Wednesday, October 26, 2011

George H.W. Bush's good son

It seems clear America has had its fill of Bushes -- hence Jeb's conspicuous absence from a weak field of GOP presidential candidates challenging a vulnerable incumbent.

Bush Pere does have an heir, though -- a good son intent on restoring the 50-year American foreign policy consensus of which GHWB was arguably the apotheosis (as Robert Gates presents him in his memoir, From the Shadows).  His name is Barack Hussein Obama.

As Jay Leno put a bunch of softballs up on a tee for Obama last night, the President, while swatting a few victory drives, made it very clear that he saw himself restoring the old multilateral, America-first-among-equals tradition -- after a period of aberration presided over by Guess Who.

In fending off the "leading from behind" rap, Obama characterized the Libyan operation in terms that could be used to describe Bush Sr.'s conduct of the first Gulf War. My italics below (transcript here):

We lead from the front.  We introduced the resolution in the United Nations that allowed us to protect civilians in Libya when Gaddafi was threatening to slaughter them.  It was our extraordinary men and women in uniform, our pilots who took out their air defense systems, set up a no-fly zone.  It was our folks in NATO who were helping to coordinate the NATO operation there.And the difference here [difference from whom? Guess...] is we were able to organize the international community. We were able to get the U.N. mandate for the operation. We were able to get Arab countries involved. And so there was never this sense that  somehow we were unilaterally making a decision to take out somebody. Rather, it was the world community. And that's part of the reason why this whole thing only cost us a billion dollars --

So that's how to do it, the GHWB way.  As for how not to do it...
So I think Americans can rightly be proud that we have given Iraqis an opportunity to determine their own destiny, but I also think that policymakers and future Presidents need to understand what it is that we are getting ourselves into when we make some of these decisions.  And there might have been other ways for us to accomplish those same goals. 
Finally, invited by Leno to sing an extended ode to Hillary Clinton, which Obama delivered on demand, he then segued unbidden back to the subterranean Cold War consensus thread:
The entire national security team that we've had has been outstanding, and it's not just rivals within the Democratic party.  My Secretary of Defense, Bob Gates, is a Republican...He was a carryover from the Bush Administration. He made an outstanding contribution.  So I think one of the things that we have done is been able to restore a sense that whatever our politics, when it comes to our national security, when it comes to the national defense, everybody has to be on the same page.  And so the question now is, as we end the war in Iraq, it is time for us to rebuild this country, and can we get that same kind of cooperation when it comes to fixing what's wrong here?

To disrupt my thesis a bit, I must note that Obama cast Gates as a Bush Jr. holdover, stressing continuity there, whereas I think of Gates more as an import from the foreign policy team of Bush Sr. -- as he was for W., and a stabilizing one at that.  Gates was Brent Scowcroft's admiring deputy when Scowcroft was Bush Sr.'s National Security Advisor; Gates' memoir stresses both his own close working relationship with Scowcroft, and Scowcroft's with Bush ("I suspect  there has never been such a close personal bond between a President and his National Security Adviser" - From the Shadows,  p. 458). In any case, there's no doubt that Obama casts his multilateralism as a restoration of pre-Iraq War U.S. leadership.

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