Continuity we can believe in
According to Dr. Timothy Lynch, a specialist in American politics, President Obama is not very different to his predecessor when it comes to foreign policy. Anders Pedersenreports.
He may have changed American domestic policy in several ways, but when it comes to foreign policy, the differences between president Obama and president Bush is limited.
Although many expected a true paradigm switch would appear as soon as Obama took office, this has not been the case, and it won’t be for as long as he is commander in chief.
According to professor Timothy Lynch from the University of Melbourne, who has written several books about American foreign policy, the 43rd and 44th presidents of the United States are on the same track when it comes to foreign policy.
“Despite a very pronounced anti-Bush rhetoric, he has actually adopted the central parts of the war on terror.”
“It’s not called that anymore, but in every major aspect, the course remains intact,” he says.
In his latest book After Bush, Lynch argues that whoever succeeded president Bush would not change the course of American foreign policy since it is generally based on consensus in Washington, and therefore not worth spending time on changing.
This is exactly the case with president Obama, he says.
“Obama got an easy ride in this field in 2008. His inexperience when it comes to national security was not questioned because he buys in to the war on terror. He said that the number one national security threat is not that terrorists will commit another 9/11 attack, but that the terrorists will take it to the next level and go nuclear.
“That is the number one national security priority of the United States. It’s not global hunger. It’s not China. It’s not the Middle East. It’s preventing the bad guys getting on to something worse than airplane tickets.”
Although many thought and hoped that Obama would set a new foreign policy as part of his election promise of change, this has not been the case.
According to Lynch, the belief that Obama would fundamentally change America’s foreign policy was misunderstood.
”We tend to think that Obama will fundamentally change foreign policy, but that won’t happen. In this area, he is not the ‘change we can believe in’ candidate.
“It’s about continuity. He really wasn’t running on ‘change we can believe in’ when it comes to foreign policy. He got elected because he promised ‘continuity we can believe in’.
“‘I think what George Bush is trying to do is appropriate. I will just try to do it in more effective ways. I will take the war to the enemy in more appropriate places.’ The notion that he would draw back or renegade American national security interests is absurd.”
Lynch says the way Obama is handling the economy is more important to American voters than the way he is dealing with foreign policy.
“Foreign policy won’t be a big part of the 2012 election…it rests on a fundamental consensus that no presidential candidate will bother to disrupt. There is no need to. The game changer is of course events, and a terrorist attack would of course change that.
”The debate in American politics is about deficit, it’s about jobs, and it’s about health care. As foreigners ourselves, we tend to think of foreign policy differently, but within America there is pretty much consensus about this.
“You don’t win national elections on the base of foreign policy. You lose them because of the economy… it is the economy that drives, and this is something we as foreigners often misunderstand.”
Although the election is more than a year away, Lynch predicts that if president Obama is re-elected next year, he will focus more on foreign policy than he did in his first term.
This is something that most re-elected presidents do in their second term, Lynch says.
“In the first term, the main focus is domestic, but once they are re-elected, it’s about legacy, and you make your legacy through international statesmanship. Clinton did this with Kosovo. And I would expect Obama to do the same. He already got the Nobel Peace Prize, but still.”
Lynch makes a final prediction about how future generations will see the contemporary American foreign policy in a hundred years from now.
“My prediction is that Obama will be seen as the logical progression from Bush. Just like Bush was from Clinton and Clinton from Bush Sr. They won’t talk about great interruptions in the course of American foreign policy.”
Americans will cast their votes on November 6, 2012.