“Un-Bush” Not Enough

Despite recent acts of maturity in regard to America’s foreign relations — such as shaking hands with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez at the Summit of the Americas, drawing universal condemnation from his neoconservative critics for his “un-Bush”-like actions — there is something missing from President Obama’s overall foreign policy strategy.

This missing element is important, but has been hard to pinpoint.  Boston University international relations Professor Andrew Bacevich, in a recent commentary on CNN.com, asserts that the quality lacking in President Obama’s foreign policy is, what President George H.W. Bush referred to as, “the vision thing.”

Bacevich lays out three questions the Obama administration needs to reconcile in finding its version of “the vision thing”:

First, what defines the current hierarchy of U.S. security interests? To what degree does that hierarchy take into account non-traditional or previously secondary concerns such as climate change, international organized crime and demography? Where does Islamic radicalism, George W. Bush’s obsession, fall in that hierarchy? Absent clearly defined priorities, strategy inevitably takes a back seat to improvisation.

Second, with the United States today overstretched, debt-strapped and facing the prospect of prolonged economic distress, does the concept of “American global leadership” still retain any salience? If so, what exactly does that phrase mean? If the concept has become obsolete, what then defines the proper U.S. role in the international order?

Parting with old clichés (We’re No. 1!) is never easy, yet clinging to them when they’ve outlived their usefulness fosters self-deception. Today we can no longer afford to indulge in delusions about ourselves or others. We need to see things as they really are.

Third, given the frustrations and failures of recent American wars, what exactly is it that we should look to our military to do? Does the Pentagon’s sacred trinity of global presence, global power projection capabilities and global activism still make sense?”

For those not familiar with Bacevich, he is the author of several books, with the most recent — and perhaps most prescient — being last year’s The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism.

His entire commentary can be read here.

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