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Afghanistan foreign policy: Differences between Obama's and Bush's

Updated on September 24, 2012

The military situation in Afghanistan is sensitive, calling for firm executive U.S. leadership with regards to what the Middle Eastern culture wants and needs. In the previous presidency, former President Bush’s foreign policy decisions were rather “lofty,” with aims to build nations serving as pillars of democracy in the Middle East (Cooper & Schmitt, 2009). As somewhat of an internationalist, Bush encouraged the nation to take a moral stand against terrorism by intervening in Afghani affairs (Heiser, 2007). Some might say his reasoning was rather neo-imperialist, meaning the methods his administration took to attempt to eliminate terrorism and rebuild nations were similar to colonial expansion. Furthermore, others might consider Bush’s stance on Afghanistan to be isolationist, as he originally opposed introducing peacekeeping troops within the country, he only visited the nation once during his presidency, and he was somewhat distracted from events in Afghanistan because of his interest in Iraq (Myers, 2008).

On the other hand, President Obama and his administration plan to widen the involvement of the United States in Afghanistan, while at the same time narrowing its aim at Al Qaeda rather than follow Bush’s expansive approach at nation-building (Cooper & Schmitt). It seems as though Obama is only continuing the internationalist work Bush started in his presidency, as it would be unwise to immediately withdraw all troops from Afghanistan without any follow-up. However, he is using a more isolationist reasoning, attempting to keep the United States out of war with the nation; he has promised 17,000 troops with the intention that they would not serve combat missions but would only train the Afghan Army and national police (Cooper & Schmitt). He also indicated at a White House press conference that his priority in Afghanistan foreign policy is to protect Americans from terrorist attacks like that of September 11, 2001 (Cooper & Schmitt). Lesson No. 3 of “The Fog of War”, which states, “There’s something beyond one’s self,” seems to describe Obama’s foreign policy approach, as he recognizes that this situation is not about glorifying himself or the nation, but about protecting as many people as possible from danger, whether it be American citizens from terror, or Afghani civilians from regional fighting.

I tend to agree with President Obama’s approach to foreign policy in Afghanistan because it seems more well planned; Obama plans to send a large number of diplomats and civilian experts in the nation, and his strategy is much more focused (Cooper & Schmitt). Additionally, I agree with his priorities to keep the nation safe – and potentially save taxpayers a lot of money. The average annual costs of war-on-terror operations in Afghanistan have been about $2.6 billion, and supplemental requests by the presidential administration could bring total funding to $223 billion (Belasco, 2009). With the current state of the economy and joblessness, among other national issues, it seems that that money could be spent on a number of other things to improve aspects of our own nation.

It’s clear that the media has been critical of Bush’s foreign policy in Afghanistan, especially compared to that of Obama. The text refers to “increasing attacks” on Bush’s policies, with the media focusing on “internal fissures over American troop levels, how billions of aid dollars are spent, and how to cope with a deteriorating security situation” (Schmitt & Shanker, 2008). Bush’s policy is set in a bad light when even news sources like The New York Times laments that Obama’s Afghanistan policy is similar to his predecessor’s , calling the situation in the nation a “quagmire” (Cooper, 2009). There seems to be a dearth of information about Bush’s foreign policy in Afghanistan, with shorter lengths of stories on the topic (the longest story being around 1,000 words, while the average story on Obama’s policies hovered around that number). Additionally, the sources in the articles seem strikingly one-sided, with a number of comments from political figures criticizing Bush’s Afghan policy: Andrew Bacevich, an international relations professor at Boston University, was quoted as saying, “There’s clearly a consensus that things are heading in the wrong direction” (Cooper, 2009). The types and tones of stories favor Obama, with titles like “Bush Urges Patience in Afghanistan” and “Bush Administration Reviews Its Afghanistan Policy, Exposing Points of Contention,” as opposed to “Global Views of U.S. Helped by Obama, Survey Says.”

Works Cited

Belasco, A. (2009, May 15). The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11. Congressional Research Service. Retrieved July 25, 2009, from http://

Cooper, H. (2009, January 24). Fearing Another Quagmire in Afghanistan. Retrieved July 25, 2009, from

Cooper, H., & Schmitt, E. (2009, March 27). White House Debate Led to Plan to Widen Afghan Effort. Retrieved July 25, 2009, from

Heiser, M. (2007). Two contrasting views of foreign policy. Etudes. Retrieved July 25, 2009, from

Myers, S.L. (2008, December 15). In Surprise Visit, Bush Affirms Commitment to Afghanistan. Retrieved July 25, 2009, from

Schmitt, E., & Shanker, T. (2008, September 22). Bush Administration Reviews Its Afghanistan Policy, Exposing Points of Contention. Retrieved July 25, 2009, from

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    • glassvisage profile image

      glassvisage 5 years ago from Northern California

      Thank you all for your comments and for sharing your thoughts and opinions. Leo, thanks for adding that input - my Hub was written some time ago before Obama's policy developed to the extent it is now, and I can see what you're saying now.

    • Leo Hale profile image

      Leo Hale 5 years ago from USA

      One of the things that is missing here is that Obama promised to end the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. He failed as usual. Another thing that is not mentioned is that Obama gave an order to our fighting men and women to not fire unless fired upon. How many U.S. solders have been killed and continue to be killed because of this ignorant order? It should also be noted that Obama has gone on record as saying that the military fights for him, not their country but him (President Obama). You can criticize Bush all you want, I will agree with most of it, but Obama is the one that has put our men and woman in harms way for his own personnel agenda.

    • profile image

      usenemies 7 years ago

      I think both Obama and Bush is similar. They do not want stopc the war. see my blog at

    • profile image

      alanbedford 8 years ago

      Any policy based on "nation-building" is doomed to failure. Nation-building is a 21st-century euphemism for what used to be called "colonialism." The imperial powers used to "put down the natives." Nowadays, Western nations "spread democracy" by the sword to peoples who have absolutely no democratic tradition. History teaches us that nation-building is an attractively-decorated trap door hiding a maze of blind alleys, dead-end streets and highways to hell. Nation-building failed in Vietnam, Somalia and Haiti, and it is failing in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is astounding how quickly world leaders forget history. Afghanistan will soon become "Obama's War", and it may bring about his downfall just like Vietnam did to Lyndon Johnson.

    • kartika damon profile image

      kartika damon 8 years ago from Fairfield, Iowa

      Well done and interesting to read! You know I need to get more up to speed on this issue - I know Obama is not Bush and want to give him the benefit of the doubt! Thank god, Bush is out of there!

    • Lgali profile image

      Lgali 8 years ago

      very nice and researched hub

    • glassvisage profile image

      glassvisage 8 years ago from Northern California

      Thank you very much for your input, everyone!

    • Evan Hutchinson profile image

      Evan Hutchinson 8 years ago from The Dirty South

      I like this hub. I'm much more comfortable with Obama as the commander-in-chief - I don't think the US needs to try to imperialize, and I think Cheney was manipulating Bush for the benefit of Halliburton and his own interests. Bush was not an evil man - he was just easily suggestible.

    • prasadjain profile image

      Dr.S.P.PADMA PRASAD 8 years ago from Tumkur

      An article drafted after much study and thinking. Bush, to us viewing from a distance appears more showy, dramatic, and dictatorial.with greater ambition to spread 'American hold'

      on the rest of the world.Nobody can agree to the argument that he had diployed 17,000 force only 'to train'Afgan soldiers.If any other country had done what America has done in Afgan,perhaps, America would be condemning it.Mr. Obama is more practical and less ambitious, it appears, in solving Afgan issue.

    • elb22 profile image

      elb22 8 years ago from California

      very well thought out and cited. I enjoyed your informative, supported, bipartisan apporoach.

    • ecoggins profile image

      ecoggins 8 years ago from Corona, California

      Thank you for this hub. Even more impressive is how you cited your references. I agree with Obama that Bush should have left Iraq alone and concentrated on Al Qaeda and Afghanistan. One interesting side note is what the US has done in Pakistan since former Pakistani Head of State Musharraf was replaced as the leader of that country. I believe Bush would have raided Pakistan much sooner if Musharraf was not a US ally. With him out of the way, the US had less reason to be obligated to hold back hitting targets inside the Pakistani territory.

    • RVDaniels profile image

      RVDaniels 8 years ago from Athens, GA

      Well thought out.