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The Failures of Obama

Peter Feaver argues that President Obama has succeeded when he followed in President Bush's footsteps:

What explains the overall pattern? Friedman points to the correct answer: where Obama has continued along policy lines laid out by Bush, he has achieved success, but where he has sought to make dramatic changes, he has failed. The bigger the change, the bigger the failure. Not surprisingly, Friedman presents this as a critique of Bush ("Obama and his national security team have been so much smarter, tougher and cost-efficient in keeping the country safe than the "adults" they replaced. It isn't even close, which is why the G.O.P.'s elders have such a hard time admitting it."). Friedman's sneer about the "adults" is unmistakable and it causes him to miss the obvious: where Obama has embraced that "Bush adult" worldview, it has gone well for him and for America. Where he has not, it has not. Indeed, where he has listened to Friedman and other bien pensant types, it has gone very poorly indeed (cf. Israel-Palestine peace process). And where he attempted a major shift in American grand strategy (elevating climate change to be a national security threat co-equal with WMD proliferation and terrorism) he has made almost no progress whatsoever.

I think a good case could be made that the Obama administration has succeeded in its execution of U.S. foreign policy because it has avoided any massive mistakes. There have been, of course, plenty of mistakes and missteps. But none, I would argue, have set the U.S. back to the point where it would be difficult to recover from.

I think Feaver is right that the Obama administration has borrowed from the Bush administration's playbook with some success, but there's an Iraq-sized hole in this narrative. The Bush administration did not, by any means, get everything wrong. They got some things right. But the mistakes that were made - the decision to occupy Afghanistan following the fall of the Taliban and the decision to invade and occupy Iraq - were consequential ones. It cannot truly be said that the Obama administration is simply reading off the Bush playbook, because that playbook involves the invasion and occupation of a large, Middle Eastern country.

"I didn't screw up too badly" isn't a very compelling campaign slogan, but when it comes to U.S. foreign policy at least, there are worse things.