Bush's Foreign Policy; for the Next Commander in Chief

Article excerpt


This time next week, the U.S. presidential election will be over, and we will know the name of the next commander in chief. (This is barring the possibility of the courts getting involved in the electoral process again, of course.) Whether we will be looking at a McCain or Obama presidency, the world will be watching expectantly for new foreign-policy directions to come.

Nov. 6 will also mark the end of the George W. Bush era in foreign-policy. Little attention has been paid to the Bush administration in recent months, the cold reality of power changing hands. This has been exacerbated by the fact that both candidates are running against him. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has successfully tagged his opponent with representing a third Bush term, which has caused Republican candidate John McCain to redouble his efforts to put daylight between him and Mr. Bush.

It is clear, however, that Mr. Bush's foreign policy legacy will be a more nuanced legacy than any of Mr. Bush's critics at home or abroad are willing to acknowledge. Over the past eight years there have been extraordinary highs and lows, and a good deal in between.

The global war on terror will inevitably frame the Bush presidency in history's eyes. Following September 11, preventing another attack on American soil became the overriding priority for Mr. Bush. Though it meant following a course that was derided abroad and often criticized at home, Mr. Bush was steadfast in the most important trust any president has, the safety of his citizens. That safety came at the price of the invasion of two foreign countries, Afghanistan and Iraq, and unpopular and contentious political decisions such as opening Guantanamo Bay or passing the Patriot Act.

Whether Mr. Bush succeeded in his vastly ambitious second major foreign-policy goal, remaking the Middle East, is more doubtful. If Iraq continues on a positive path, it could have transformational consequences as a major Middle Eastern, oil-producing democracy. If Iraq fails, possibly because a President Obama disengages prematurely, there will be little to show for the Bush legacy in the Middle East. In Afghanistan, that legacy is already in doubt, and America's troubled ally Pakistan has experienced only the most halting progress in rooting out terrorist breeding grounds. …