As much as Hope and Change defined Barack Obama's 2008 campaign, his success was a clear rebuke of the policies in the George W. Bush presidency. Bush's approval rating hung at 25 percent on the day Obama was elected, and John McCain did everything he could to distance himself from the incumbent Republican president. Bush's legacy was tarnished for a number of reasons, but none more so than his foolhardy foreign-policy agenda. When the Democratic candidate who rose to fame for his early opposition to Iraq won the presidency, it appeared the neo-con age had come to a close.
Three years later, it's clear that wasn't the case. The Heritage Foundation and AEI cohosted the presidential debate last night; in addition to CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer, audience members from the two conservative think tanks had the chance to quiz the roster of candidates. The list of attendees read like an all-star neo-conservatives from the Bush White House.
Paul Wolfowitz served as a deputy Secretary of Defense during the first Bush term and was one of the key architects of the failed Iraq War. Now a visiting scholar at AEI, Wolfowitz had the chance to ask the presidential contenders about their views on aid to Africa. Then there was David Addington, formerly chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney and now a vice president at Heritage, who questioned the candidates' views on Syria. The debate closed with AEI's Marc Thiessen, a former Bush speechwriter who literally wrote the book on torture. The Bush reunion tour was in such full force that I half expected the former president to pop out of a cake to close the proceedings.
The resurgence of the neo-cons can be attributed to President Obama's failures. Rather than forming a truth and reconciliation commission to examine the use of torture and other unlawful military techniques as many had suggested, Obama issued executive orders to reverse course on the Bush-era policies but otherwise did nothing to hold members of the former administration accountable. That lack of public discourse has allowed the Republican candidates to begin favoring the Bush-era torture policies once again—and allowed former members of the administration to continue in public life. "This is one thing we know about Barack Obama," Michele Bachmann said last night. "He has essentially handed over our interrogation of terrorists to the ACLU. He has outsourced it to them. Our CIA has no ability to have any form of interrogation for terrorists." The majority of the GOP hopefuls, including Bachmann, Herman Cain and frontrunner Mitt Romney have said that they would support the use of waterboarding if elected president next year.