The difference between Barack Obama and George W. Bush

Last night President Barack Obama announced that he had ordered airstrikes against ISIL positions in northern Iraq.

He didn’t do this to secure oil fields. He didn’t do this to project US power in the Middle East. He didn’t do this in some sort of misplaced revenge.

He did this, as he stated quite clearly, to prevent a genocide.

The Yazidi community—descendants of the Zoroastrians who used to rule the area—has come under attack by the militants of ISIL. ISIL’s intent is clear: wipe out the community. Whether it be starvation in the mountains or slaughter on the plains is of no matter to them. (Although I think those brainwashed fundamentalists would love nothing more than to mow down unarmed men, women, and children.)

Of course, ISIL is a direct result of the chaos unleashed by former president George W. Bush in 2003 with his invasion of Iraq. No, I’m not carrying water for Saddam Hussein. He was a murderous, psychopathic dictator. However, he maintained a level of stability via his terror. The Bush Administration had no plan for what would replace Saddam, Donald Rumsfeld famously saying that US troops would be out of Iraq within six months. Six months turned into seven years, while Mr. Bush’s best and brightest were found out to be the worst and dullest, fumbling around for one solution after another which never worked out. The solution finally decided upon—the regime of Nouri Al-Maliki and his Shi’ite maximalists—was probably the worst possible choice. Replacing a Sunni dictatorship with a Shi’a dictatorship proved not only hypocritical, but suicidal. Mr. al-Maliki, for all his venality, hasn’t been able to project the terror which Saddam did to keep the various sects in line. And the Iraq invasion unleashed all sorts of ethnic and confessional demands. But most importantly, al Qaeda, which had never been in Iraq or the greater Middle East before 2003, suddenly found purchase amidst the chaos. Mr. Bush’s lie that the US invaded Iraq to fight AQ became true after the hornet’s nest he stirred up. ISIL is a direct descendant of those first AQ cadres. So, as with our support of Mujahedeen in Afghanistan in the 1980s leading to the formation of al Qaeda, our invasion of Iraq has led to predictable blowback in the form of ISIL.

Every time Mr. Bush had the chance to do the right thing in response to the 9/11 attacks, he chose to fulfill neo-conservative wet dreams of remaking the Middle East in America’s image, and subservient to US interests. And he never seemed to be bothered by the thousands of people—Americans and Iraqis—he sent to death.

Pres. Obama is quite different.

As far back as 2002 he was making his opposition to the Iraq adventure known, at a time when it was still quite popular among the public. He foresaw the possible blowback—blowback with which he now has to deal as president.

As president, he’s taken limited military action when needed: the air war over Libya, drone attacks against militants, surging in Afghanistan to stabilize the country so that the US could then withdraw. But much more often, he has relied on diplomacy: the Syrian civil war, the crisis in Ukraine, and issuing the harshest language a US government has issued against Israel since former secretary of state James Baker’s famous tirade in 1991.

And now, in an effort to avoid a shameful massacre, he has ordered US planes to bomb ISIL positions so that Kurdish troops can move against the militants and save the Yazidi. Notice the difference between Mr. Obama and Mr. Bush: the former is acting to prevent a humanitarian disaster; the latter acted to create one.

But, more importantly, is what Pres. Obama isn’t doing. He’s not sending in ground troops. He’s made it clear that there is no US military solution to the Iraqi civil war—a civil war created as a result of Mr. Bush’s invasion. The US can support a peace process, it can provide limited military aid to stanch the rolling of ISIL. But it has lost all legitimacy in imposing a solution.

And that is what drives Pres. Obama’s critics like former vice president Dick Cheney mad. They are besotted with the idea of the United States as the world’s new empire, imposing its values and forms on the world. Pres. Obama is quite aware that to exert US influence, it has to be done in coalitions of equals, with the coalition members on the same page as to goals and objectives. Carrier aircraft are unable to solve most of the world’s problems; but persistent, public diplomacy can.

Mr. Bush—or any of the hopeful GOP candidates since 2008—would have already sent in the Marines, to start another cycle of blood. The hammer is the only tool in their tool box. As Vladimir Putin is learning, it’s usually the wrong tool.

I, like most Americans, don’t want more war. And Pres. Obama, by his actions, is helping to ensure that there will be no US boots on the ground of Mesopotamia. As an added goal, he may just prevent a genocide. That’s the man I voted for twice.