Barack Obama's foreign policy is beginning to take shape. Semantically, it's a sharp repudiation of the policies of the George W. Bush administration. In reality, it's something like a continuation of Bush policies. Or, if you want to distinguish between the allegedly confrontation-minded policies of Bush's first term and the more accommodationist policies of his second term -- a distinction that I think is exaggerated but has something to it -- then it's something like the second Bush term. With, of course, some differences.
On Iraq, for example, Obama has agreed to maintain large numbers of troops there for 19 months -- longer than he promised during the 2008 campaign -- and many for some indefinite time after that. That has gotten a few antiwar protesters marching and must have left many of those Democratic voters who ached to see America defeated in "Bush's war" feeling frustrated -- or inclined for the moment to change the subject.
On Afghanistan, Obama has ordered 21,000 more American troops to the theater -- including 4,000 troops announced last month -- and is continuing unmanned aerial vehicle strikes on unfriendly forces in Pakistan. This is consistent with his long insistence that Afghanistan is the "good war" and with his surprising comment during the campaign that he would strike enemies in Pakistan. But his decision also makes Afghanistan Obama's war and imposes on him the political necessity of securing favorable results within what voters consider a reasonable time, which Bush failed to do in Iraq.
And then there are those semantic changes. We are no longer fighting a "war on terror." We are instead conducting "overseas contingency operations" and, as Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said, responding to "man-caused disasters." (Napolitano might have used the gender-neutral "human-caused disasters.")
We are no longer holding for indefinite periods "enemy combatants." But we will keep holding indefinitely those we catch on the battlefield who do not obey the laws of war (which is the definition of enemy combatants). We are closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay and releasing some of those held there. But the Bush administration released some of those held there, and we will keep holding those deemed dangerous somewhere or other. We haven't quite determined where that is yet. But the town fathers of heavily pro-Obama Alexandria, Va., have let it be known that they don't want any held in their jail for trial in the local federal court.
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