Over the weekend, as the Obama pilgrimage to the Middle East was the only news worth discussing, pundits favorable to Obama attempted to capture the junior senator's foreign policy philosophy. "Realism" was the byword, and comparison to the first Bush presidency, George H. W. Bush, him of the first Iraq War, was the order of the day. So opined Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria.
It all sounds great: Bush I was "realistic" and so restrained, disinclined to overplay his hand, opposed to unnecessarily military intervention, and above all committed to international coalitions. Bush II, by contrast, is "idealistic" in a bad, neo-con way, and so patently rash and aggressive, near Manichean in his indiscriminate use of "evil" as a geopolitical label.
We are not impressed. Bush I was an able president who fought Saddam effectively with a big coalition. He also stopped short of ending Saddam's reign of terror. Worse, his actions encouraged Kurds in the north and Shiites in the south to try to overthrow their tyrant ruler, with genocide as the result when he refused, even with legal warrant from the terms of Saddam's military capitulation, to stop it.
What Bush II seems to have learned from that is that sometimes you can't leave the tyrant in place. Was that not a lesson well learned?
It seems to us that Obama's embrace of Bush I is little more than a way to affect a centrist appearance while at the same time continuing to say that we shouldn't have invaded Iraq. That's not a philosophy of international relations. It's a political calculation. And it tells us little about how Obama would respond to the crises that will develop during his own administration.