April 16, 2009

WHY CHANGE WHAT WORKS?:

Clinton at home, Bush abroad (Reihan Salam, 15th April 2009, The Spectator)

On foreign policy, Obama came to office with another clever idea, which was strikingly similar to one of Bush’s pre-presidential mantras: he would bring humility back. One of his first gambits was a reorientation of American priorities in Afghanistan and Pakistan — a ‘lowering of sights’, a step away from serious state-building efforts in favour of a minimalist focus on destroying al-Qa’eda. As Steve Coll, author of Ghost Wars and The Bin Ladens, has argued, this rather abstract notion ran into a straightforward problem, namely that a stable Afghanistan and a stable Pakistan are essential to achieving even the most minimal objectives in the region. As President Bush discovered, and as President Clinton discovered before him, state-building was not in fact optional. Fortunately, the White House seems to have realised this quickly, and Obama’s foreign policy performance has been fairly encouraging. But it is only encouraging insofar as it represents a sensible continuation of President Bush’s post-surge shift in approach to the war on terrorism, a term that has, of course, been abandoned in favour of something more palatable.

Two months in, the Obama presidency looks like a marriage of President Clinton’s domestic policy gimmickry with President Bush’s foreign policy, wrapped together with a rhetorical flourish. This is hardly the worst imaginable outcome. Indeed, it might well be better than the available alternatives. But somehow Obama’s America doesn’t feel like a New Jerusalem.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 16, 2009 7:17 AM
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