One of the most common criticisms of Obama from the left is that his foreign policy is not discernibly all that different from that of late period George W. Bush–Guantanamo was never closed, Obama employed a surge strategy in Afghanistan, drone attacks were used, troop numbers continued to decline in Iraq, it all felt, and perhaps it all feels, as though nothing has changed. At the same time, many on the left like to argue that, were Kerry or Gore elected, things would have been quite different, that Bush was discernibly distinct from Clinton. The historical record shows this to be false–Bush’s foreign policy amounted to a mere evolution of Clinton’s military interventionism and embrace of the democratic peace theory, the notion that democracies promote peace and prosperity and that, consequently, democracy should be spread to foreign lands. It’s not as if the interventions in Somalia and Yugoslavia during the nineties were motived in any way significantly differently from the reasoning eventually supplied for the occupation of Iraq–spreading freedom, ending tyranny, and so on down the line. Of course, when these people were running for office, they talked a different game. They tried to draw distinction from their predecessors and purported to offer a serious foreign policy alternative–Mitt Romney as we recall attempted this very line of argument. So why is it that our presidents get assimilated into the foreign policy borg and adopt policies that are, for the most part, quite similar to those adopted by their predecessors? That’s today’s topic of investigation.
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