party in the street: bush v. obama war policy


From the Wiki entry on the 2007 Troop Surge in Iraq. Notice that troop level start declining in 2007, then stabilize at 40,000 and then 20,000.

When I tell people about Party in the Street, they are often puzzled. They think that the antiwar movement de-escalated because Obama pulled troops out of Iraq. They do not believe that the Obama administration actually pursued a lot of pro-war policies. In other words, people often hold the common view that Obama was clearly the anti-war president and Bush was the pro-war president.

The empirical facts that motivated Party in the Street are two: First, the collapse of the antiwar movement begins during late 2006/early 2007, the point at which troop levels in Iraq were at a high point. If activism were driven solely by facts on the ground, you’d see the Surge lead to an increase in anti-war activism until the troops left in 2009 or 2010. Second, the Obama administration pursued a lot of pro-war policies and continued many Bush era policies. Thus, you would expect some level of anti-war activism, not the complete collapse that was observed.

The position that Michael and I adopted in Party in the Street is this: First, we point out that the president often follows the “politics stops at the water’s edge” logic of foreign policy. In other words, Democratic and Republican administrations often pursue the same batch of politics and they don’t let domestic partisan interests drive foreign policy. Second, in practice, there is a lot of overlap in policy between administrations. The Bush pro-war/Obama anti-war distinction really doesn’t fit a US foreign policy were administrations routinely follow similar policies. Thus, you can’t explain the antiwar movement collapse on the radically different policies of each president.

Here’s a simply way to grasp the argument:

Obama bush table

If the common view is correct, half this picture would be empty, but it’s not. In other words, yes, Obama did have some anti-war policies, but so did Bush. Moreover, Obama actually had his own pro-war policies. The media at the time reported on numerous instances of the Obama administration seeking to expand or maintain a large US presence in Iraq, which was resisted by the Iraqi state. The bottom line is that when you want to understand the antiwar movement, you have to look at the social construction of grievance and not assume that movement behavior is purely responsive to actual policy positions or actions.


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Written by fabiorojas

June 10, 2019 at 5:18 pm

Posted in uncategorized

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