Bye Bye Bush Doctrine? Foreign Policy in an Obama White House

President-elect Obama faces tremendous foreign policy challenges.

Nov. 5, 2008 — -- Under president-elect Barack Obama, the doctrine embraced by President Bush will be retooled at the very least or possibly even tossed out entirely.

What exactly the "Bush doctrine" is has been open to debate, but it essentially boils down to dealing pre-emptively with emerging threats.

That was the argument Bush used to invade Iraq, an argument that proved questionable when weapons inspectors hunting for hidden caches of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons came up empty-handed.

That invasion was at the heart of the Bush doctrine. It has colored everything the president has done in the foreign policy world, and it will color everything the next president does.

On Iraq

Obama has made much of his opposition to the war from the beginning, a war that John McCain supported. The two's views remain starkly different.

Obama opposed the surge of more than 30,000 troops into Iraq and still believes that it failed in its goal to produce a political solution.

Obama says he believes that all troops can be pulled out within a 16-month period after the election, although he would keep a residual force in Iraq and in the region to conduct targeted counter-terrorism missions against al Qaeda in Iraq and to protect American diplomatic and civilian personnel. Obama has never said how large a force would be needed. He is opposed to permanent bases.

On Afghanistan

Obama wants more troops in Afghanistan after a dramatic increase in violence there in the last year. And he knows that in order to get those troops without increasing deployment time for individual soldiers and Marines, there will have to be an additional drawdown of American forces in Iraq.

Because Obama has advocated an immediate drawdown in Iraq, troops could be readily available for a shift to Afghanistan under the Obama presidency.

On Pakistan

If there is another Sept. 11, 2001, plot being hatched, it is almost certainly being planned in Pakistan's lawless tribal areas.

McCain ridiculed Obama for saying he would go after high-value al Qaeda targets along Pakistan's border, whether Pakistan approved or not. Earlier this year Bush signed a secret order allowing raids into Pakistan, and there has been a marked increase in activity along the border.

Obama vowed to go after Osama bin Laden until he is brought to justice. That is what Bush said as well, although many of the assets that were needed to do that were moved to Iraq. Obama says Afghanistan will once again be a primary focus.

On Iran

Bush has only recently allowed dialogue with Iran, which will likely continue under Obama.

Obama supports talks with Iranian leaders, saying that he believes in a carrot-and-stick approach and that he would move forward aggressively with dialogue and diplomacy while still supporting sanctions.

On North Korea

Obama supports continued diplomatic efforts with North Korea and supported removing North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism

As he does in Iran, Obama supports talks with North Korean leaders without preconditions, saying, "This notion by not talking to people we are punishing them has not worked. It has not worked in Iran. It has not worked in North Korea. In each instance, our efforts of isolation have actually accelerated their efforts to get nuclear weapons."

An Evolving Doctrine

It is almost certain that Obama's foreign policy stances will change to a certain extent because of events and the natural evolution of ideas.

Candidate George Bush espoused quite a different view of the world than he has as president. For Bush, it was 9/11 that necessarily changed his worldview.

For Obama there is bound to be an unforeseen event that will change his views as well.