Former President George W. Bush criticized his successor last week and of course it triggered a response from the White House.
During a closed-door event with Jewish Republican donors, Bush offered what is being called his “harshest public assessment” of President Barack Obama's foreign policies – mainly the ones pertaining to the Iran deal and fight against ISIS.
Almost two days later, Obama's chief spokesman Josh Earnest brushed off Bush’s criticism during his press briefing, saying the apparent difference in opinion shouldn’t really come as a surprise.
"The fact that President Bush has a different perspective and a different philosophy when it comes to foreign policy, isn't just a well-known difference [between them]," said Earnest. "In the minds of many people, it's the principle reason that President Obama is sitting in the Oval Office right now.”
While indeed Bush and his successor are clearly two distinct men who, evidently, follow different political ideologies, the argument here seems pointless – especially when it comes to foreign policy.
Obama’s election may have been a rebuke to eight years of open-ended warfare, however, nothing really changed much under his rule. In fact, an analysis of some core policies under both the administrations shows that Bush never really left office.
If there is one policy from the previous administration that Obama not only accepted wholeheartedly but also made more lethal is the United States’ drone program in the Middle East and the Asian subcontinent.
The first drone strike in U.S. history occurred in 2002, when a CIA-operated drone fired on three men in Afghanistan. There was a handful of such attacks under Bush.
However, the frequency of drone strikes increased drastically under Obama who – despite several reports that suggested the program was illegal and killed more civilians – went on with it and is still running it.
In 2005, The New York Times reported how “months after the Sept. 11 attacks,” President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to spy on Americans and others in the U.S. without the court-approved warrants as a counter-terrorism measure. It was an outrage, a scandal – but it was just the tip of the iceberg.
In 2013, whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed how Bush’s snooping program was nurtured under Obama and how the NSA and Government Communications Headquarters carried out mass surveillance at home as well as abroad.
The leaks cause a massive hue and cry initially, however, Obama, just like Bush, has managed to get away with it by imposing limited restraints on NSA spying.
“The twin pillars of Bush's record were counterterrorism policies and tax cuts,” wrote CNN’s Julian Zelizer – and under Obama’s watch these tax cuts for the middle class not only survived, they became permanent.
Although the Democratic Party opposed them initially, arguing the policy was “skewed to benefit the wealthy,” the cuts were endorsed when Obama came into power and later signed them into law in 2010, thereby providing an extension for two more years.
Despite the fact that they magnified the deficit, indeed benefited the rich only, and fueled income inequality, most of the Bush cuts – as they are now known – became a permanent part of the Obama administration via bipartisan agreement after 2012.
A 2001 report by a conservative think tank claimed that the cuts alone could help eliminate the U.S. national debt by fiscal year 2010. However, last year, an analysis published by Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter David Clay Johnston found that the cuts actually cost Americans $6.6 trillion in lost income between 2001 and 2012 – an amount “which would have been enough to pay off all the student loans in United States ($1.26 trillion), all the automobile loans ($892 billion) and all the credit card debt ($827 billion).”
Use of Torture
President Obama released an executive order in 2009 stating that any individual held by any U.S. government agency shall not be subjected to controversial torture techniques such as waterboarding. But documents and investigations by the Department of Defense and numerous human rights agencies revealed that the current Army Field Manual, contrary to the promises made by Obama, uses techniques that amount to torture.
Contrary to Bush’s proclamation of holding individuals indefinitely at the military detention camp in Cuba, Obama promised to close Guantánamo Bay within a year of taking office, in 2009. However, two terms down the lane, the promise remains unfulfilled.
In fact, under Obama’s administration detainees were subjected to force-feeding after they went on hunger strikes.
While the situation has not been aggravated in Gitmo as compared to Bush’s era, it has also not been solved. Many prisoners who have been declared not guilty remain behind bars at Guantanamo today.
An oft-cited argument is that Obama inherited a lot of problems from his predecessor, including the war on terror and a financial crisis and the fact that both him and Bush had to deal with post-9/11 realities, so there had to be some similarities between them.
However, Obama not only embraced but also nurtured a lot of predecessor’s Draconian polices – a choice that makes him no better, or worse – than Bush.