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George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and the Future of U.S. Global Leadership

Author: James M. Lindsay, Senior Vice President, Director of Studies, and Maurice R. Greenberg Chair
July 2011
International Affairs


The foreign policy world views of George W. Bush and Barack Obama differ dramatically. However, both presidents share one common conviction: that other countries long for US leadership. Bush believed that friends and allies would eventually rally to the side of the United States, even if they bristled at its actions, because they shared America's goals and had faith in its motives. Obama believed that a United States that listened more to others, stressed common interests and favored multinational action would command followers. In practice, however, both visions of American global leadership faltered. Bush discovered that many countries rejected his style of leadership as well as his strategies. Obama discovered that in a globalized world, where power has been more widely dispersed, many countries are not looking to Washington for direction.

The future success of U.S. foreign policy depends on the ability of policy-makers to recognize and adapt to a changing geopolitical environment in which the U.S. remains the most significant military, diplomatic and economic power but finds it, nonetheless, increasingly difficult to drive the global agenda.

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