The lingering damage of ABC
By Peter Feaver Another failure of the Bush administration, as promised here: Starting out with an ABC (Anything But Clinton) mentality. Like every challenger, candidate Bush drew as sharp a contrast with the incumbent in the 2000 campaign as he could. More so than most victors, however, the contrast mentality carried over to the first ...
By Peter Feaver
By Peter Feaver
Another failure of the Bush administration, as promised here:
Starting out with an ABC (Anything But Clinton) mentality. Like every challenger, candidate Bush drew as sharp a contrast with the incumbent in the 2000 campaign as he could. More so than most victors, however, the contrast mentality carried over to the first couple years of governing, so Bush policies were framed as dramatically different, even when they were not (for instance, the recognition that promoting democracy abroad reflected our national interests and not merely our national values).
Apparently — and I say apparently, since I was not inside at the time, so I do not know for sure — these rhetorical flourishes were compounded with a systematic failure to consult with the previous administration (or at least a perceived systematic failure). Clinton era experts were dropped from bipartisan or non-partisan councils and the informal courtesies that nourish bipartisanship in national security were ignored.
Part of my explicit mandate when Steve Hadley hired me in 2005 was to undo some of the damage that was done in this area, and I will let others judge whether we did a better job of reaching out across the aisle in the second term. But by then, as one very influential Democrat with a key role in the new Administration told me at the time: "I know what you are trying to do, Peter, and it is too late for that." We missed the chance to have stronger Democratic support for key policies like the continuation of the Clinton policy on rendition. And when some of the changes we did try to implement came a cropper, the schadenfreude from the bench was needlessly exacerbated.
So far, the Obama team followed the Bush playbook during the campaign, wildly exaggerating the degree to which "the last eight years have been a failure" in foreign policy. But they have wisely dropped the playbook, at least during the transition, and seem more sincere in their effort to adopt the best ideas, policies and personnel, whatever the branding.
Peter D. Feaver is a professor of political science and public policy at Duke University, where he directs the Program in American Grand Strategy.
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