Jonah, the difference between the Obama and Bush core assumptions is that Bush recognized, at least in his first term, the problem of Islamist ideology whereas Obama chooses to ignore it.
The basis of my conservation with my interlocator was my recent article on the situation in Pakistan in which I criticized the administration for its focus on economic root causes and not for understanding that the Taliban exist not because of the problem of land reform in the Swat Valley, but because of a radical ideology.
My criticism with the Bush administration, which made me persona non grata with them back in 2004 and until its very end, was both its inconsistency — whatever the policy, when the gap between it and presidential rhetoric grows too deep, we hemorrhage credibility — and the simplism with which Condoleezza Rice embraced elections while ignoring rule of law (e.g. her failure to realize that elections cannot be legitimate when political parties control militias). I also argued long ago — and stand by the same arguments today — that we can embrace democratization while not being blind to the massive impact which election design has in whether liberalism benefits, or whether Islamists can take advantage of the system for their benefit.
I’d still argue against those who would argue that there is a cultural impediment to democracy in the Middle East (I see the issue as more one of rule of law in the Middle East, given the number of Arabs and Muslims who emigrate and have no cultural problem with democracy in Western countries) and accept the basic argument that supporting autocracy is as corrosive to our security in the long-term, that we mustn’t get caught up in assuming the only two options are autocracies and Islamism, but that we have to help promote liberalism in the center.