Book Review: National Security in the Obama Administration: Reassessing the Bush Doctrine

General information

Title: National Security in the Obama Administration: Re-assessing the Bush Doctrine

Author: Stanley A. Renshon

Publication: Routledge, 2010

Number of Chapters: 11

Number of Pages: 308


As the author says in the preface of the book, the focus of the book is on the intersection of post-9/11 national security dilemmas that face the United States and its allies, the development and application of the strategic doctrines and policies that respond to those circumstances, and presidential leadership and judgment that are brought to bear, for better or worse, on these issues, and as the title of the book implies it uses the analysis of two presidencies and the doctrine that both connects and separates them, as a method.

After 9/11 when the American national icons were attacked, the Bush Administration put into place a large set of policies designed to prevent another, more deadly attack, policies which were controversial both domestically and abroad. Barack Obama ran for the disagreements which those policies were based on and was elected to the presidency. A first question the book raises about it is: what will Barack Obama do with the national security architecture that he has inherited from the Bush Administration? The second question the author asks is: how will Barack Obama, as a new president, respond to the many other foreign policy challenges that await him? He believes that to answer this question, a kind of layer by layer analysis is needed, which each level becomes progressively closer to the president’s basic working worldview and set of strategic assumptions.

The author believes there are three working layers which are needed to be analyzed if we want to answer the first question. To analyze each working level we need to answer other questions. At the first layer are those questions of concrete policy. Here the new president will face many national security questions for which the Bush Doctrine cannot and was not developed to give answers. Questions like, what does one do with Russia rising again? Should the United States intervene in real or potentially genocidal wars like Darfur, and if so, in what circumstances? At the second level, which is underlying the first one and is a level of inference and analysis, some very basic questions are asked. Questions like, what is the proper role of American power and leadership in the post-9/11 world? How does one relate to our competitors and enemies? How much can he expect from our allies and what do they have a right to expect from us? And of course, the most basic national security question of all is: under what circumstances should the United States consider and then use military force? The third and the most basic working level is a level at which the president and the advisers’ thinking run. These are the question which the third level raises. What is the nature of the international system and the various actors within it? How can common ground be reached or disaster avoided? What policy tools are likely to work, in what circumstances and with whom?

The author admits that these questions have more to do with psychology and not pure policy and this kind of analysis is a study in the psychology that underlies the national security thinking of the Obama Administration, as well as some of the central issues that their thinking will have to discuss.

The question is that how much and which parts of the Bush Doctrine on national security strategy, if any, should the Obama Administration keep. The author believes that answering this question is not possible without a fair appraisal of that doctrine. And the doctrine should be understood apart from the changes that 9/11 brought about in the Bush Administration’s national security thinking. Whether those circumstances have sufficiently changed, and if so how, is central to considering how much, if any, of the Bush Doctrine remains relevant. There are different arguments about it. The author thinks that the analysis he suggests does not happen unless after a fair consideration of the doctrine. Then the major purpose of the book is to give that analysis and to make its purpose it is to consider the strengths, weaknesses and rationales of the doctrine.

Chapter 1: The Obama Presidency and the World he Inherits

There are many national security issues facing the Obama Administration. The chapter starts with talking about some of the most important of those national security issues that the Obama Administration face and should be concerned about. Then it goes on talking about the ambivalent relationship between the Bush Doctrine and Obama’s strategic view. It further considers the nature of risk in the post-9/11 world and how it has an impact on the development of any new doctrine. The chapter ends with a series of basic national security questions that the Obama Administration will have to be concerned about.

Chapter 2: The Evolution of a Post-9/11 National Security Perspective

The chapter starts with considering the intellectual and worldview foundations and bases of the Bush doctrine and details why and how it developed. It then analyzes the five major elements of the Bush Doctrine.

Chapter 3: The Real Bush Doctrine

Chapter 3 talks about the fundamentally new and consequential set of national security challenges that led to the Bush Doctrine.

Chapter 4: The Bush Doctrine: Myths and Criticisms

The Obama Administration’s developing national security Doctrine would benefit by looking to what others have done. This is routinely done as presidents and their advisers look to history, both for policy advice and cautionary lessons. This chapter, along with the previous chapter, tries to analyze the Doctrine’s real contributions and limitations to the American national security. These two chapters are the basis for considering how the Obama Administration might change or make use of them.

Chapter 5: The New Calculus of Risk

The focus of this chapter is taking the nature of risk and the consequences of uncertainty in the post-9/11. The author believes that the future of American national security policy requires us to consider the nature of risk as important. As the prime element of national security decisions is uncertainty, thinking about the range of possible losses and gains associated with the security dilemmas that the United States faces, is important.

Chapter 6: Deterrence, Containment and Adversarial Bargaining Post-9/11: North Korea and Iran

What George W. Bush said, about the need for different strategies in response to different threats in his 2004 State of the Union address, showed his varied approaches to China, Iran, Syria, North Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Venezuela, and the Sudan. And this shows that a sort of diversity in strategic psychology applied to different circumstances is one of the hallmarks of the Bush Doctrine. It then talks about the two most familiar American strategic tools, deterrence and containment, a brief history of where they have come from and used. Two cases are to be examined to show two different approaches of the Bush Doctrine, the adversarial bargaining as a national security strategy toward North Korea and the constricting strategies and adversarial talk as an NSS toward Iran.

Chapter 7: Dangerous Threats and the Use of Force

The critical issue of when to use force is a longstanding one, but the post-9/11 risks have been raised considerably. Then, when to use force about of the Bush Doctrine, is an issue this chapter is all about. The author says that it is a dilemma which sooner or later the Obama Administration faces. Toward the end of the chapter, the concept of being dangerous is developed and it tries to discuss its psychological and political elements.

Chapter 8: Strategic Options and the Future of the Bush Doctrine

The Bush Doctrine is a grand strategy and it is not easy to answer this question that what will take the place of it if President Obama decides to leave it. The author believes that comparing the Bush Doctrine with its possible replacements allows us to better understand the advantage and limitations of both and it is an opportunity to have a deeper understanding of the complex issues involved in the post-9/11 national security environment.

Chapter 9: The Politics of Risk Assessment

Chapter 9 totally talks about the necessity of risk assessment and this fact that risk assessment is not only a matter of intelligence information but of judgments given real uncertainty. At the end of this chapter the author concludes that the future of American national security is divided and there is going to be different views as he shows the issue of the bill passed in the House requiring the end of the major U.S. mission to Iraq by August 31, 2008 on March 20, 2007.

Chapter 10: The Politics of Post-9/11 National Security: A Profound Worldview Divide

Chapter 10 considers that whatever national security strategy is chosen, first the president and political leaders must be able to carry them out and the public must understand and support them. Because a kind of divide between the two major political parties exists, the political and psychological burdens on both the presidency and the public are getting worse. And the author in this chapter is going to consider this political divide, how it influenced the national security debates and how it played a role in the 2008 presidential election.

Chapter 11: Obama’s National Security Tasks Worldview, Leadership and Judgment

Chapter 11, as the last but not least chapter of the book, believes that the United States is caught in a legitimacy dilemma. President Obama clearly hopes to escape this dilemma by making use of the enormous good will that has greeted his election, rhetorically distancing himself at every opportunity from his predecessor and embarking on national security outreach initiatives that are likely to result in international and domestic support and approval, at least in the beginning. The author believes that a kind of leadership is something that the United States is required to look for to survive. Chapter 11 offers some observations on national security issues to Barack Obama Administration. The chapter and also the book ends with a question that has the Bush Doctrine made the United States safer? The author believes that the question cannot be answered with a simple yes or no. And he raises three other questions to help find an answer for the first question.


Finally, I have listed the reasons why I recommend reading this book:

1. In all chapters of the book, first there is a clarification of the issues and the author tries to delve into the details and it helps the reader have a god understanding while reading the chapter.

2. The organization of the book and the classification of the issues within each chapter is very helpful to make an organized structure in the reader’s mind.

3. The book includes many examples and cases to clarify and explain the doctrines and theories.

4. Historical backgrounds are not only very long to bore the reader but also short and interestingly chosen to attract the reader to go on reading.

5. It takes advantage of having a straightforward text so that the reader can concentrate on the text and not to be distracted by many jargon.