It’s All in the Execution

I enjoyed the speech today immensely.

What I’m not understanding is this attack/compliment that the President’s remarks today “could easily have been delivered by George W. Bush” Well, not with all the words pronounced correctly. That’s besides the point though.

The crux of this argument, summarized well here, seems to be that the President’s endorsement of the “story of self-determination” represents in itself either support or vindication for the foreign policy of the second Bush White House. This contention seems to rest on the argument that much of the rhetoric utilized by “43” and “44” in speaking to and about the Middle East is similar. It’s hard not to dispute this, but also hard to draw from it some grand statement about either Presidency and its policies towards the region.

One commentator singled out the President’s emphasis on democracy as evidence of a new tie between the two Presidents. Really? Remind me, which President said, “we are deeply saddened by the spread of democracy from beyond our shores into the wider world?” None. Every President supports self-government – especially in the democratic form – around the world, and nearly every one says so. To somehow assert that President Bush has the franchise on White House support for developing democracies – and thus Presidents that support them are also supporting him – is just plain disingenuous.

Moreover, while the shared affinity for democratic self-government of Presidents Bush and Obama (and Washington through Clinton, too) may have been on display today, I noticed one significant change. While President Bush’s foreign policy focused on institutions and governments, grasstop foreign policy if you will, as in his Second Inaugural Address:

We will encourage reform in other governments by making clear that success in our relations will require the decent treatment of their own people.

President Obama seems much more interested in supporting and defending the citizenry, grassroots if you will, as in the speech today:

In too many countries, a citizen like that young vendor had nowhere to turn  -– no honest judiciary to hear his case; no independent media to give him voice; no credible political party to represent his views; no free and fair election where he could choose his leader.

Both Presidents, obviously, have lapsed into the other camp. President Bush alludes to the “dissidents” in his second Inaugural, and President Obama has obviously made it clear that he is willing to attack tyrannical governments and institutions if need be. However, their main focuses as it relates to developing democracies are as clear as they are opposite.

That said, all of this is about how the man in the Oval Office chooses to execute these policies, not how he articulates them.  President Bush chose to execute his policy emphasis on expanding democracy by using the power of our military to bring down rogue governments, a notion to which in good conscience I cannot completely object. President Obama, on the other hand, has chosen to execute that same emphasis by using the US as a protector of marchers and protestors around the world who are standing up to dictatorial leaders, a notion for which in good conscience I can do little less than cheer. Not only is it sensible in a time of austerity, it is humble and helpful at a time when the US needs to improve its image abroad while simultaneously continuing its mission to eradicate individuals and groups in the Middle East that work against its interests.

If that means the President and I – and hopefully a few other people – support an expansion of some of the principles articulated by President Bush, fine. Let’s just hope it works.


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