Day 99, February 6, 2009



On the agenda weekend for the general is a high-level conference to be held in Germany this weekend, which will be attended by world leaders including the German chancellor herself, Angela Merkel. This time Obama will not be there, still the anticipation is high for the visit of his second-in-command, Vice President Joe Biden. For Biden will arrive in Europe for this weekend's Munich Security Conference bearing important news. WWOD? What will Obama do? For foreign policy at least.

Many have been calling for a change from the Bush years, and what they largely want is a departure from the ways of Texas Cowboy arrogance, antagonism and go-it-alone ways. But in an unusual article in the "Foreign Policy" magazine, suggestively named "The Making of George W Obama", the former chief speechwriter and policy advisor for Bush's second Secretary of State Christian Brose argues that the Obama foreign policy may not be that much a departure from the Bush one.

Even taking into consideration whatever bias he may have from his previous position, Brose does raise some interesting points.

"Obama will receive the baton on a multilateral negotiation with North Korea that has been and will be a frustrating marathon, but he will likely pick up where Bush leaves off, simply because there are no practical alternatives. On Iran, Obama will almost surely proceed with Bush’s policy of sticks and carrots that seeks a diplomatic solution—a third option between acquiescing to Iran’s behavior or attacking Iran to change it. To have a better chance of success, this policy will need sharper sticks and sweeter carrots, including the direct engagement Obama has advocated."

Even on the issue of the Middle East which the Bush administration has been often criticised for ignoring for too long - though this is a more accurate assessment of Bush's first than second term - Brose notes,

"A challenge for Obama will be to knit the Iraq endgame into a broader approach to the Middle East. But here, too, it likely won’t look all that different from Bush’s: support for an independent Lebanon; attempts to elicit responsible behavior from Syria; and security cooperation with Sunni Arab regimes that may not love freedom, but definitely hate what Iran, and al Qaeda, are doing to the region."

He argues that,

"The pragmatic internationalism that Bush will pass to Obama was largely defined through changes made during the past four years. And for that reason, there might be more continuity between the second term of Bush and the first term of Obama than between the two terms of Bush himself. This foreign policy is a valuable inheritance. And if Obama avoids spending his early years in office pursuing change for the sake of change—simply trying to disassociate himself from his predecessor, as Clinton and Bush too often did—he could create the makings of a new bipartisan consensus on foreign policy."

Of course recognising Brose's talent as a wordsmith, a lot of what he puts forth in the article especially the bits on US policy vis-a-vis Iraq, Afghanistan, China and Russia, can be construed as a "chicken-and-egg" argument. Is Obama merely continuing what has been put into place? Has the changes Brose talked about been implemented by the Bush administration?

For all its contentiousness, Brose's article is right on the money on one point.