Shadow Government

Credit where it’s due

A recurring theme here at Shadow Government has been puzzlement at why President Obama has been so averse to giving any credit to his predecessor for Bush policies that he has either benefitted from or adopted himself. On issues including the (conflict formerly known as) war on terror’s strategic, intelligence, and legal framework; the Iraq ...

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A recurring theme here at Shadow Government has been puzzlement at why President Obama has been so averse to giving any credit to his predecessor for Bush policies that he has either benefitted from or adopted himself. On issues including the (conflict formerly known as) war on terror’s strategic, intelligence, and legal framework; the Iraq surge; free trade agreements and initiatives; the strategic upgrade in US-India relations; a stable regional order in Asia; drone strikes in Pakistan; the need for democracy in the broader Middle East, and others, Obama has consistently refused to acknowledge his policy indebtedness to President Bush.

Yet just as Shadow Government contributors readily point out areas where we think the Obama Administration gets things wrong, we also want to applaud areas where the White House gets things right — especially on matters that we’ve previously griped about. In that regard, President Obama’s speech on World AIDS Day last Thursday was particularly noteworthy for the gracious words of appreciation that he directed towards President Bush:

Let me also thank President Bush for joining us from Tanzania and for his bold leadership on this issue. I believe that history will record the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief as one of his greatest legacies. And that program — more ambitious than even the leading advocates thought was possible at the time — has saved thousands and thousands and thousands of lives, and spurred international action, and laid the foundation for a comprehensive global plan that will impact the lives of millions. And we are proud that we have the opportunity to carry that work forward.

As far as I am aware, this was the first instance of President Obama offering unqualified and full-throated praise for a Bush foreign-policy initiative. Of course part of the reason may be that PEPFAR was one of the few Bush foreign policies that Obama did not criticize on the campaign trail or eschew when he took office, so praise for it comes easier than some of the other initiatives mentioned above that Obama lambasted and then adopted. Still, President Obama’s support for PEPFAR and its successor initiatives is genuine and high-minded, and here his administration has largely matched words with deeds.

As I’ve argued before, this matters not for petty point-scoring or vainglorious Republicans demanding our due (at least I hope that’s not the case). Rather, it matters because bipartisanship is a preciously rare commodity these days — yet often the best American foreign policy traditions and initiatives are those that command bipartisan support and endure across multiple presidencies. One certainly hopes that is the case with America’s global commitment to AIDS prevention, care, and eradication efforts, where Clinton, Bush, and Obama have all shown admirable leadership.

 To quote Bono on this campaign:

"The United States performed the greatest act of heroism since it jumped into World War II. When the history books are written, they will show that millions of people owe their lives to the Yankee tax dollar, to just a fraction of an aid budget that is itself less than 1 percent of the federal budget."

Will Inboden is executive director of the William P. Clements, Jr. Center for History, Strategy, and Statecraft at the University of Texas-Austin. He also serves as associate professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs and distinguished scholar at the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law.

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