Like many Progressives I would have preferred a faster time table for withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. But that does not diminish the fact that President Obama's announcement of his plan to end the Afghan War provides a good opportunity to consider that massive qualitative differences between his foreign policy and that of the previous administration.
First and foremost, George Bush and his Neocon allies got America into two costly wars. Barack Obama is getting America out of those two wars.
When Obama took office the United States had 180,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. We now have 150,000 troops in those countries. By the end of the year that number will drop to 100,000 and to 70,000 by next summer.
The combat mission in Iraq ended last year. All troops will leave Iraq by the end of next year.
Obama has indicated that all American troops will depart Afghanistan by 2014, with the prospect that their combat mission will end before that date.
There can be little question that Bush's War in Iraq was one of the costliest U.S. foreign policy disasters of modern times. Its direct costs are now approaching $800 billion. But a paper by Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz argues that the actual cost of the War in Iraq will ultimately exceed $3 trillion if you take into account both government expenses and the war's broader impact on the U.S. economy.
Since the war was not paid for with increased revenue, we will continue to pay interest on its cost for decades. It pushed up the price of oil to levels that have sapped the economy of hundreds of billions of dollars and helped precipitate the financial collapse that cost eight million Americans their jobs.
The Iraq War diverted billions from critical needs here in the United States.
It diverted attention from the conflict in Afghanistan and likely prolonged that conflict by years. In 2003, the year we invaded Iraq, the U.S. cut spending on the Afghan conflict from $20 billion to $14.3 billion while pumping $53 billion into the Iraq conflict.
And taxpayers will be paying to care for and rehabilitate wounded soldiers from Iraq for generations.
The War in Iraq cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and displaced millions.
As we leave Iraq, there is absolutely no evidence that the war benefited our country one iota -- much to the contrary. It strengthened our chief adversary in the region, Iran -- it fomented hatred for the U.S. and served as a recruiting poster for terrorists worldwide.
Bush began the Iraq War to find the "weapons of mass destruction" that did not exist and to prosecute the "War on Terror" although there was absolutely no connection between the leaders of Iraq and the 9/11 attacks.
Barack Obama ran for office as an opponent of that War, and he is ending it, as well as the mission in Afghanistan that -- but for the neglect of the Bush Administration -- should have ended years ago.
Second, despite his "War on Terror" bravado, George Bush and his Neocons failed miserably to degrade Al Qaeda and terrorist organizations around the world. Barack Obama has decimated Al Qaeda, and brought Osama Bin Laden to justice.
Today there are estimated to be fewer than 100 Al Qaeda remaining in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Its command and control structure has been ripped apart and its leadership killed.
Obama promised to focus like a laser on Al Qaeda, and he did it.
Instead of concentrating on America's true terrorist enemies, Bush and company focused on Iraq and downplayed the importance of Bin Laden -- who it now turns out was still very much in charge of the Al Qaeda network up to the time of his death.
And let's remember that the swaggering but hapless Bush Neocon crowd presided over the worst attack on the American homeland since Pearl Harbor -- ignoring intelligence warnings of a pending assault.
Finally, Bush's unilateralist, bull-in-a-china -shop approach, sunk America's reputation in the world to record lows. Obama has restored America's standing in the world.
According to a BBC poll, in 2007 -- toward the end of the Bush years -- America had sunk to become one of the countries with the lowest ratings. Fifty-four percent of those surveyed in its 27-country poll had negative views of the United States, and only 28% had positive views.
Since Obama took office, views of the U.S. have consistently improved. Now the numbers are reversed. Forty-nine percent of people have positive views of the U.S. and only 31 percent have negative views.
In a more democratic world -- where the views of average people matter more and more -- the views of our fellow human beings affect the ability of Americans to be successful in the world of the future. In particular, opinions of the United States directly affect the volume of young people who sign up to be terrorists and attack the United States.
Some have argued that U.S. support of military intervention in Libya stands in contradiction to the view that his foreign policy is qualitatively different from the policies of the past administration. I could not disagree more.
In fact, the approach we have taken to Libya is an example of that difference. In Libya, the United States is a part of a true multi-national effort to protect the Libyan population from a leader that had vowed to kill thousands. That action was called for by the international community through UN resolutions -- and by the Arab League.
We have no troops on the ground and now provide only logistical support for airplanes flown by our allies.
It is hard to imagine that anyone who demands -- quite correctly -- that the world should never again stand by and allow another Darfur or Rwanda or Srebrenica should oppose Obama's policy in Libya. U.S. policy in Libya does not stand in the tradition of Iraq. It stands in the tradition of the successful multi-national policy in the Balkans that ultimately (though belatedly) saved thousands of lives and ended a bloody ethnic war.
I, for one, am proud that Benghazi did not become Barack Obama's Rwanda.
When he ran for President, Obama promised to end the War in Iraq, refocus America's resources on Al Qaeda, bring the conflict in Afghanistan to a close, and restore America's role in the world. He is keeping those promises.
In summary, whatever you believe about the pace of withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, it is critical that Americans recognize the sharp, qualitative difference between the Neocon policies that cost America so dearly and President Obama's policies that have restored America's leadership in the world.