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Bush’s Legacy: Pragmatic Internationalism?

January 6, 2009

Barack Obama’s foreign policy approach mirrors that of George W. Bush’s second term, according to Christian Brose, a chief speechwriter and policy advisor for Condoleezza Rice. “Pragmatic internationalism” are the words Brose uses to describe Bush’s second term.

Really, pragmatic internationalism. The arrival of Sec. Gates to Bush’s team as well as more cooperative engagement at international institutions has been a welcome improvement. Yet, I would argue the changes in Bush’s foreign policy have been out of necessity rather than enlightenment.

For instance, take Iran. With international support for the U.S. in the toilet, military action against Iran came off the table. The Bush Administration turned to the international organizations it had once chided for “failing to act” against Iraq to turn the heat on Iran. Pragmatic yes, but even more so would be real negotiations and normalization of ties, as advocated by five former Secretary’s of State.

On Middle East Peace, Brose says that” Obama will inherit a Middle East peace process finally proceeding on both tracks at once: state-building and peacemaking.” Oops! Must have written that part before the latest conflagration.

On Guantanamo, Brose says Obama will close this facility, something “some in the Bush Administration tried to do but couldn’t.” Rubbish.

On terrorism, Brose claims that the administration is now focused on “not just fighting terrorists but building conditions of security, opportunity and justice for societies that terrorists seek to radicalize.” This certainly would be a pragmatic position if only policies and funds supported this rhetoric.

In Somalia, for instance, military action and a green light for Ethiopia’s invasion was supported over any attempt to help rebuild this broken society.

Uncritical support for Musharraf’s existed even while he assaulted democracy and the rule of law in Pakistan. The bulk of assistance going to Pakistan is military and security aid, when it should be assistance for development and education as well as trade preferences.

Yet, the Administration has radically boosted foreign aid, a central tool to preventing terror, says Brose. The untold story is that the majority of the foreign aid increase has been for HIV/AID’s, security aid and politically motivated assistance. While Bush’s massive PEPFAR plan has helped treat millions, it hasn’t done a thing for preventing terrorism.

Development and human security based accounts have only seen a slight boost. The much heralded Millennium Challenge Corporation – a new institution designed to ensure accountability from recipient states – was created outside of U.S. aid structures, and confused an already entangled aid bureaucracy.

Brose’s central contention, that Obama’s foreign policy, will look like Mr. Bush’s second term remains unknown. Some things will stay the same. Gates will remain. Obama will likely to continue to fund U.S. soft power tools. Troops will remain in Iraq and Afghanistan for some time. But, on issues like engagement with Iran, Darfur, climate change, I think we will see a big difference — real leadership.

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