For years the conventional wisdom held that President Barack Obama has continued the national security policies of George W. Bush: drone strikes, secret surveillance measures and indefinite detention of terrorists.
Now, say some commentators, Obama’s war rhetoric is even sounding like Bush’s. Obama advocates preemptive war to prevent attacks on America by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, though the current thinking is that ISIS poses no imminent threat to the United States. Obama’s declaration that “if you threaten America you will find no safe haven” resonates with Bush’s assertion that “you’re either with us or against us.”
There was little doubt that when Bush spoke he meant it. In 2007 when the Iraq war appeared to be a losing cause and the politicians were urging him to get out, Bush would not accept defeat. He backed up his words by ordering a surge of 20,000 troops to the war zone that, in tandem with an “Arab awakening” of Sunnis disillusioned with the brutality of al-Qaida in Iraq, turned the conflict around and allowed Bush to hand off to Obama a relatively stable and promising situation in Baghdad.
Obama’s tough talk now is haunted by his refusal to keep U.S. troops in Iraq, his empty 2013 red-line threat against Syria, his commitment to getting America out of all wars no matter what, the mixed messaging from him and his advisers, and his own conduct of war policy.
Vice President Joseph Biden boasted of a “stable government” in Baghdad and “one of the great achievements of this administration” as Obama withdrew from Iraq. But Bush warned in 2007 that leaving Iraq would empower terrorists, lead to “mass killings on a horrific scale” and a situation “dangerous for Iraq, for the region and for the United States.” Which is where we are today.
Obama once called Iraq a “dumb” war. Americans now disillusioned with the war agree with that. But Obama’s decision to pull out all troops in 2011, squandering the gains made at such high cost in U.S. lives and treasure, also looks dumb now.