Compare Obama vs. G.W. Bush Foreign Policy Research Paper

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Bush v. Obama Foreign Policies

Neo-conservatism and Liberalism in Practice:

Comparing George W. Bush and Barack Obama Foreign Policies

In 2001 George W. Bush presided over the Presidency which had to face new kinds of challenges in American foreign policy. When Bush was the incumbent, the United States was attacked by terrorists, which killed nearly 3,000 Americans. The rest of Bush's Presidency reflected his Administration's response to that event and the period is known as the post-9/11 era. The eight years of Bush's Presidency was mired in many controversies -- chief among them was the Bush Administration's decision to go to war against the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq -- but also a period that did not witness any further terrorist attacks on American soil. Partly because of the unpopularity of many aspects of Bush's foreign policy, many Americans overwhelmingly supported Back Obama in 2008 Presidential elections. Accordingly, many expected Obama to change the course in American foreign relations. But did President Obama follow a different direction since he assumed power in the oval office? If yes, how were Obama's policies different from those of George Bush? or, did Obama simply continue a militarist policy which characterized the Bush foreign policy, as some observers have recently noted (Bacevich, 2010)?Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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TOPIC: Research Paper on Compare Obama vs. G.W. Bush Foreign Policy Assignment

The purpose of this paper is to address these questions. It should be noted, however, that there are certain characteristics of these two administrations that are hard to compare. For example, as mentioned, the Bush Administration acted in the atmosphere of 9/11, while the Obama Administration had to address the problem of Iraq War the popularity of which reached its nadir when Obama was elected to the White House. Also, George Bush served two terms and there were marked differences between his first and second Presidencies, as the circumstances forced the Bush Administration to change the course by the end of Bush's Presidency. The Obama Administration, meanwhile, has an experience of running foreign policy for less than three years. Nevertheless, it is possible to point at some characteristics of these Administrations that are distinct. It is the position of this paper that Bush's foreign policy was a mixture of neo-conservatism and realism, while Obama's foreign policy has been a mixture of liberalism and realism. Bush's foreign policy was characterized by neo-conservative ideology, but the limits of American power forced the Bush Administration to resort to realism. Likewise, Obama's foreign policy has been characterized by liberal ideas, but the realities of international politics forces the Obama Administration to embrace some aspects of realism. In this paper, we will briefly discuss the three ideologies mentioned -- neo-conservatism, realism, and liberalism -- and compare Bush and Obama policies dealing with Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan; and to a lesser degree, the Middle East in general, North Korea, and China.

Theoretical background

Neo-conservativism as an ideology emerged in late 1950s and '60s, in response to Washington's willingness to support detente with Moscow, but began to triumph only in 1980s when Ronal Reagan took a tough stance against the Soviet Union. Irving Kristol, a U.S. intellectual and a former Trotskyist, is credited to be the ideological father of the neo-conservative movement. In the 1990s, neo-conservatives established a Project for the New American Century, calling for an aggressive U.S. foreign policy that would guarantee American political, military, and economic dominance in the world. The main principle of the project was outlined by William Kristol, the son of Irving Kristol, who wrote in the opening pages of the group's website: "American leadership is good both for America and for the world; and that such leadership requires military strength, diplomatic energy and commitment to moral principle" (PNAC).

One of the first acts of the neo-conservatives after establishing the Project was to call the Administration of Bill Clinton to remove "Saddam Hussein's regime from power," as stated in a letter they sent to President Clinton on May 29, 1998. The letter was singed by Kristol, the chairman of PNAC and the editor of Weekly Standard, and a group of politicians who would end up serving the Bush Administration at some point between 2001 and 2008. These included Vice-President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the director of the Middle Eastern policy on the National Security Council Elliot Abrams, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, the chairman of the Defense Science Board Richard Perle, Colin Powell's deputy in the State Department Richard Armitage, and the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad (Johnson, 2004, pp. 227-8).

Neo-conservatives made their main principles and ideas publicly available through the Project's publication, entitled Rebuilding America's Defenses: Strategy, Forces, and Resources for a New Century (Kagan, Schmitt, & Donnelly, 2000). Does the United States, "as the world's most preeminent power," the authors of the publication wrote, "have the resolve to shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests?" The authors required that the United States needed "a military that is strong and ready to meet both present and future challenges; a foreign policy that boldly and purposefully promotes American principles abroad; and national leadership that accepts the United States' global responsibilities." To achieve these goals, the authors further argued, the United States needed a fundamental transformation, which, "even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event -- like a new Pearl Harbor" (Kagan, Schmitt, & Donnelly, 2000, pp. 1, 51). The fact that the several members of the Project assumed influential positions in the Bush Administration and that the United States indeed experienced a catastrophic event on September 11 guaranteed that the Bush foreign policy would reflect the principles of neo-conservative ideology -- albeit constrained by the realism because of the realities of international relations.

Neo-conservatism is a relatively new approach to international relations. Of various approaches to international relations, the two most frequently used are realism and liberalism. Realism suggests that states in international affairs act in their own national interests, disregarding virtually all moral considerations. Realism views states like human beings who are by nature, according to this theory, selfish and fiercely competitive. Realism, as Geoffrey Goldberg (2005) puts it, is "the idea that America should be guided by strategic self-interest, and that moral considerations are secondary at best." Liberalism, on the other hand, stresses the importance of pluralist approach, interdependence, collective international action (as opposed to unilateralism promoted by neo-conservatives), and not least importantly, humanitarianism. In American approach to international relations, liberalism is equated with Wilsonianism and is sometimes described as idealism (Mead, 2001).

These approaches to international relations are quite complex in their own terms. For example, for some analysts, especially for those from the left, realism is callous, cynical, and immoral, while political commentators from the right see realism as almost a pretext for isolationism. But as Andrew Bacevich (2005) points out, there is a distinctly American realism, championed by "prominent 20th-century public intellectuals such as the historian Charles Beard, the diplomat George Kennan, the journalist Walter Lippmann, and the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr," which can provide "a basis for seriously engaging the moral issues posed by international politics." This realism does not dismiss moral considerations altogether; rather, it realizes the limits of American power and its ability to project it. According to this theoretical approach, "world peace' is a chimera. Saving the world is God's work. The statesman's obligation is to avoid cataclysm and to place limits on the brutality to which humankind is prone" (Bacevich, 2005). Realism, in fact, may be mixed with liberalism (Starr, Tomasky, and Kuttner, 2005, p. 22), and this mixed approach has reflected the Obama foreign policy in the last two years.


No foreign policy issue perhaps was as controversial as was the Bush Administration's decision to go to war against Iraq in 2003 at least since the height of the anti-Vietnam war movements. There was initial broad support for American-led military campaign against Iraq in the United States, but there was widespread opposition among members of international community. Emboldened by a quick military victory over Taliban, and motivated by neo-conservative principles, however, the Bush Administration disregarded international concerns -- including those of world powers such as France, Germany, and Russia -- and chose the path of unilateralism. The Bush Administration's Iraq War policy sought greater authority and power in domestic spheres as well. The Administration's approach to foreign policy was illustrated in a letter sent to Alberto Gonzales by John Yoo, an official in the Justice Department. "Congress can no more interfere with the President's conduct of the interrogation of enemy combatants than it can dictate strategic or tactical decisions on the battlefield," Yoo wrote, speaking about the new interrogation policies adopted by the Administration. "Just as statuses that order the President to conduct warfare in a certain manner or for specific goals would be unconstitutional, so too are laws that seek to prevent the President from gaining the intelligence he believes necessary to prevent attacks upon the United States" (Radsan, 2010, p. 552).… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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