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George W. Bush, Barack Obama and the future of US global leadership



    1. Senior Vice President, Director of Studies, and Maurice R. Greenberg Chair at the Council on Foreign Relations, where he oversees the work of the David Rockefeller Studies Program.
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The foreign policy world views of George W. Bush and Barack Obama differ dramatically. Bush made terrorism the focal point of his foreign policy and dismissed the idea that either allies or international institutions should constrain America's freedom of action. Obama sees terrorism as one of many transnational problems that require the cooperation of other countries to combat and, as a result, the United States must invest more in diplomatic efforts to build partnerships. Despite these differences, both presidents share one common conviction: that other countries long for US leadership. Bush believed that friends and allies would eventually rally to the side of the United States, even if they bristled at its actions, because they shared America's goals and had faith in its motives. Obama believed that a United States that listened more to others, stressed common interests and favored multinational action would command followers. In practice, however, both visions of American global leadership faltered. Bush discovered that many countries rejected his style of leadership as well as his strategies. Obama discovered that in a globalized world, where power has been more widely dispersed, many countries are not looking to Washington for direction. The future success of US foreign policy depends on the ability of policy-makers to recognize and adapt to a changing geopolitical environment in which the US remains the most significant military, diplomatic and economic power but finds it, nonetheless, increasingly difficult to drive the global agenda.