When Barack Obama’s first term concluded in January, many liberals felt betrayed by the president’s broken campaign promises, some even going as far as accusing him of parroting his predecessor, George W. Bush. Indeed, Obama has pursued many Bush-era policies with varying degrees of popular support. On other occasions, he, like Bush, has declined to take action where action is needed. Despite Obama’s lip service to change, several Bush-Obama policies are here to stay — and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Through his flagship African relief program, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief Program (PEPFAR), Bush did more to help disease in Africa than any president before him. How’s Obama doing? In his 2013 State of the Union, the president optimistically claimed that an AIDS-free generation is within our grasp. Simultaneously, however, several of his budget proposals have threatened to cut PEPFAR funding. We can only hope Obama comes out on the right side.
2. Federal Spending
As 2008’s financial crisis proliferated at the end of Bush’s term, federal spending reached an all-time high. 2009, Obama’s first year in office, was the largest year in several decades for federal outlays. Most analysts agree that the spending spree of 2009 resulted from the Bush stimulus packages enacted in 2008. Rick Ungar at Forbes noted that Obama’s relative spending increases are actually the slowest compared to any other post-WWII administration. In spite of this, Obama’s first year saw the federal budget increase nearly 18% to an all-time high of $3.52 trillion. Notwithstanding legitimate objections about fiscal sustainability, a recession is no time for austerity.
Though he has consistently emphasized his intention to confront global warming, climate legislation has been virtually absent from Obama’s agenda. The administration deserves some credit for large investments in clean energy, but pushes for “clean” coal and natural gas extraction have seemingly offset any potential advances towards weaning off carbon. While Obama’s successes or failures on climate policy may not affect his legacy in the short term, history will surely judge how he acts on the issue.
4. Guantanamo Bay
As the intensity of war in Afghanistan and Iraq has gradually subsided, so has media coverage of Guantanamo Bay. But few can forget the president’s campaign promise to close the detention facility over four years ago. Certainly, the size of the military prison has declined, but with 166 prisoners still detained indefinitely, the problem shows no signs of disappearing. This week, a Guantanamo hunger strike reached unprecedented proportions, with 84 prisoners being fed through tubes. Will it be the final straw? Hopefully. Guantanamo’s closure cannot come fast enough.
Drone warfare has been the most controversial tactic in the decade-long War on Terror. However, most military officials in the United States – and Pakistan – have agreed the campaign is the most efficient way to confront violent extremism. Domestic opposition has recently been led by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who raised concerns over the use of drones as an extrajudicial enforcement tool. In Pakistan, many officials are concerned that a rising number of civilian casualties is driving tribal communities to side with the Taliban. The ultimate success of this policy relies both on improvements in drone accuracy and the ability of the Pakistani and Afghan militaries to effectively combat militants. Until then, drone hunting isn’t going anywhere.
6. "The Surge”
In 2007, President Bush authorized a massively successful troop surge in Iraq. High-ranking Senators, including Obama, vehemently opposed the move. During Obama’s first term, however, a similar expansion was ordered in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, this surge yielded no “statistically significant” results, as Gen. John Allen put it. A failed continuation of Bush-era strategy? Perhaps, but only because W. started the war in the first place.