The ABBs of foreign policy

Obama is inheriting a changing global arena in which Bush’s policy is still relevant.

History tends to be more objective in its treatment of controversial figures. Without doubt, todayâÄôs popular perception of George W. BushâÄôs foreign policy legacy has hints of sensationalism to it. The Bush Doctrine really only existed in his first term, and his administration walked away from it all throughout the second. Francis Fukuyama , the erstwhile neo-conservative, in his 1992 book, âÄúThe End of History and the Last Man,âÄù aptly outlined the hubris that drove those first few years of BushâÄôs administration. With the United States as the sole, overwhelming superpower, it had the power to remake the world. Neo-conservatism, a school of thought concerned about national greatness that very few Bush officials identified with, is now a pejorative label for everything loathed about the lone cowboy. The world is now much different than in 2000. Not only has America taken a hit to its image, other powers have also been steadily rising. Robert Kagan , one of the more prolific foreign policy intellectuals, has a new book titled, âÄúThe Return of History and the End of Dreams,âÄù in which he argues that the global power structure now resembles the multipolar struggle of the 19th century. President Obama has, along with a weak economy, inherited quite a burden. Now that the new administration is in place, former Bush administration officials, none high ranking, have been speaking of what they felt had gone wrong. One of those was the poor collaboration between Bill ClintonâÄôs outgoing administration and BushâÄôs incoming one. Some feel this factor led to the overlooking of al-Qaida activity. Regardless, there was a pervasive âÄúABCâÄù attitude (Anything But Clinton). With terrible irony, one of BushâÄôs platforms for the 2000 election was âÄúno nation-building,âÄù reflecting conservative distaste for American involvement in the Balkans during the 1990s. It would be a mistake if Obama allowed an âÄúABBâÄù (Anything But Bush) attitude to influence the new American foreign policy. So far, that has been the case, though to the chagrin of ObamaâÄôs more leftist supporters. If anything, it reflects the pragmatic and intellectual side of Obama that was so appealing to many during the election. In many ways, his hands are tied over Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Looming elections mean the Iranian government will be busy posturing and certainly not willing to compromise with America. The Iraq war effort, false pretenses aside, suffered greatly when the concerns of military leaders regarding troop strength were ignored. Now that the goal is to facilitate an expedient withdrawal, due deference must be given to field commanders as the drawdown proceeds. It was part blind ideology that marched America into Iraq. More will not march it out. A strategic review of the war in Afghanistan âÄî and, by extension, Pakistan âÄî is now underway. With global public opinion in ObamaâÄôs favor, the administration is pushing for greater commitment from NATO in Afghanistan. Speaking at the Munich Security Conference last weekend, Joe Biden delivered an incisive speech that realistically separated the ambitions of the Obama administration from its predecessor. He invoked memes from the Founding Fathers. He also began to mend a tear in the transatlantic alliance that Bush had silently torn with the gap between American rhetoric and policy. Conservatives have always been wary of international institutions that do not serve an immediate strategic purpose. Some see NATO as an attempt by Europe to get America to play the worldâÄôs policeman, and that was a view the Bush administration shared. All but five NATO nations meet the minimum defense spending required by members (2 percent of GDP). During the Kosovo campaign in 1999, NATO commanders began to refer to Americans as the âÄúAâÄù team, with Europe as the âÄúBâÄù team. Some American officials have, somewhat unfairly, voiced similar concern about the same problem in Afghanistan with ground forces. Some take that disparity as proof of a passive Europe. Yet it is likely that the tremendous American military might, coupled with the end of the Cold War, allowed EuropeâÄôs defense maintenance to lax. BidenâÄôs call for the need to recognize shared security between America and Europe has broad relevance. In November, BritainâÄôs Foreign Secretary David Miliband remarked that what is now ObamaâÄôs first term is the last chance for the Americans and Europeans to forge a global agenda before the influence of the rising eastern powers of China and India, who do not share Western cultural values, becomes entrenched. Extremism should be foremost among such an agenda. Europe has dealt with it more at home than America. Afghan opium frequently finds its ways into European cities. And a nuclear Pakistani state that is categorically weak should worry any country. Yet many Europeans see Afghanistan as AmericaâÄôs war, never mind NATO commitments. Leaders from the Euro area would not comment on whether they would accede to BidenâÄôs requests. Positively, France seeks a greater role in NATO. But greater American appreciation for European interests commands a reciprocal response that may be beneficial and reinforcing. Russia has been actively seeking to assert its relevance in Europe and central-Caucasian countries. No, RussiaâÄôs use of its energy pipelines as a geopolitical tool of dividing European nations has proven a problem far too great for Europe to respond to thus far. St. JamesâÄô Street welcomes comments at [email protected]