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The Differences Between The Security Policies of George W. Bush and Barack H. Obama by Ahmet Gencehan Babiş

The security policies of United States of America (USA) during George Walker Bush presidency and Barack Hussein Obama era have some different aspects that effect the perceptions all around the world. After September 11 terrorist attack, George W. Bush and his Neocon administration implemented its security policy which has realist demands in the core of it and flourished with liberal values like freedom of speech, especially democracy. The countering against terrorism became a primary concern of the security policy. With his popular “Change” slogan, Obama won the elections and reevaluated the security policy agenda of USA. Liberal paradigm is started to be more dominant after his inauguration but it is also designed in way of US hegemony strategy. This article will try to examine the changes in American security policy with referring to National Security Strategy Documents which was declared by White House in 2002, 2006 and 2010. In addition to that, the important events which are related with the security policy of US will be mentioned.


obama-bushFrom Monroe Doctrine to Obama Doctrine, the security concerns and paradigms were seen in US history but they all served to the long term strategy of the state. The dual system of American politics formed by Republicans and Democrats creates a ground for USA to maintain its supreme position. In Bush and Obama periods, a good example of this situation is easily seen. During “pure neocon” (Neo Conservative) Bush presidency, the foreign policy aim was tried to be achieved by military interventions to Afghanistan and Iraq. It has to be noted that, while doing this anti-Americanism surged all around world. Unlikely, Obama chose nonmilitary ways and attached more importance to international institutions. By this way, Obama started to rebuild American credibility among the international community again.

Bush Administration: Between the Theories
First of all, it is better to start with the delineation of American national security. U.S national security is the confidence held by the great majority of the nation’s people that it has the military capability and effective policy to prevent adversaries from using force to prevent the pursuit of national interests.[1] While coding “terrorism” as a threat, Bush administration saw some liberal values a tool to realize their goals but they act with realist paradigm while doing that. In this point, it is fruitful to give the main specialties of liberalism, realism and democratic peace theory.
Liberalism is the one of the main theories of international relations whose roots are buried in the Enlightenment Era. “Democratic values”, “institutionalism” and the “free trade” are the main features of this school. More corporations between the states open a door to more stable global order. The concern is not democracy; the main concern is transforming the creating allies which can work in accordance with American system. So, Neocons have no problem with free trade and market economy. Either 2002 or 2008 National Security Strategy Document tries to reinforce the free market economy. Obama attaches more importance to the economic issues than Neocons.
Bush era has also some features form offensive realism. The “anarchic” structure of international relations from this theory has weight on this type of opinions. It has to be emphasized that Bush’s real intention is creating modest regimes and get rid of the ones who is not harmonious with global American order rather than implementing democratic values. Besides, Bush sees the international as power politics likes realism asserts unlike Obama. Bush’s policy used something from both offensive realism and liberalism. 
The legitimacy was given to this type of politics by Michael Doyle’s “democratic peace” thesis. For democratic peace, democratic states have never fought with each other. Bush delineates the states as anti-democratic failed states and by this way gives himself a right to protect the communities of these countries. In 2006 National Security Strategy Document stressed that Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Iran, Syria, Cuba, Belarus, Burma and Zimbabwe bring instability to the international relations because of the “tyranny” there and their anti-democratic regimes.
Communism Gone, Terrorism Came
After the demise of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), the threat of hostile ideology of US “communism” lost its importance and power. Some professors like Francis Fukuyama declared the permanent victory of liberalism in his article “The End of History” in 1989. However, 9/11 attacks showed world that history did not end and new American “nightmare” would be terrorism. Then, both in domestic and foreign policy, a new mobilization period started. The old tactics like deterrence and containment are far way to answer the necessities of post-Cold War era dangers. By the time passes, it can be seen that the harsh look transformed and some new threats related with the human security were added to the National Security Strategy Document in 2006. That means that, from 2002 to 2006, the threats during Bush administration also vary. Although, terrorism was always in the primary position. For example, with the worrying atmosphere of September 11, the focus point of 2006 NSSD is just terrorism. But in 2006, such issues like human and drug trafficking, natural disasters are counted as threats to humans.
Global War on Terror
The main concerns during Bush era were terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and rogue states. To cope with terrorism; George Bush declared his “global war on terror” strategy. The “preventative war” and “preemptive war” notions help to implement this strategy and try to legitimize American interventions. Both of them are the produced due to too wide interpretation of UN Charter Article 51 which defines self-defense. Preemption is the taking of military action against a target when there is incontrovertible evidence that the target is about to initiate a military attack. Prevention is the taking of military action against a target when it is believed that an attack by the target, while not imminent, is inevitable, and when delay in attacking would involve greater risk.[2] The difference between them seems very foggy and open to various evaluations. Both of them have the same aim so the usage of the true terms are determined according how close the threat is. Additionally, it can be said that prevention is for defense and the preemption is for hegemony. The result of them in real politics is setting up “Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF)” in Afghanistan to eradicate Taliban regime in 2001 with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces. In the framework of OEF, US sent soldiers to some different regions like Philippines to combat the terrorist activities of Al Qaeda braches there, terrorist Islamist organizations like Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah. Under this action, a fight against terrorism and piracy in Africa were wanted to be confronted.
Creating the Homeland Security
In 2002, with the Homeland Security Act a new body in the state mechanism, Department of Homeland Security was established. The missions of this new body is to prevent terrorist attacks within the United States, reduce the vulnerability of the United States to terrorism and minimize the damage, and assist in the recovery, from terrorist attacks that do occur within the United States.[3]
In addition to military preparedness, foreign interventions must be endorsed by the public support and will. Thus, in accordance with the non-governmental organizations, think-tanks and media a good example of public diplomacy was adopted by Bush administration. For example; Saddam was shown to Americans as a negative stereotype. Rather than seeing as a religion, discourse of Bush administration showed Islam as a marginal value system and also triggered Islamophobia all around.
The establishment of the Department of Homeland Security was not the only event. During Bush presidency, the legal procedures inside the state were created in line with the terrorism threat. Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001[4] has brought many regulations from “penalties for terrorist conspiracies” to “period of orders of electronic surveillance of non-United States persons under foreign intelligence surveillance”. To fight against terrorism and cut its financial support from various sources; on September 24, 2001, Fact Sheet on Terrorist Financing Executive Order was enacted. In the context of it, “The President, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of State and others are working with our allies around the world to tackle the financial underpinnings of terrorism[5]
Patriot Act is another important act about US countering again terrorism method. This act reinforces the cooperation between intelligence bodies of US, increase the penalties and stricken surveillance on terrorism. Remembering Bush’s these words; “The gravest danger our nation faces lies at the crossroads of radicalism and technology[6]” from the introduction part of the 2002 National Security Strategy paper, the base of the act can be seen easily. The Patriot Act updated the law to reflect new technologies and new threats.[7] Moreover with the Joint Resolution for Authorization for Use of Military Force, the authority of the president rised.
Weapons of Mass Destruction: A Tool and A Danger
One of the most important factors in Bush security policy agenda is the weapons of mass destruction (WMD). For the new preventative war concept, WMD was designed as a casus belli andthe accession to these weapons and their means of delivery by the terrorist states must be avoided for Bush. With a big international propaganda, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was alleged to have weapons of mass destruction. After the war, no biological weapons were found in Iraq. It has to be noted that, Bush do not fully opposes WMD, the point that he refuses is collecting them in “irresponsible” hands. In 2002, Bush described North Korea, Iran and Iraq as an “axis of evil” saying these countries have WMD and support terrorism.
While establishing alliances and friendly ties to combat against terrorism in 2002 National Security Strategy Document, Bush also underlines the unilateral actions of USA with these words; “the United States will constantly strive to enlist the support of the international coming unity, we will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self-defense by acting preemptively against such terrorists, to prevent them from doing harm against our people and our country[8]”. Here the fingertips of Iraqi invasion of US can be noticed. The military intervention to Iraq in 2003 has undermined international law because the vetoes of Russia, China and France in United Nations Security Council. Here, it can be easily said that, “cooperation” part of liberal argument was ignored by Bush administration.
The United States attacked what was thought to be a biological weapons facility in Sudan, but it turned out that the building was probably an innocent aspirin factory. Saddam’s chemical weapon warehouses were not found. Meanwhile, North Korea and Pakistan became nuclear weapon states, India prepared to resume nuclear testing without detection and Iran accelerated its nuclear weapons development program.[9]
Obama Era: A Shift In Security Policy
When the first black man came to Oval Office in White House, there have been some problems inherited from the past years. He noticed it in his election campaign and used a softer language than his republican opponent John McCain. After leader like Bush, George Walker Bush, he won the sympathy of international community. He said, there will be a “change” in American strategy and without doing anything, just with his commitment about the future, he won the Nobel prize in 2009. Many things in various field gained a new ground in Obama era. But one thing was still the same; US leadership.
Obama’s discourse is close to liberal school. Unilateral point of view was transformed into multilateralism with reference to liberalism. Instead of “hard power”, for the survival of US lead global order, Obama selected “smart power” which is a compound of hard and soft power.
In 2006, a working group called Commission Smart Power started working for the preparation of the infrastructure of this notion in Center for Strategic and International Strategies (CSIS) which is one of the world-wide known think tank. In 2007, “A Smarter and More Secure America” report says that; United States should focus on five critical areas: alliances, partnerships, and institutions; global development, public diplomacy, economic integration, technology and innovation.[10] The education of all level section of 2010 National Security Strategy Document is the reflection of the necessities of being a smart power.
During his address after he received the Nobel Peace Prize, he talked about the different type of war, the preventative and preventive war gave their place to “just war”. He said; “The concept of a ‘just war’ emerged, suggesting that war is justified only when it meets certain preconditions: if it is waged as a last resort or in self-defense; if the forced used is proportional; and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence.”[11] Obama’s way of war is more “disciplined” comparing with President Bush.
Obama’s Way of Countering Terrorism
The Bush policy was defined Islam as an enemy but Some of his personal feature also gives advantages to transform this view in US security policy. For example, having Muslims relatives, gives reliability to some which has effects. But, he defined the new enemy with referring to Islamic radicalism. Obama’s Top Counterterrorism Adviser John O. Brennan’s words must be underlined in this sense. He said that “Nor do we describe our enemy as jihadists or Islamists because use of these religious terms would play into the false perception that al-Qaeda and its affiliates are religious leaders and defending a holy cause, when in fact, they are nothing more than murderers.”[12]
The source of the terrorism is both in the country and out of the state. But he also wants to control the terrorist attacks that can come inside the country. He also stressed the radicalized people inside the country pose a threat to the state, as it is said in 2010 National Security Strategy Document, the defeat this threats; well informed and equipped families, local communities, and institutions for a good solution. But on the other hand, he did not describe them as “other”. His discourse is more inclusive than Bush, he still underlines that the differences in the country is the source of being strong instead of being insecure.
The success of Obama administration is the killing the head of Al Qaeda, Usama Bin Laden in the first period of his presidency, in 2011. In contrary to occupation idea of Bush administration, Obama’s military policy abroad US rise on the withdrawal concept. Which has two main causes; the first one is the rising military expenditures and in the time global financial crisis and the other one is the infelicity of the nation from ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama withdrew American troops from Iraq in December 2011 and setting the conditions for the withdrawal in Afghanistan in 2014. However, it cannot be said that the counter again terrorism policy ended in Obama era. The best example of it is Pakistan. In Pakistan, where the CIA greatly sharply increased unilateral drone strikes – to nearly 200 – against “high-value” al-Qaeda and Taliban targets in the first two years of the Obama administration, the tactic has contributed heavily to an increase in anti-Americanism. An overwhelming 97% of respondents in a recent Pew Research Center poll in Pakistan, where anti-Americanism is at an all-time high, said they viewed drone attacks negatively.[13] Obama was globally peacefully, but regionally, there are some exceptions as it is seen in this example.
Obama’s Homeland Security
For Kagan, the war on terrorism was never a sufficient paradigm for American foreign policy. It was too narrow, too limited and less than ideal for mustering the support of others around the world.[14] In this point, Obama says that the homeland security notion has to be integrated with broader American national security approach. Obama tried to renew these legislations and revise the organs of the states, but it must be remembered that he signed the bill about the extension of Patriot Act in 2011. Moreover, The organized crime in the state and border protection is the other key points in Obama’s review.
The cyberspace security is the one of the component of the new security policy of Obama. Considering the technological improvement, US wanted to take the leadership in terms of cyberspace activities. Like Bush did in terrorism issue, Obama established new organs in cyberspace. Late in May 2009, President Barack Obama instituted the post of Cyberspace Coordinator within his administration, with the coordinator sitting on both the National Security Council and the National Economic Council. The same month saw the establishment of the US Cyber Command, headquartered at Fort Meade, Maryland, and headed by Army General Keith Alexander, who also happens to be the head of the National Security Agency, America’s most powerful intelligence service.[15]
Part of the National Security: Economy
In the beginning of Bush era, the most problematic issue for him was the security concerns and terrorism. The most difficult duty for Bush was how survive with a strong economy under the heavy financial crisis. No more than two months after the elections in 2008, the whole world shocked with the collapse of one of the biggest companies in US, Lehman Brothers. Obama tells the situation as “the most devastating recession that we have faced since the Great Depression”[16]. Obama is aware of that the US influence abroad is highly linked to state economy and the military supremacy is also tied with the economy. But the only dimension of his economical approach is not military spending, investing on research, a sustainable growth of the nation, the reinforcement of civil aviation, increasing education level and expanding on clean energy has place in the context of it. In general, like every US President in history, Barack Obama is in favor of global free trade and market. Its best and brightest would devote themselves to clean energy, not financial speculation. Reinvigorated public investment in education and infrastructure would revitalize manufacturing, boost middle-class incomes and meet the competitive challenge from China.[17]
With a stimulus package in 2009, the economic recovery was wanted to be realized. By most economic indicators, the Economic Stimulus Package was a success. In March 2009, before it was launched, Q1 GDP was -6.4% (it has since been revised to – 4.9%) and the Dow Jones had slid to 6,500. By Q4 2009, GDP was +5% and the Dow had risen to 10,428. Not all of that success can be attributed to the Stimulus Package, since expansive monetary policy and strong emerging markets also helped boost the economy.[18]
WMD: More Moderate View
Like Bush era, Obama is sensitive about the spread of WMD and the possibility of their use by terrorist groups but his discourse was much more accommodationist than his predecessor. In relations with its global competitor, like Russia, US prefer to solve the questions together. “Pursuing the goal of a world without nuclear weapons” is a topic in his national security document.
Neo conservative Bush administration was consisted by the officers like Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, Condelezza Rice did not use an exact theoretical background in the security policy. We can see both the tips of neo-realist approach and liberal schools in their activities. Obama administration is more liberal comparing with George Bush. The most distinguished difference between them is a shift from hard power to smart power.
From 2002 to 2010, three national security strategy documents were published by US are relevant to each other. Some In the Middle East issue, and in all national strategy documents Israel was shown as US’s loyal ally.
In 2002, unilateral look to the international relations was dominant but in 2006 this attitude was turned into a more moderate view. In 2010, US opened itself to the idea of institutionalism but three of them have the same aim. In 2002 and 2006, the majority of topics are about military issues, in 2010 some alternatives like climate change, clean energy were added to the agenda. On the other hand, supporting the rights of women was in 2010 NSSD and in many places both words; “men and women” were used to refer the gender equality. Fighting against corruption is another issue in the document. 
While examining Bush presidency in terms of security, a pro-active interventionist idea is seen. The formal discourse of this era was defeating states who threats the stability to international area. There is no exaggeration to say that, democracy grows in tens of years in a community not with a military occupation. When the situation in Iraq is analyzed now, the in stability source was US, itself. So, in one side asserting the stability, US actions in Middle East ruined the Iraq’s integrity, caused sectarian conflicts in the country that poses an insecure atmosphere for the region and approximately 1,5 million civil deaths. 
Secondly, Bush has showed freedom of speech as a valuable opinion to the world, the legal acts that for the mobilization inside the country do not fully respect this. Internationally, the freedom of speech and human rights were the main concern but at home, these ideas are not really taken into account during these legislations.
In Obama era, it must be underlined that despite the economic crisis, the military expenditures were not decreased. If the Pentagon were a cooperation, it would be the largest in the world as well as the sloppily run. (The Pentagon in 2010 reported 1.7 trillion dollars in assets, 2.1 trillion dollars in liabilities and 676 billion in net operating costs) Its procurement budget, at a a staggering 107 billion in 2012, expands even as the number of deployable war planes, combat ships and troops diminished.[19] In US politics the place of anti-war protests during Bush era was taken by Occupy Wall Street Movement which gives us clues about the economic concerns of Americans. OWS protesters declared that, one percent of the world population takes all the assets and describe themselves as “99%”.
Bush also perceives threat in technological area but the practical steps are taken in Obama era about that as a consequence of using its smart power. Bush used WMD issue as a reason for interventions, in Obama era we cannot see the same tendency. However, about the uprising in Syria, Obama warned that the use of the WMD by Assad regime is the “red line” for US, in August, 2012. There is a difference between them, Obama refers to the “use” of these weapons but for Bush just “prediction” is sufficient for the intervention.

[1] Bush George Walker, The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, White House, Washington, 2002, p. 13
[2] Barnes Joe, Stoll J. Richars, Preemptive And Preventive War: A Preliminary Taxonomy, James A. Baker III Institute For Public Policy, Houston, 2007, p. 7.
[3] Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Act of 2002, (Accession Date: 07.01.2013)
[4] Electronic Privacy Information Center, Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001, (Accession Date: 07.01.2013)
[5] White House, Fact Sheet on Terrorist Financing Executive Order (Accession Date: 08.01.2013)
[6] Bush, p. ii
[7]Department of Justice, The USA Patriot Act: Preserving Life And Liberty,, (Accession Date: 08.01.2013)
[8] Bush, p. 6.
[9] Sapolsky M. Harvey, Gholz Eugene, Talmadge Cailin, US Defence Politics The Origins of Security Policy, Routledge, New York, 2009, p. 155.
[10] Armitage L. Richard, Jr. Nye S. Joseph,  A Smarter and More Secure America, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington D.C, 2007, p. 1.
[11] CS Monitor, Text Of Barack Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, (Accession Date: 08.01.2013)
[12] DeYoung Karen, Obama Redefines National Security Strategy, Looks Beyond Military Might, Washington Post (27.05.2010)
[13] Loeb Jim, New Bases Extend US’s Drone War, Online Asia Times ( Accession Date: 10.01.2013)
[14] Kagan Robert, Higher Realism, Washington Post (27.05.2010), p. B07.
[15]RT, Supremacy In Cyberspace: Obama’s ‘Star Wars’?, (Accession Date: 13.01.2012)
[16] Obama Barack Hussein, The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, White House, Washington D.C, 20102, p.3.
[17] Economist, Barack Obama’s Economic Record, (Accession Date: 12.01.2013)
[18] CNN, What Was the Stimulus Package? Obama’s First Major Act to Stimulate the Economy, see “Obama Stimulus (12.01.2013)
[19] Galin Stephen, State vs. Defense, Crown Publishers, New York, 2011, p. 409.

This article is published in TURKSAM (20.01.2013): 

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