Bill Clinton brought America “triangulation”. George W Bush brought us “in your face, I’m the decider”. President Obama has used “leading from behind”. These are three different approaches to Presidential leadership. Does it make any difference?
In Clinton’s years, it made a big difference if you lived in Rwanda. Those living in the former Yugoslavia made out better but it did take time. Triangulation is the process somewhat like a random walk where the Administration measures public opinion following each action and then decides what the nest step will be. Rwanda did not generate much public sympathy , so no definitive US action took place until it was too late. Balkans’ intervention became imperative once it was clear Europe could not (or would not) act in its own best interest.
George W Bush subscribed to the neocon approach called “America’s exceptionalism”. The neocons said America could do no wrong and that the rest of the world depended upon our unilateral exercise of our military strength. The best way to accomplish this was to throw down the gauntlet at the first chance, pick on someone weaker, and demonstrate to the rest of the world how strong America was by crushing someone weaker. In a world only divided between good and evil, this might be a useful strategy. During Bush’s years, however, it failed us miserably.
President Obama has approached foreign affairs in a much more circumspect manner. He has avoided entanglements where possible and kept focus on ending the two wars he inherited. There has been an absence of threats and international confrontations. Surprise, surprise, neocons don’t like his approach.
Eight years is often too short a period to judge any Administrations policies. The Clinton years represented a failure of America to use its good offices overseas in humanitarian applications. This failure was moral and not a blow to American self interests.
Bush, on the other hand, followed policies which confronted all sorts of countries and dictators. US efforts produced no apparent improvement in these countries and cost the US dearly. The Bush Administration spoke first and thought later, usually when it was too late.
It is still too soon to judge President Obama’s approach although it is hard to imagine it less effective than the two former administrations.
Bill Clinton formed policy with extreme reliance upon opinion polls. Most of us do not always have enough information to comment wisely on US policy. Even more, with “issues advertising” there is huge amounts of money being pumped in to influence opinion without any safe guards that the ads are correct.
George W considered almost no public opinion and sought very little input. The Cheney lead “neocons” already knew what they wanted to do. Not surprisingly, almost all his failures could have been avoided with more and accurate information.
President Obama’s policy formation lies somewheres in between Clinton and Bush. Obama seeks information from experts and tries to pick the most prudent course. His approach is safer but less understood by the general public.
Now we are approaching the 2012 Presidential election. Candidate Mitt Romney is talking the talk in what can only be described as “neocon revisited”. Dick Chaney must be proud of him. Romney has threaten China over currency manipulation even though the US is running a weak dollar monetary policy. Romney has pandered shamelessly to the American Jewish community (read money) and singled out Iran as the (little) target, if he were President, that the US would kick sand upon. And so that every one else knows he plans to carry a big stick, Romney solemnly promised to raise defense spending.
So which style of governance would you expect a President Romney to follow?