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The Bushification of Barack Obama

20080222-bush-obama
It is not easy to have such a popular guy in the White House. For too many governments—those of Cuba and Iran, for example—having an easy-to-bash figure in the Oval Office is indispensable. And we all know people for whom anti-Americanism is almost a basic instinct and an automatic inspiration for their political views. Thus, the high approval ratings that Barack Obama enjoys almost everywhere are a very problematic trend for those in need of a U.S. president who can be easily portrayed as one more executor of the deeds of the devilish American empire.

That is why the “Bushification” of Barack Obama will become fashionable.

The morphing of Obama into George W. Bush is the inevitable next chapter in a narrative common outside the United States, one that began with erudite explanations of why the American political establishment would never allow a black man to become president, that continued with the surprise of Obama’s victorious campaign, that followed with the eruption of emotions during his inauguration, and that then led to widespread concerns about the difficulty Obama faces in meeting the impossibly high expectations created by his election. In the next phase of this story, many will begin to claim that, in practice, there is not much difference between George W. Bush and Barack Hussein Obama. Or, as the poetic president of Venezuela has already said, they are “the same miasma”; that is to say, that they are both malignant effusions emanating from rotten material.

And it’s not just Hugo Chávez who’s making comparisons; “Bushing” Obama will become a global trend. For the Iranian regime, it will be important to demonstrate that regardless of the fact that the middle name of the new president is Hussein and that in Farsi “Obama” means “he’s with us,” in reality Obama remains, just as his predecessor, the executive of the Great Satan.

Three days into the Obama administration, the United States bombed a group of alleged Taliban fighters in northern Pakistan, killing at least 14 people. The Pakistani government immediately protested the latest violation of its sovereignty, and the bombing proved that any hope it had that Obama would not continue with Bush’s policies in this regard was unwarranted. After Timothy Geithner, the new Treasury secretary, accused China of being a currency manipulator, the Chinese government reacted angrily: “To direct baseless accusations against China with respect to its exchange rate only helps the cause of American protectionism and does not contribute to finding a real solution to the problem,” its official press release said.

As Christian Brose writes in the current issue of Foreign Policy, there will be significant continuities between the Bush and Obama administrations regarding, for example, the commitment to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power, the need to engage with North Korea, and strong support for Israel. It should not be a surprise then that in the Arab world there are already those who denounce the Obama administration as nothing more than the continuation of the Bush administration—only amended by the addition of more Jews to the cabinet and other high-level positions.

In some instances, arguing that Obama is Bush reincarnate will be easy. Some continuity between the policies of the two administrations is inevitable, especially after the many sharp U-turns that Bush took in his second term. But in many other cases, portraying Obama as Bush III will be just a part of the campaign to rebrand a new U.S. president who is inconveniently popular by those who need to have a perpetual enemy in the White House. Despite the powerful incentives to do so and the efforts to make Obama look like Bush, this rebranding campaign will not be easy to pull off. One constant in Obama’s career has been his ability to surprise his critics and confound his skeptics. There are many reasons why this will happen again. Not the least of them is that, despite what his critics will say, Barack Obama is not George W. Bush.

Moisés Naím is editor in chief of Foreign Policy. A version of this article was originally published in Spanish in El País.
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Tags: barack obama, george (h.)w. bush / bush family, world
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