The State of American Foreign Policy

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on April 28, 2011

Kori Schake takes Ryan Lizza’s story on the Obama Administration’s foreign policy, and rightly goes to town:

What makes the article so funny is the pompous self-regard of the administration officials and the complete lack of appreciation for how woefully inadequate their performance has been in meeting these challenges. They are “not cursed with self-awareness,” to quote Annie Savoy from the movieBull Durham. Secretary of State Clinton compares herself as a collegiate Vietnam war protester to the young Egyptians who brought down the Mubarak government. Both Tom Donilon and Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes explain the importance of reducing involvement in the middle east because our strategic interests lie in Asia … as the administration engaged in combat operations in Libya. A presidential memo is cited as wisely anticipating the middle eastern revolutions, except that the memo calls for tailored country by country programs that the administration’s policies clearly did not have. The author even unwittingly adds to the humor, saying “Obama’s instinct was to try to have it both ways.”

The richest portrait in this regard is unsigned: a senior official describes the president’s doctrine as “leading from behind.” I am not making this up.

Ask any young Marine what “leading from behind” means. They probably won’t know; they’ve only ever seen leaders out front, sharing in the greatest risks because that is the responsibility of command. To the extent they will even understand what you’re asking, those Marines will probably say that a leader in the back of the formation is a coward, because they are making their Marines take risks the commander will not expose himself to.

Which is pretty close to what President Obama has done in regard to the demands for democracy in the middle east. He allows others to take risks for which he then claims credit — as Secretary Clinton tried to do taking a “historic walk through Tahrir Square” in Cairo, except that her brethren in bringing down governments would not play along because they resented her trying to take credit for their revolution when we supported the Mubarak government even during their uprising. As the White House did when the U.N. resolution on Libya passed: the British and French governments did the hard work of preparation and consensus building, but the White House crowed about it’s “reset” policy delivering Russia.  Same story on the air war: The White House did the flashy work at the start, took credit, and handed the slogging work of achieving our president’s stated objective of regime change over to the NATO allies.

We have some serious foreign policy challenges to deal with. It doesn’t help that we have an Administration that, at best, is only willing to phone it in when it comes to dealing with international affairs.

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