US Foreign Policy, Essay Example

The change in Presidential authority from two-term President George W. Bush and two-term president Barack Obama  has been one which shows a significant shift in U.S. foreign policy. The Bush-era of American foreign policy saw the emergence of a multi-front war based on the idea of using preventative force to abolish the threat of global terrorism. This approach, widely known as the “Bush Doctrine” resulted in American ground troops being deployed in vast numbers in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Many people now believe that the ground invasion of Iraq was a military mistake which was predicated on the political dishonesty of the Bush administration. By contrast, President Obama’s foreign policy has been marked three significant characteristics: first, the drawing down of American ground forces all around the world, but specifically in Iraq and Afghanistan, second, the adoption of a policy of active diplomatic engagement aimed at preventing military intervention or escalation, and third, the massive expansion of the so-called drone-war, where unmanned aircraft are being used to target and kill terrorists, some of whom have been American citizens, living abroad.

In order to fully understand the radical shift in foreign policy that has taken place since the changing of administrations, it is necessary to first consider the conduct of each President in regard to the war on terror. This is due to the fact that the threat of global terrorism has exerted a primary influence over the defining of American foreign policy since 9-11, and arguable since President Clinton’s second term. To say that American foreign policy is preoccupied with the threat of terrorism is no exaggeration; in fact, it is correct to assume that the issue of foreign and domestic terrorism are vital considerations that are taken  into account in a comprehensive way in regard to the determination of American foreign policy.

This latter statement is as true for the Obama administration as it was for the administration of George W. Bush.  This fact may be one of the most significant instances of where the two administrations agree because in each case, the entirety of the administration’s strategy toward foreign policy is built around this single issue. Another similarity,a s the following discussion will show, is that both Bush and Obama faced a rapidly changing set of tactical and strategic paradigms not only in war, but in diplomacy, during their terms. A third similarity is that each administration tested the traditional legal boundaries in terms of their foreign policy and most especially in their respective conducting of the war on terrorism. while Obama is likely to remain in a controversy for his escalation of drone-strikes, Bush will certainly be remembered in a  controversial fashion for his initiation of the Bush Doctrine.

According to Delahunty and Yoo’s article “The “Bush Doctrine”: Can Preventive War Be Justified?” (2002) the Bush Doctrine is not only a defensible foreign policy, but one which emerges out of a similar tradition of foreign policy that has been implemented throughout America’s history. The article, which is highly supportive of the Bush Doctrine, defines this type of foreign policy as being preventative in purpose. The article remarks that under the Bush Doctrine, the use of first-strike capacity by the military is justifiable. The authors write that “Given the goals of rogue states and terrorists, the United States can no longer solely rely on a reactive posture as we have in the past […]. the magnitude of potential harm that could be caused by our adversaries’ choice of weapons, do not permit that option.” (Delahunty & Yoo, 2009). Obviously because the Bush Doctrine includes allies of America under its scope of protection, nearly every region of the world falls under the designation of being an ally or a “rouge state.”

This shows that the foreign policy that was pursued by Bush was largely an outgrowth of the Bush conception of American military jurisdiction. Similarly, because Bush believed in waging preventative wars in distant countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan, the Bush administration can be correctly criticized for over-estimating the capacity and needs of the American military itself. the war on terror, enacted as a ground-occupation of two separate foreign countries proved to be too much of a strain on the American military, particularly in Afghanistan where the long occupation resulted in a proliferation of resentment against Americans and a steadily rising body-count. Even Delhunty and Yoo concede that there is a difference between “a preventive war undertaken to protect American or allied civilian populations from an emerging threat that weapons of mass destruction” (Delahunty & Yoo, 2009) and a war that is based in “democratizing” a foreign nation.

The idea of preventative war should be approached rationally, rather than idealistically. According to Delahunty and Yoo. “the preventive use of force in the situations in question should be proportionate to the threat to which it is addressed” (Delahunty & Yoo, 2009). Under this specific definition, there is no doubt that the Bush-led war in Iraq was a foreign policy blunder and a misuse of American military power. As such, the over-reach by the military and the drastic narrowing of foreign policy objectives inherent in the Bush Doctrine resulted in a lowering of American prestige and influence on the global, diplomatic and economic fronts. Also, the deterrent effect if America’s military superiority was compromised by the Bush administration. Although much more could be said about the destructive results of Bush’s foreign policy, the previously mentioned points are enough to give a good insight into the foreign policy and military quagmire that the Obama administration inherited from Bush.

Understanding the difference between foreign policy under Bush and foreign policy under Obama means no less than acknowledging a sea-change in the entire way that America’s foreign policy is carried out. In the article “Obama’s Foreign Policy” (2012), D. Shorr writes that Obama’s strategy in foreign policy emerges out of a global rather than national perspective. he insists that Obama’s vision of foreign policy is the diplomacy and engagement should take a higher level of precedence than military intervention. In fact, according to Short, Obama’s foreign policy begins with the ambition of disengaging the American military from foreign interventions, specifically by removing ground-troops from Iraqi and Afghanistan.

Shore describes Obama’s foreign policy as being “universal rather than particular to our own country”  and insists that globalism is essential to any effective foreign policy. Shorr reminds us that in an international sense all countries are connected. therefore, according to Obama’s foreign policy:  “global challenges like economic growth or climate change” should be a shared responsibility between all nations because “all of us will live with the consequences” (Shorr, 2012)  of whatever actions of non-actions are brought to bear on the issue at hand. This point of view could not be any more of an abrupt change from the Bush Doctrine. Obama’s foreign policy has a starting-point that is absolutely opposed to the starting point advocated by the Bush Doctrine. Where Bush saw the issue of the safety of the U.S. and its allies as being in an innate war with the rest of the world, Obama views the world as being interconnected and therefore universally responsible.

Bush tended to view foreign policy as an extension of military force. Obama, by contrast tends to view military force as one arm of an overall, highly complex foreign policy that  is situationally disposed and prosecuted but has consist underlying policies. Just as international cooperation is one part of the Obama approach to foreign policy, another aspect of it is the withdrawing of ground troops from occupying foreign countries. In place of ground troops, the Obama administration has enacted a policy of military force that emphasized precision targeting and also resorts to the widespread use of unmanned drones to carry out attacks against terrorist groups in foreign countries.  The use of drones continues to be controversial in terms of both international and domestic implication. A recent newspaper report observes that “President Obama’s practice of killing purported terrorists with airborne drone strikes overseas has ventured into uncharted legal territory.” (“Attack of the Obama,” 2013, p. B02). Only the future will tell whether or not the use of drones is a long-term advantage to u.S. interests.

One thing is certain about the Obama vision of foreign policy is that it has been effective both on the diplomatic and military fronts. In the article “Drone War Legal” (2010) the effectiveness of the drone campaign is described. the article mentions that “Missile strikes by remotely piloted Predators and other UAVs emerged in recent months as a highly effective weapon for the military and CIA, and one that inflicted heavy losses on al Qaeda”  (“Drone War Legal,” 2010, p. A07). in fact, many observers have credited the use of drones as the pivotal turning point in the war on terror. American ground troops have been systematically removed while drone strikes and special forces continue to hunt down terrorists across the glove.         Obviously, the use of drones and special forces by the Obama administration  is a controversial policy. The degree of controversy has only increased over Obama’s second term. the administration does offer specific parameters to its use of drones. As the article suggests “The Obama administration adopted several law of war principles that include limiting attacks to military objectives, and making sure attacks cause few civilian casualties and damage” (“Drone War Legal,” 2010, p. A07). however, these assurances have done very little to assuage critics of the administration’s use of targeted strikes.


Attack of the Obama Drones; Killing of Americans Overseas Demands Oversight. (2013, February 7). The Washington Times (Washington, DC), p. B02.

Delahunty, R. J., & Yoo, J. C. (2009). The “Bush Doctrine”: Can Preventive War Be Justified? Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, 32(3), 843+

Drone War Legal. (2010, April 1). The Washington Times (Washington, DC), p. A07.

Shorr, D. (2012). Obama’s Foreign Policy. Policy Review, 176, 102+