The story is the same with Afghanistan. President Obama is implementing a strategy based on the successful “surge” in Iraq launched belatedly by his predecessor. The only difference is that Obama established a date for when some sort of reduction must occur, but as I’ve pointed out, this was likely a requirement in order to win the support of Congress and the public at large, and if Bush somehow had a third term, he may well have had to make a similar concession. And if he didn’t, it is quite possible that a reduction of some kind would have come around that time regardless, because of improving conditions and political reasons.
The similarities also apply to other war on terror issues. The closing down of Guantanamo Bay has been delayed until at least 2011 and critics seem to forget that the Bush administration also shared this goal, although it never made the mistake of setting a date that ultimately had to be discarded. The Obama administration has not abandoned the practice of indefinitely detaining enemy combatants either, saying that sometimes those held will not be able to be prosecuted but cannot be released either, drawing the ire of Rachel Maddow. It has even reformed but continued the practice of using military tribunals instead of civilian courts to try certain detainees.
On wiretaps, the Justice Department has taken the side of its predecessor, resulting in vicious criticism from Keith Olbermann. President Obama has issued executive orders that preserve the CIA’s authority to continue renditions, where terrorist suspects are snatched by agency operatives and held in secret prisons run by us or other countries, and officials say such actions may even increase.
This doesn’t mean there aren’t any major differences at all, but they are limited to domestic policy. Even there, though, similarities can be drawn in the growth of the size of government, deficit spending, and support for expanding faith-based initiatives.
George Friedman of the Stratfor intelligence group wrote in February 2008 that “policies have institutionalized themselves over the decades, and shifting those policies has costs that presidents can’t absorb. … Presidents do not simply make policy. Rather, they align themselves with existing reality.” In August, he wrote about these similarities, saying that constraints on presidents limit how much policies change despite the rhetoric of their political campaigns.
There are differences in rhetoric and packaging, and some reforms were implemented as to how things are done, but what is actually being done has remained.