Bush policies still alive in Obama White House

President Obama came into office promising to be the opposite of George W. Bush, but after nearly five years as commander in chief, his policies are more like his Republican predecessor than he would care to acknowledge.

From drone strikes in foreign countries to the troop surge in Afghanistan to drawing up legal justification for killing U.S. citizens abroad, Mr. Obama’s administration has embraced and even expanded on some of Mr. Bush’s more controversial programs.


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“The policies that have produced successes in the foreign arena have been policies where he has stuck the closest to the Bush legacy,” said Peter Feaver, who was a national security aide to Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Mr. Obama and Mr. Bush will share a stage Thursday at the dedication of the Bush Presidential Library and Museum at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. It’s their first public meeting since Mr. Obama’s re-election campaign, in which he frequently blamed Mr. Bush’s stewardship — especially on economic policy — even four years after Mr. Bush left office.

The two men show no outward signs of friction, perhaps because they belong to an exclusive club. (The three other living former presidents, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Mr. Bush’s father, George H.W. Bush, also will attend the dedication.) In May 2012, Mr. Obama praised Mr. Bush for his service when the Republican’s official portrait was unveiled at the White House, saying he had gained a deeper appreciation of the burdens faced by Mr. Bush and their predecessors, adding, “We all want America to succeed.”

Doubling down on drones

If there is a holdover Bush policy that Mr. Obama has seized with both hands, it is the use of drone missile strikes to kill terrorist suspects overseas. The Obama administration has greatly expanded the covert program, essentially replacing a “boots on the ground” approach to fighting terrorists with a strategy that rains death instantaneously and unseen from the air.

The Bush administration began using drone strikes in 2004 and had launched a total of 49 by the time Mr. Bush left office in early 2009, according to the New America Foundation, a nonprofit think tank in Washington. Of those strikes, 48 were in Pakistan and one was in Yemen, and they killed as many as 356 militants.

Under Mr. Obama, through mid-April, the U.S. has launched another 379 drone strikes — nearly eight times more than the Bush administration. Of those attacks, 72 occurred in Yemen. As many as 2,895 militants have been killed on Mr. Obama’s watch, according to the foundation, including nearly 1,000 in Yemen.

The foundation said as many as 368 civilians have been killed by the U.S. in the drone war, including up to 233 during Mr. Obama’s administration.

“President Obama has used many of the tools that the Bush administration and previous administrations developed against al Qaeda, particularly including the drones, to strike at places where it was difficult to get U.S. troops or commandos,” said James Phillips, a Middle East analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Mr. Feaver, now a professor at Duke University, said Mr. Obama “has taken a modest program that he inherited from the Bush administration and ratcheted it up.”

Flexibility cited

While the president and his national security aides don’t discuss the drone program, they have said Mr. Obama’s strategy against al Qaeda is more targeted than those of previous administrations, while the centerpiece of Mr. Bush’s war on terrorism was the invasion of Iraq and a seven-year war in which nearly 4,500 U.S. troops were killed and more than 22,000 were wounded.

Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for Mr. Obama’s National Security Council, said the president has directed America’s principal counterterrorism focus “on the network that poses the most direct and significant threat to the United States: al Qaeda, its affiliates, and its adherents.”

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