April 21st, 2009
09:23 AM ET

President Obama can’t just be the “un-Bush”

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/04/20/art.bocheney0420.gi.jpg]

Andrew J. Bacevich
Special to CNN

At every stop during his recent trips abroad, President Obama went out of his way to assure observers that he is the un-Bush: a pragmatist rather than an ideologue, with both his feet firmly planted in the reality-based world.

To yesterday's untouchables, like Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, the cordial Obama offers smiles and handshakes. Although all to the good, this falls well short of being good enough.

Pragmatism devoid of principle provides an inadequate basis for coherent strategy. At the end of the day, there is no avoiding what the elder George Bush once called "the vision thing": a conception of how the world works, where it is headed and the role the United States should play in getting it there.

Obama's sympathetic nod to "soft power" and willingness to listen rather than preach do not qualify as that vision. Nor does his pledge to engage the Islamic world in respectful dialogue while working toward the abolition of nuclear weapons. They are at best markers that may suggest the outlines of something larger.

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soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. Eugene Dunn, Medford, NY


    How is it that former Vice President Dick Cheney is giving interviews on Fox News, criticizing President Obama, and there's not a finger of retaliation lifted against him? Moreover, how is this man not in jail???
    For five years prominent members of the Democratic party, aided by the media and groups such as Moveon.org and Media Matters, have screeched that the Bush/Cheney administration "misled" us to war in Iraq; a war that's been labeled, "illegal," "immoral," "unjustified" and "unnecessary." A war in which the allegation has been made that the administration personally benefited financially. Is there no greater crime than that?
    As I see it, this is by far the worst violation of trust and abuse of power in American presidential history. How is this war criminal Dick Cheney, who according to Bob Woodward advised President Bush to pull the trigger on Iraq six months before he did without any consent from the United Nations, allowed to still walk around a free man, much less have the unmitigated gall to criticize our beloved new president that has been the darling of the world since taking office?
    With these charges still fresh in my memory, how do the Democrats, who have a stranglehold on power in Washington, not press charges against Cheney and Bush for what is clearly crimes against humanity? Now that they ample political capital on their side, how do they not back up their years-long incendiary rhetoric with criminal charges?
    Dick Cheney is going around giving critical interviews, not going quietly into the night, thumbing his nose at the Democrats who hold him in such contempt and instead of starting the process to put this war criminal in jail, the Democrats just sit there and take it.
    This is a disgrace! As an American citizen who believes every word that the left wing has charged against the Bush administration, that they "took us to war under false pretenses," I can't believe I have to be the one who bangs the war drums for charges to be brought against them. I demand a Watergate-like Congressional investigation. I demand that Bush & Co. are held accountable for their crimes. And I demand the American people hold the Democrats' feet to the fire on this issue until we finally get to the bottom of it!
    In our democracy where no one is allegedly above the law, why would anyone–particularly the Democratic Party members who were so adamant about these charges for so long–be afraid or against this?

    April 21, 2009 at 4:23 pm |
  2. Mike Syracuse, NY

    @Justin, for the billionth time, terrorists in GITMO are not POWs and therefore are NOT covered under the Geneva Convention. Nor are they covered under the US Constitution.

    @Sue, is the world safer? Lets see, after Obama tells them not to, North Korea launches a missile with range to hit the US. The next day Obama cancels the US missile defense program. After Obama's outreach to them, the President of Iran goes on a racist rant against Israel. Pirates start seizing US flag vessels for the first time in 200 years. Immigration officials seize 12 Mexicans working illegally in the US and prepares to deport them. The next day Obama's Secretary of HLS overrules the law and issues them work permits. No, I can honestly say we are not safer now.

    April 21, 2009 at 4:10 pm |
  3. s Norman

    It is easy to set back and critized Bush now but I am gald he was in the white house when 9/11 happened becaused if Obama had been there he would just open the country to the terrorists and said come on in. If Bush had not acted as he did we would be pulling bodies off our streets now instead of Iraq or the other countries where the American are being considered as week and ass kissing like we are doing now.I know Mr. Obama thinks he is the great savior but I got news for him, the Lord above will soon take care of everything because we have gone from a nation of honor and trusting in God to a nation of infidels.

    April 21, 2009 at 3:02 pm |
  4. penny

    "Looking back means looking at a president who rode the SHORT BUS for 8 YEARS. You do have to reap what you sow. Now Republicans are worried about leaving their children in debt. The Republicans are known for cheap fiscal spending. They went cheap and voted for the SHORT BUS version eight years. Look what Happen!! They say teach someone how to fish and he will eat for days. Educate the children to learn innovative ways to survive during this down time instead of degrading the PRESIDENT. With all due respect the ones who are talking couldnot do any better."
    "There were no thought processes or Rule of Law that Bush prepared, for the tactics for interrogation. He only used his gun toting swagga and Cheney that continues to shroud his administration even today. Obama probably knows not to look down on A president who rode thw SHORT BUS. It's the humane thing to do and try to move forward"

    April 21, 2009 at 2:57 pm |
  5. Tracy Solomon

    President Obama has shown in many ways a great deal of respect for those who have held office before him. His differences in leadership and relationships with other world leaders seems to come from much thought and having observed what should be changed, improved upon, or left the same from the past. President Obama has leadership qualities and teamwork abilities that will allow this country to succeed in efforts as long as we keep going forward and not focus on an attitude of "settling" or keep questioning how impossible things may seem.

    "Whether you think that you can, or that you can't, you are usually right." Henry Ford.

    Tracy Solomon

    April 21, 2009 at 2:51 pm |
  6. dina212

    He can't JUST be the un-Bush? .... but that's a good place for him to start.

    April 21, 2009 at 2:05 pm |
  7. JC- Los Angeles

    As an Independent who voted for Barack Obama, what has always been troubling is the fact that if Barack Obama was a true agent of change, how come he didn't change Chicago's corrupt political machine?

    Rather than enact change in Chicago, he thrived in the cesspool; unfortunately, President Bush left President Obama with a lot to clean up and America is counting on him to do a better job than the one he did in Chicago.

    While the mainstream media helped get President Obama elected, it will be fascinating to see if they stay in his corner during his fireside chats with Iran over their desire to wipe out Israel.

    Unless President Obama makes the first punch count, he may end up like countless mortgage loans; you knew he didn't really qualify but we approved him nonetheless.

    April 21, 2009 at 1:41 pm |
  8. Diane from Ocala FL

    While we were in the closet shaking in our shoes, they were out there pulling the wool over our eyes while feeding us more lies to keep us shaking in the closet..........

    Sorry – its called internet and computer lag..........

    April 21, 2009 at 1:34 pm |
  9. Diane from Ocala FL

    This is about people not having a secretive power any more. Mr. Cheney, Mr. Rove, Ms. Rice, all had their puppet in power and now he is not there any more. I don't care how many college degrees one may have, or how you justify last 8 years............the bottom line is we didn't get into this mess we are currently in because Barack Obama walked in the White House. It has taken years of bad policy and bad decisions to get us in this place of dishonor, financial ruin, and mistrust. There is no SUPER anything any more. We have horrible health care in this country. Our cherished Capitalistic Health Care System has ruined and "killed" hundreds of thousands based on greed. The way we do business has failed – yes, failed. Our financial structure is in ruins................... Don't you think its time to question those that made these mistakes? Don't you think its time to realize that being scared in a closet because Dick Cheney tells you to is over? While we were in the closet shaking in our shoes, they were out there pulling the wool over our eyes while feeding us more lies to keeo

    Its over, its done. Mr. Cheney – seriously, go hunting!!! We don't want to hear your views any more.

    April 21, 2009 at 1:31 pm |
  10. Sue, Billerica

    I think unBush is just what we need about now. Ask yourself has the world gotten any safer, or do you feel like me that it has become a much scarier place, where we have black and white cartoon enemies... maybe treating even someone who hates us like a human being even if he is hasn't done the same to us and others, maybe it is the turn the other cheek, love your enemies aproach that all us Christians supposedly claim to follow Jesus' urgings for us to do... maybe just maybe if just once in the history of mankind, someone in power like Obama, actually tried that "divine" strategy that God supposedly sent his only son and allowed him to die a tortuous crucifiction to bring us that message, so maybe we owe it to God and Jesus to let Obama try this turn the other cheek and love your enemies since this eye for an eye and hate your enemies has brought us a world full of hate and terror and war and bias and fear... lets give Jesus a chance and follow him just this once while we have perhaps our last chance for a leader who might just pull it off?

    April 21, 2009 at 1:25 pm |
  11. Justin

    I've been reading much about President Obama not acting "outraged" enough when dealing with foreign leaders like Hugo Chavez. Why has no one criticized him for not being outraged about America's enemies at home? The Bush administration has admitted to a list of violations of the Geneva Convention. Chavez harshly criticized this country when we continued to elect an administration who had no problem violating human rights. Good for him! Someone needed to say it. We can't control the rest of the world, but we can make an attempt here. I am proud that we finally have a President who looks to correcting our mistakes before blaming others.

    April 21, 2009 at 1:18 pm |
  12. Daniel Simpson

    Who's in control,we all know America isn't being run by a dictatorship,,So will the true leader's ,please standup..Its time Americans know The Truth?

    April 21, 2009 at 1:06 pm |
  13. Mari

    @ Michael C. McHugh.......... Well said, sir! For Americans to think we are entitled because we are a "superpower" or that we are "perfect" because we are the U.S. of A.......... is ludicrous!

    One of the reasons that Bush was so despised was his arrogance! He really believed that if he invaded Iraq, Iraqis would embrace America and welcome democracy! Ignoring the facts of Iraq's long history of ethnic hate.

    President Obama's approach is the total opposite of Bush's. And the far-right-fear-mongers do not "get it" never will. Conservatives believe in might, in the sword, in war! However, America has clearly shifted to the moderate middle, thus, Obama was elected partially because he signifies a change in the way the U.S. will deal with the World, and our enemies, as well, as our allies.

    The conservatives will never approve of intelligent,fair and civil diplomacy. That's fine.......... because the majority of Americans are relieved that President Obama is not about posturing and false bravado!

    We can take a lesson from Gandhi who changed India without firing a single shot........ "WE must be the change we want to see in the world."

    April 21, 2009 at 12:28 pm |
  14. Joe G. (Illinois)

    If life is a gamble and everyone in the world came to play at the Obama round table.. Then regardless of whom may appear to win or lose.. The odds of the house ever losing at any one time would be…?! Moral of the story.. If Obama wants to be the leader of the world, he needs to present more speeches and not just degrade Bush/Cheney, because that’s just too stale, frail, rotten and plain simply “otherwise” unbecoming.

    April 21, 2009 at 12:19 pm |
  15. Terry, TX

    Just to inform there has been a peaceful transition of power...I don't Obama's plan...neither does anybody else. I am judging on what he does from Jan. 2009 forward. It is his presidency, his recession, his Pork and Bailout Bills, his signatures on the bills (needs to remember the veto). Now in all his global visits did anyone hear another head of state insult their citizens or their previous administrations....not the good guys or the bad guys. Do you honestly think the rest of the world cares or will change their opinion of us because he is charming. No ! He is a young, naive, good looking head of state and these international thugs....are eating his lunch.

    April 21, 2009 at 12:05 pm |
  16. Dena

    OH Give it a break! This man has done more in the few short months for the good then Bush did in 8 years. We gave Bush at least 6 years of backing we can at least give Obama more then a few months before judging what he does in such a low handed manner. Ridiculous! Get a grip!

    April 21, 2009 at 11:57 am |
  17. Mwolf

    Under Bush our Nation's security was protected. As of right now, under Obama, our interigation tactics have been released and he is planning on releasing terrorists from Gittmo, and he is chummy with dictators, and bowing to Saudi kings.....

    Bush did not have it all together, but we were safe. I am not sure we can be sure of that anymore.

    April 21, 2009 at 11:49 am |
  18. Vegas

    He's doing fine. We are the ones who need to just kind of shut up and let him do his work. There are too many cheifs and not enough Indians. If we want to offer help, fine, but if all we have are negative words, I'm not interested.

    President Obama, you're wonderful. Keep up the good work!

    April 21, 2009 at 11:40 am |
  19. IDA

    I'm a democrat and I'm tired of finger pointing. Stand up and take responsibility..Get on with fixing this country.. My retirement is no more and who has my money......Stop playing footsey with our enemies...

    April 21, 2009 at 11:30 am |
  20. Melissa

    I'm a little at a loss as to what the you're actually talking, Andrew. Obama IS the unBush. He's totally different from Bush. He doesn't everything different from anything Bush ever did. Its not that he "can't be the unBush" because he "IS the unBush".

    We couldn't have gotten anyone more different from Bush if we tried.

    He will develop his own style of things, and he's already doing things that no one ever thought they'd see a President do (like total accountability to the people).

    April 21, 2009 at 10:53 am |
  21. Michael C. McHugh

    Clearly, we're no longer the Great Superpower of 1945, and we'd just better adjust to that fact, as Britain had to do when it went into decline. We no longer have the strength to play that role, and neither the rest of the world nor most of our own people want to continue to do it.

    That doesn't mean that the other alternative is just to pull up the drawbridge and hide behind the moat. That hasn't been possible since about 1914–if it ever was.

    I think we're going to have to learn to play our part in cooperating with other countries in various international organizations–if not the ones that exist right now then new or reformed ones that are suited to the problems of our times. Our first priority should no be the military side, but to problems that have no military solution, like the environment, poverty and social and economic development.

    This does not mean that we simply walk away from NATO, South Korea or any of that, although war in those places is actaully not very likely. We just need a new priority for this century.

    April 21, 2009 at 10:51 am |
  22. John D. Cooper

    Obama not the un-Bush, Cheney and Senator Ensign are wrong:

    President Obama's approach to world leaders demonstrates the leadership the United States so needs, not what Dick Cheney or Senator Ensign think of when they proclaim our nation as a long time leader.

    President Obama offers a new model for leadership that respects the indvidual's dignity while reaching out with a handshake and a smile that says, "We can talk, regardless your positions or rhetoric. We are a democracy that values open dialogue over arms races and combative hetoric." I hope most citizens see this change as the change they voted for and find it taking our nation in the right direction. I am encouraged that a recent poll showed that 74% disagreed with Cheney's observation that President Obama is making things more dangerous. To the contrary.

    April 21, 2009 at 10:50 am |
  23. Joey

    I think America under Bush did so many mistakes & there is nothing worst then making mistakes & not recognizing them as blunders.
    It seems that america being the only super power on earth is leaveing in a world of it's own.
    It seems that in the Bush years America has displayed more weakness then power.
    I would like to beleave that a true leader does not have to show arrogance.
    I really think Obama is trying his best that america be respected or is it that america prefers to be feared?
    It is stratigically better that your opponent make a mistake then you do. because that puts you on high ground.
    something that america has lost completely because of charcters like Chiney & Bush.

    April 21, 2009 at 10:36 am |
  24. Joanne Pacicca, Solvay

    President Obama is certainly untangling the mess created by Bush and his administration. The policy shift to transparency from the demands of total trust resting upon the communication with a higher power, makes Obama and "Un-Bush". We are seeing our young men returning from war in flag-draped caskets, on our local television broadcasts. Foreign countries have turned their eyes and hopes to him to "Un-Bush" the international scene, particually the financial mess that the last eight years has certainly allowed to dominate with a terrible aftermath.

    Like it or not, Obama has to "Un-Bush" the US in both policy and presence.

    April 21, 2009 at 10:16 am |