As much as Obama had run against Bush’s legacy in 2008, he ended up embracing much of it in 2009. He kept Bush’s defense secretary and many other top national security figures, and he decided to follow Bush’s plan for a three-year withdrawal from Iraq. While he jettisoned the term “war on terror” and banned the harsh interrogation techniques that had been so controversial, Obama failed to close the Guantanamo prison, just as Bush had, kept the terrorist surveillance program, authorized the use of military commissions, and decided to hold some terror suspects indefinitely without trial, albeit with more procedural protections built into the process. He more or less adopted Bush’s policy toward North Korea, only somewhat modified the approach to Iran, effectively copied the Iraq surge by sending more troops to Afghanistan, and expanded the drone campaign in Pakistan. Arguably, Obama validated some of Bush’s most important decisions. By 2013, Ari Fleischer was claiming that Obama was “carrying out Bush’s 4th term.”
There were more pronounced differences over domestic policy, most notably Obama’s expansion of health care and support for marriage and military service for gays and lesbians. But even at home, the new president preserved many of Bush’s initiatives. Obama completed the financial and auto industry bailouts that Bush began, largely kept No Child Left Behind and the Medicare drug prescription program, and built on his increase in fuel economy standards and incentives for renewable energy. While Obama ran against Bush’s tax cuts, he ended up reauthorizing roughly 85 percent of them, reversing them for just the top 1 percent of American taxpayers. And Obama made one of his highest second-term priorities an overhaul of the immigration system, moving to complete Bush’s unfinished mission.
The disparity between Obama’s campaign trail rhetoric on national security and his actions upon taking office shocked some of his supporters but should have come as little surprise to anyone who watched the evolution of the previous administration. Obama essentially ran against Bush’s first term but inherited his second. By the time Bush left office, he had already shaved off the harsher, more controversial edges of his war on terror, either under pressure from Congress, the courts, and public opinion or out of a conscious effort to put his policies on a firmer foundation with more bipartisan approval. He had emptied the secret CIA prisons, cleared out many of the prisoners at Guantanamo, approved no waterboarding after 2003, and secured the approval of lawmakers for military commissions, expansive surveillance, and other elements of his program.
– Days of Fire Bush and Cheney in the White House by Peter Baker