The Corner

Foreign Policy: Not So Much Change

Over at the Washington Post today, I comment on Robert Kagan’s argument that President Obama has largely continued the foreign policy he inherited.

I think the reason that people are missing the continuity in our foreign policy now is that they missed the discontinuity in foreign policy between Bush’s first and second terms.

Bush’s foreign policy was more constrained in the second term because of the commitments he had made in his first. The second Bush administration was much more interested in pursuing diplomatic solutions to the problems posed by North Korea and Iran, and less inclined to saber-rattling rhetoric.

Neither side in the campaign of 2008 could forthrightly acknowledge the evolution of Bush’s approach. Bush’s first-term foreign policy caused an intense negative reaction among liberals, and their attitude toward him was set in concrete at that time. Obama and the Democrats played off an outdated caricature. Senator McCain, meanwhile, could not acknowledge how much less aggressive Bush had become because it would have complicated his own efforts to portray Obama as a naive dove.

President Obama’s foreign policy so far resembles that of Bush from 2005 to 2009 rather than Bush from 2001 through 2005. Liberals may have been hoping for change and conservatives fearing it–but we got the change four years ago.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.