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Policy Isn't Just Analysis

Author: Leslie H. Gelb, President Emeritus and Board Senior Fellow
January-February 2010
American Interest

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Every time I'm about to pile on President Obama for his foreign policy errors, I have to check myself and recall his painful starting point. George W. Bush left him with the worst heap of inflammatory international garbage and country drownings in American history. The only problem Bush made better, in fact much better, was Libya. His deal with Colonel Qaddafi took the Libyan leader out of the weapons of mass destruction and terrorism business in return for Washington allowing him back into the international economy. As for Iraq, it only appeared to be healing in 2009, but as U.S. forces withdrew from battle as mandated by the Iraqis themselves, the deterioration inevitably set in.

Bush posted failing grades in North Korea and Iran. He threatened them for eight years if they proceeded toward a nuclear capability, and they proceeded anyway, without cost or incident. The only loss was in American credibility, but it was severe. Bush dithered in Afghanistan for seven years. He neither provided more troops to get the job done nor trained the Afghans to develop a U.S. exit strategy. There were also other woes in the Middle East and Africa that Bush permitted to fester. Most horrendously, Bush carelessly led the American economy-the bedrock of American democracy and the nation's power in the world-from a substantial Federal budget surplus to disastrous deficits and, ultimately, to the edge of a depression.

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