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Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Bush-Obama Transition

Peter Baker at NYT:
The world was a volatile place when President George W. Bush was leaving office. So on the way out the door, he and his national security team left a little advice for their successors:

India is a friend. Pakistan is not. Don’t trust North Korea or Iran, but talking is still better than not. Watch out for Russia; it covets the territory of its neighbor Ukraine. Beware becoming ensnared by intractable land wars in the Middle East and Central Asia. And oh yes, nation-building is definitely harder than it looks.

Fourteen years ago, Mr. Bush’s team recorded its counsel for the incoming administration of President Barack Obama in 40 classified memos by the National Security Council, part of what has widely been hailed by both sides as a model transition between presidents of different parties. For the first time, those memos have now been declassified, offering a window into how the world appeared to a departing administration after eight years marked by war, terrorism and upheaval.

Thirty of the memos are reproduced in “Hand-Off: The Foreign Policy George W. Bush Passed to Barack Obama,” a new book edited by Stephen J. Hadley, Mr. Bush’s last national security adviser, along with three members of his staff, and set to be published by the Brookings Institution on Wednesday. The memos add up to a tour d’horizon of the international challenges that awaited Mr. Obama and his team in January 2009 with U.S. troops still in combat in two wars and various other threats to American security looming.


The memo on Russia concludes that Mr. Bush’s “strategy of personal diplomacy met with early success” but acknowledged that ties had soured, especially after Russia’s invasion of the former Soviet republic of Georgia in 2008. The memo presciently warned about Russia’s future ambitions.

“Russia attempts to challenge the territorial integrity of Ukraine, particularly in Crimea, which is 59 percent ethnically Russian and is home to the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet, must be prevented,” the memo warned five years before Russian forces would seize Crimea and 13 years before they would invade the rest of the country. The memo added that “Russia will exploit Europe’s dependence on Russian energy” and use political means “to drive wedges between the United States and Europe.”