Barack Obama's Middle East fumbles are clearly explained and placed in context by Niall Ferguson, whose Harvard/Oxford/Stanford credentials are difficult for ruling class elitists to ignore. In essence, Obama is winging it (my term, not Ferguson's), lacking a "grand strategy" (Ferguson's term) for the Middle East, and (my phrasing) caught by surprise by events, just making it up as he goes along, saying whatever sounds good at the moment. Ferguson:
The president has alienated everybody: not only Mubarak's cronies in the military, but also the youthful crowds in the streets of Cairo. Whoever ultimately wins, Obama loses. And the alienation doesn't end there. America's two closest friends in the region-Israel and Saudi Arabia-are both disgusted. The Saudis, who dread all manifestations of revolution, are appalled at Washington's failure to resolutely prop up Mubarak. The Israelis, meanwhile, are dismayed by the administration's apparent cluelessness.
Personnel is policy, as the old DC saying goes:
...no president can be expected to be omniscient. That is what advisers are for. The real responsibility for the current strategic vacuum lies not with Obama himself, but with the National Security Council, and in particular with the man who ran it until last October: retired Gen. James L. Jones. I suspected at the time of his appointment that General Jones was a poor choice. A big, bluff Marine, he once astonished me by recommending that Turkish troops might lend the United States support in Iraq. He seemed mildly surprised when I suggested the Iraqis might resent such a reminder of centuries of Ottoman Turkish rule.
Astonishing incompetence, right up there with DNI Clapper's assertion that the Muslim Brotherhood is secular. Why does the President suround himself with fools?
Incompetence leads to a lack of foresight:
I can think of no more damning indictment of the administration's strategic thinking than this: it never once considered a scenario in which Mubarak faced a popular revolt. Yet the very essence of rigorous strategic thinking is to devise such a scenario and to think through the best responses to them, preferably two or three moves ahead of actual or potential adversaries. It is only by doing these things-ranking priorities and gaming scenarios-that a coherent foreign policy can be made. The Israelis have been hard at work doing this. All the president and his NSC team seem to have done is to draft touchy-feely speeches like the one he delivered in Cairo early in his presidency.
Newsweek has just added the distinguished professor to its roster of columnists in the wake of its takeover by The Daily Beast, as surprisingly hopeful sign for what had become a reliably moribund leftist leftover. This column deserves a read in its entirety.