense.

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