Obama’s Bush Complex

Posted: Aug 08, 2014 8:56 AM

In the August issue of Townhall Magazine, where this column originally appeared, S.E. Cupp explains why President Bush may as well still be in the White House, because Obama can’t make a move without first thinking of him.

President Obama’s presidency is in many ways the sad tale of a promising and, at one time, confident rising star who instead withered into an equivocating and uncertain Hamlet-like figure. He is haunted by a ghost named President Bush.

What started as a rhetorical and admittedly effective political device to provide voters with a contrast between himself and his predecessor has morphed into an all-consuming and downright paralyzing specter. One that haunts nearly every foreign policy decision he tries, unsuccessfully, to make.

Bush may as well still be in the White House, because Obama can’t make a move without first thinking of him.

The result is a failed foreign policy made up of countless mistakes and missed opportunities. The first was when the White House giddily announced to all interested
parties that we’d be quitting Iraq. They did so far too quickly and without any apparent concern for the looming and predictable dangers. They even pulled much needed intelligence forces out of theater.

More motivated by sticking it to Bush and scoring the political win, Obama was happy to
take credit for stability in Iraq that he did not create, a result of the troop surge that he did not support.

The next clear mistake was dithering on Syria, a conflict many of us predicted three years ago would deteriorate into a vastly more dangerous one. That decision, to let Syria fester un- addressed, led directly to a frightening expansion of the terrorist state through the Levant. It was an expansion that occurred not overnight, but over months, and once again Obama’s Bush complex kept him from taking early decisive action.

In making his case for American intervention in Syria and Iraq, he dedicated more energy explaining what he would not do, again obsessing on the actions of the previous administration. On Syria, back in September of 2013, he assured:

“The military plan that has been developed by the joint chiefs and that I believe is appropriate is proportional. It is limited. It does not involve boots on the ground. This is not Iraq and this is not Afghanistan.”

And in June, upon announcing his decision to send 300 military advisers into Iraq, the over-compensation was palpable:

“Recent days have reminded us of the deep scars left by America’s war in Iraq.”


“Here at home, Iraq sparked vigorous debates and intense emotions in the past, and we’ve seen some of those debates resurface. But what’s clear from the last decade is the need for the United States to ask hard questions before we take action abroad, particularly military action.”


“I think we always have to guard against mission creep so let me repeat what I have said in the past. American combat troops are not going to be fighting in Iraq again.”

So, after waiting two years to make the case for Syria and five months to acknowledge ISIS in Iraq, Obama’s strategy for convincing the American people, Congress, and our allies around the world to back him on limited intervention in these conflicts wasn’t to explain their urgency, our self-interests, or our responsibility, but to declare our last intervention’s disasters. That’s like getting your friends to take a blimp ride by reminding them of the Hindenburg.

It’s no wonder no one was sold on Syria and folks are still very much confused and concerned by our presence again in Iraq.

And for a guy who sold “nothing” better than any other presidential candidate in history (he convinced a country to vote for a guy who had no record to speak of), it’s remarkable that his efforts to sell his foreign policy to any kind of plurality have failed so completely.

But it’s not a product that he believes in. And not because of any ideological impulse or conviction. He doesn’t know what he believes. “Not being Bush” has been his only guide. And so he hums that mantra until it becomes totally untenable. And then he’s surprised when, at the 11th hour, no one’s with him.

It’s a shame. Maybe Obama once had some clear-eyed ideas about how the world should work. But we’ll never know, because the only vision he’s offered is by way of another man’s. And merely doing the opposite of someone else is no way to lead a nation, let alone the world. •

S.E. Cupp is author of “Losing Our Religion: The Liberal Media’s Attack on Christianity.” She has a weekly column in the New York Daily News and is a co-host of CNN’s “Crossfire.”