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NOTE: The Nonexistent Obama-Bush Doctrine

Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen recently wrote:

When Barack Obama hosts George W. Bush at the White House today for the unveiling of Bush’s presidential portrait, the 44th president will have to find something nice to say about the 43rd. Perhaps Obama could point out that the two men’s counterterrorism policies are virtually indistinguishable — except in the liberal reaction to them.

However, when reading through the details of his argument, it becomes clear that Thiessen’s facts are a bit fishy (as are his conceptions of the laws of war). He focuses most of his argument on the drone-warfare policies of the two Presidencies, but fails to note that while the drones were initially developed under Bush’s watch, very few of the drone strikes were carried out by him. He says:

Most conservatives support Obama’s drone strategy. And apparently so do most liberals. A Post poll earlier this year found that 77 percent of self-described liberals support drone strikes, and 55 percent approve even if the targets are American citizens. This may be the greatest bipartisan achievement of Obama’s presidency: He has secured broad liberal support for the key elements of the Bush doctrine. That is an accomplishment that was unthinkable when Bush was in office — and one I suspect Obama will leave out of his remarks at the White House today.

However, it is amply clear that drones played little if any part in the Bush Doctrine. Simply stated, this doctrine involved preemptive strikes to topple possible foes with little follow-through once the regime had fallen. Drones were used in each of the wars that Bush began under this doctrine, but were in no way integral to it. They are, however, indispensable to the Obama administration’s conduct of a remote war with al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan. Thus, Obama’s heavy reliance on drone operations reflects a significant departure from Bush-era policies.

Indeed, the two mens’ policies on Afghanistan and Iraq could not have been further apart: Bush ignored Afghanistan in favor of a war in Iraq, then under-resourced both; Obama has faithfully followed a surge and withdraw policy in both. Additionally, as Thiessen himself hints at, the two administrations approaches to interrogation and legal process are significantly at odds. Obama’s rejection of the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” and his attempt (foiled by Republicans in Congress) to close Guantanamo and bring terrorist back under the jurisdiction of the Department of Justice, need only be pointed out to persuade the reader that the two administrations differ remarkably in terms of their counterterrorism policies.

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