Obama reflects on his foreign policy...successes?
Somewhere in Hawaii, a village truly is missing its idiot.
In a new article in The Atlantic, Barack Obama reflects on his foreign policy, which he seems to consider quite successful. Perhaps most notably, Obama says he's "very proud" of his Syrian policy.
To borrow a line, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?
To make matters worse, Obama was referring specifically to backing down on the red line he drew against the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons. As the rest of the world knows, Assad called Obama's bluff, and Vladimir Putin moved in to fill the power vacuum created by Obama's dithering.
Obama, however, refuses to acknowledge the obvious. The article's author, Jeffrey Goldberg, writes:
Obama understands that the decision he made to step back from air strikes, and to allow the violation of a red line he himself had drawn to go unpunished, will be interrogated mercilessly by historians. But today that decision is a source of deep satisfaction for him.
"I'm very proud of this moment," he told me. "The overwhelming weight of conventional wisdom and the machinery of our national-security apparatus had gone fairly far. The perception was that my credibility was at stake, that America's credibility was at stake. And so for me to press the pause button at that moment, I knew, would cost me politically. And the fact that I was able to pull back from the immediate pressures and think through in my own mind what was in America's interest, not only with respect to Syria but also with respect to our democracy, was as tough a decision as I've made – and I believe ultimately it was the right decision to make."
This, despite almost universal criticism of that decision, both within and without his regime:
"Once the commander in chief draws that red line," Leon Panetta, who served as CIA director and then as secretary of defense in Obama's first term, told me recently, "then I think the credibility of the commander in chief and this nation is at stake if he doesn't enforce it." Right after Obama's reversal, Hillary Clinton said privately, "If you say you're going to strike, you have to strike. There's no choice."
"Assad is effectively being rewarded for the use of chemical weapons, rather than 'punished' as originally planned." Shadi Hamid, a scholar at the Brookings Institution, wrote for The Atlantic at the time.
Even commentators who have been broadly sympathetic to Obama's policies saw this episode as calamitous. Gideon Rose, the editor of Foreign Affairs, wrote recently that Obama's handling of this crisis – "first casually announcing a major commitment, then dithering about living up to it, then frantically tossing the ball to Congress for a decision – was a case study in embarrassingly amateurish improvisation."
Obama's defense of his capitulation?
There's a playbook in Washington that presidents are supposed to follow. It's a playbook that comes out of the foreign-policy establishment. And the playbook prescribes responses to different events, and these responses tend to be militarized responses. Where America is directly threatened, the playbook works. But the playbook can also be a trap that can lead to bad decisions. In the midst of an international challenge like Syria, you get judged harshly if you don't follow the playbook[.]
In other words, he still considers himself the smartest guy in the room – all evidence to the contrary. He's definitely smarter than America's entire foreign policy apparatus.
And smarter than our allies, too. Like the prime minister of France:
Manuel Valls, told me that his government was already worried about the consequences of earlier inaction in Syria when word came of the stand-down. "By not intervening early, we have created a monster," Valls told me. "We were absolutely certain that the U.S. administration would say yes. Working with the Americans, we had already seen the targets. It was a great surprise. If we had bombed as was planned, I think things would be different today."
Smarter, as well, than the crown prince of Abu Dhabi:
Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, who was already upset with Obama for "abandoning" Hosni Mubarak, the former president of Egypt, fumed to American visitors that the U.S. was led by an "untrustworthy" president.
Much smarter than the king of Jordan:
Abdullah II – already dismayed by what he saw as Obama's illogical desire to distance the U.S. from its traditional Sunni Arab allies and create a new alliance with Iran, Assad's Shia sponsor – complained privately, "I think I believe in American power more than Obama does."
Certainly smarter than the Saudis, who saw Obama's capitulation this way:
"Iran is the new great power of the Middle East, and the U.S. is the old," Jubeir, the Saudi ambassador in Washington, told his superiors in Riyadh.
And, of course, Obama is much smarter than Vladimir Putin, whom he describes as "not completely stupid." Obama contends that Putin isn't really "a player" on the international stage, despite Russia's ascendance in the Middle East during Obama's watch.
The reason? (And I kid you not.) Russia's role – or lack thereof – in international conferences.
You don't see him in any of these meetings out here helping to shape the agenda. For that matter, there's not a G20 meeting where the Russians set the agenda around any of the issues that are important.
Great. While our allies bemoan the lack of U.S. action, while Russia expands its influence in one of the world's most crucial regions, and while a soon to be nuclear Iran becomes the Middle East's hegemon, maybe the U.S. can design the seating chart for the next G20 banquet.
He also throws the U.S.'s European allies under the bus for his and Hillary Clinton's failed policies in Libya.
But you have to read the whole Atlantic article for the full effect. To this correspondent, it confirms the fears of those of us who predicted that Obama was too callow and feckless to become commander-in-chief. The worst part? He doesn't seem to have learned from his many mistakes.
But, of course, he is the smartest man in the room.