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Michael Cairo

Cairo’s book looks at leadership styles of the two Bush presidencies

In his new book, The Gulf: The Bush Presidencies and the Middle East, political science professor Michael Cairo examines the role of the executive office in shaping United States foreign policy by analyzing the differing philosophies and styles of former presidents George H. W. Bush and his son, George W. Bush.

Michael Cairo's bookBoth presidents led the nation through watershed events in foreign relations: the end of the Cold War and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Both also managed American wars in Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. But each took different approaches to international strategies, based on their beliefs, personalities, and leadership styles.

Cairo classifies George H. W. as an enlightened realist in international relations because of his belief in power-politics, coalition diplomacy, and multilateralism.

“George H. W. felt that the United States should be a leading power among allies, but not a dominant power,” Cairo said. “He was a defensive realist, not willing to take risks unless he had to. Immediately after Iraq invaded Kuwait, his main concern was not Kuwait, but Saudi Arabia and protecting the oil resources of that nation.”

Cairo says the vast experience of George H. W.—Naval aviator in World War II, U.S. representative, director of Central Intelligence, vice-president under Ronald Reagan—made him one of the best-prepared presidents in the area of foreign policy and shaped his views in many ways.

“He was much more flexible than his son, more willing to compromise, and was very aware of the various advisors he needed to hear from,” Cairo said. “He often referred to himself as his own national security advisor, because his years of experience allowed him to thoroughly evaluate what he was being told.”

Cairo describes George W. as a cowboy liberal who believed you should use your forces to secure your interests, rather than just defend and not accept risk. He came into the office of the presidency inexperienced in the area of foreign policy.

“The cowboy aspect fits in with his own values, since he came out of Midland, Texas, a very traditional western town in many ways,” Cairo said. “The liberal aspect is his very solid belief that democracy could bring peace in the Middle East, more so than his father. His inexperience in foreign affairs meant that he had to trust his advisors more. And by his own admission, he was a man who led by gut instinct—if it felt right to him, he did it, and he was less flexible about changing a decision.”

The United Nations provided a clear point of difference in the two Bushes’s leadership philosophies, Cairo said.

“George H. W. believed strongly that the United Nations could be a useful tool, and he saw the value of those kinds of negotiations,” he said. “George W., on the other hand, viewed the deliberations of the U.N. as merely getting mired down in process, when what you really have to do is make the decision and move on.”

A review of the book by John Robert Greene, Cazenovia College, said, “Cairo has produced what students of the modern presidency have been waiting for—a thoughtful, critical, impeccably researched and engagingly written study of the foreign policy of the two Bushes.”

Cairo’s book is the first in a planned series from the University Press of Kentucky titled “Studies in Conflict, Diplomacy, and Peace.” The premise is that the books in the series will help inform future U.S. foreign policy relations, and Cairo feels his book has that potential.

“One of the things that comes out of my book for policymakers is not to be blinded by their own worldviews or personal feelings, and that experience matters,” Cairo said. “In the Middle East peace process, for example, the perceptions that presidents have about their counterparts in Israel can have a real impact. George H. W. really disliked Yitzhak Shamir, whereas George W. really liked Ariel Sharon. In negotiating with others, you can think about how your feelings concerning an individual can affect the process.”

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