The One Critical Difference Between Bush and Obama

A tremendous amount has been written and discussed about the differences between the personalities, upbringing, politics of George Bush and Barak Obama.

We wish to focus on one critical difference that has not received the scrutiny and debate it deserves. That difference is between the global frame of reference of the two men.

George W. Bush turned the focus of America from Europe towards the new emerging centers of power.  This was an enormous change of direction that simply has not received any attention.

Prior to Bush, America was first and foremost Euro-centric. America won its independence from the English in 1776 and since then, the focus of American foreign policy has been Europe. America understands Europe. The greatest foreign policy successes of America have been in Europe.

Today, America  dominates Europe culturally, economically and militarily. The description of the American President as the “Leader of the Free World” is essentially a tribute to American soft hegemony over Europe.  On any matter of importance, it is impossible to imagine Europe acting without American leadership. For example, it was President Clinton who finally stepped in to take care of the Serbia-Croatia problem. Patrick Buchanan said it best when he jeered recently “to protect themselves from 140 million Russians, 550 million Europeans run to 300 million Americans”.    

George W. Bush was the first American President to downgrade Europe and replace it by the new emerging powers as the focus of US Policy. This shift began during the transition period between the election victory and Bush’s inaugural under the leadership of Wolfowitz. The events of 9/11 accelerated the shift already underway.

The Bush Administration paid far greater attention to BIC countries, Brazil, India and China than it did to Western Europe. Within, Europe, they paid greater attention to Emerging or Eastern Europe than they did to old Europe of France, Germany and Benelux.

This was a major transformation of the US frame of global reference. It is ironic that a man widely denounced as unintelligent or dumb (Paul Begala called him a moron on CNN) put through such a significant change of direction.

The change was glaringly obvious to any one who cared to look. Bush’s policies encouraged the free movement of capital and trade that has galvanized emerging market economies. The Bush Administration accepted China’s pegging of the Remnimbi to the dollar and it was the Bush Administration that encouraged free trade with China.

It is remarkable that (self-described) respected journalists like Tom Brokaw, Chris Mathews, Wolf Blitzer, Anderson Cooper did not recognize this change and if they did, paid no attention to it.

Europe on the other hand did. Europeans have a tremendous mental and physical involvement with America and they did not like this change one bit.  They felt ignored and slighted.

George Bush and his Administration paid a heavy price for this change of focus. Europeans started describing Bush as a non-consultative President, a cowboy who increased America’s isolation from the world. The American media (Brokaw, Mathews, Cooper, Blitzer et al) grew up with Europe as their only frame of reference and look up to Europe as the seat of sophisticated , international thinking. It was to be expected that they would pick up what Europe had begun saying and run with it.

The BIC countries might have come of age economically, but they are midgets in terms of media influence or respect. China does not have a free press and can play no role in global media. Brazil is considered to be a niche player. India has an English language media which positions itself to the left of Europe and tries to ape whatever Europe does. You can still find Indian writers who laughingly repeat Bernard Shaw’s line “Americans have not spoken English for years”. 

Why is this relevant today?

Barak Obama’s frame of reference is 180 degrees opposite to that of George Bush. Mr. Obama has declared his express intention to turn America back towards to a focus on Europe. Mr. Obama understands that China, India, South-East Asia and Latin America are important but to him, Europe is paramount.

This is what Obama means when he says that he will be more consultative with the world and that he will be less unilateral in his policies. He envisages a partnership with Europe that will set the course for the world.

The major power lobbies in the Democratic Party and the media (print and TV) are in sync with this mindset and with the way Europe thinks. So Obama will have substantial cover and flank support when he turns America back towards Europe. Unfortunately, this will prove to be a major mistake for Obama and America.

In our opinion, the frame of reference adapted by George Bush is the correct frame for America going forward. The events of the world will be increasingly influenced by events in China, India, Russia, Brazil, South Africa and their neighbors. America’s principal focus must be on these regions and countries.  That is in America’s long term interests.

It seems evident that the world’s governments see what we see. Governments around the world have begun to take steps to lean away from America. 

Brazil, South Africa and India are refocusing their efforts to strengthen IBSA (an alliance of India, Brazil and South Africa). Qatar, a major American ally and the country that hosts the American Military in the Persian Gulf, has begun discussions for military and economic cooperation with India. So has Oman. China on the other hand has ratcheted up its anti-India rhetoric and threatened to escalate the border disputes with India. Myanmar and Bangladesh are mobilizing forces to protect their own interests from each other. Thailand and Cambodia have moved forces to their borders to defend what each sees as its sovereign territory.

It is our fervent hope that Barak Obama quickly adopts the Bush frame of reference and reassures the new centers of power that his policy will continue the transformation pioneered by George Bush. If he does not, he will see a realignment of global powers that will not be to the benefit of America. He could also usher in a period of global tension and conflict.

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