Jonah Goldberg

Many of its supposedly radical features fit neatly in the mainstream of American presidential history. Extraordinary rendition? That practice (in which we send suspected terrorists to foreign countries to be interrogated under laxer rules) began under President Clinton. Aggressive interrogations, for good or ill, surely predate 2001. Holding prisoners indefinitely at Guantanamo without benefit of a trial? As terrorism expert Andrew C. McCarthy notes in National Review, we were doing that under the first President Bush and under Clinton to innocent Haitian refugees, who got even less due process than we give captured enemy combatants.

Even the invasion of Iraq will probably seem to historians, in part, a continuation of trends begun in the Persian Gulf War and extended by Clinton's (and Britain's) attacks in 1998.

On the domestic front, Bush broadly expanded federal spending on education, signed campaign finance reform and orchestrated a huge expansion of health-care entitlements with his prescription drug benefit. Whatever the merits of those policies, it's unlikely historians will see them as a radical, right-wing break from the Clinton years.

The more interesting question is how radical a break from the Bush years the next president will represent.

If John McCain wins the election, the continuity will be more obvious. McCain would inch leftward on most domestic issues, and rightward on a few. He doubtless would continue the efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, though his methods might vary.

The larger question is about Barack Obama, who at times promises revolutionary, if not messianic, change. With a potentially huge Democratic majority in Congress, Obama might indeed produce a radical change from the Bush (and Clinton and Bush and Reagan) years on domestic issues.

But what about Iraq? A growing chorus of foreign policy experts, including Timothy Lynch and Robert Singh (co-authors of "After Bush: The Case for Continuity in American Foreign Policy") and the New Yorker's George Packer, are starting to argue - much as Obama's own foreign policy advisors have for a while - that his foreign policy promises will not survive contact with post-election reality.

Already, Obama is changing his tune from his old, irresponsibly heated rhetoric about "immediate" withdrawal to talking about the need for policies that would adapt to the improving conditions in Iraq. Given Obama's ideological leanings and inexperience, there's clearly plenty of potential for him to make costly mistakes. But odds are he, too, would come to realize that America needs to win the war on terror and succeed in Iraq. Hence the greatest irony. A successful Obama presidency would have the unintended consequence of making Bush's memoir a success story.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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