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The Story Behind the Book | Kate Tuttle

Savage’s ‘Power Wars’ turns the light on Obama’s foreign policy

david wilson for the boston globe

Charlie Savage’s new book, “Power Wars,” takes a close look at Obama’s foreign policy, and one of his most surprising findings involves how the president has continued some of the Bush policies that so angered critics of that administration.

Despite campaign rhetoric that signaled a sea change, Savage said, “it pretty quickly became clear that a lot of these policies were going to continue.” With the notable exception of the two administrations’ approaches on the topic of torture, Savage noted, their policies are more aligned than many had expected.

This was clear in the earliest months of the first Obama term, Savage said, but “in 2013 Snowden happened, and it was really clear, if it hadn’t been before, that Obama had continued large amounts of the security state policies that he’d inherited from Bush. The new status quo that Bush created has been very hard to dislodge.”


Yet the big-picture underpinnings are different.

Unlike the Bush administration, in which the president declared himself the decision-maker, Obama “takes pride in process,” Savage said. “The Obama administration lacks that ideological agenda of expanding executive power.”

Savage, a New York Times Washington correspondent, won a Pulitzer Prize in 2007 while at the Globe for his stories on the growth of presidential power in the Bush White House.

“[The Obama] administration has had its own unique character,” Savage said. “Part of the argument I make in the book is that this has been the most lawyerly administration ever, following perhaps the least lawyerly administration ever, which was the Bush and Cheney administration. Obama’s a lawyer, Biden’s a lawyer. They’ve surrounded themselves with people who went to law school and that has consequences,” he added. “Because of how lawyers are trained to think, what they are trained to focus on — they tend to be incremental, they really try to grapple with the other side of every issue.”


Savage will read 7 p.m. Saturday at Harvard Book Store.

Kate Tuttle, a writer and editor, can be reached at kate.tuttle@gmail.com.