Commentary Magazine


Three Hundred??

Barack Obama has 300 advisors on foreign policy. What?? That includes the Winnie-the Pooh fellow and 299 other “experts” who, we are led to believe, didn’t catch Obama’s “syntax” error on “undivided Jerusalem.” Did not one of the 300 know about the history of presidential summitry? And none of them thought it might have saved a heap of trouble for Obama if once during his primary campaign he had a briefing with General Petraeus or trip to Iraq?

One of several things is going on. One possibility: this unwieldy and bloated operation is utterly ineffective and doesn’t prevent or catch errors. There are lots of them, but they aren’t very good, even according to other Democrats. Or: they are there for window dressing to provide the patina of national security expertise when, in fact, the major foreign policy objectives are really driven by domestic ideology (e.g. we can’t admit Iraq has anything to do with Al Qaeda or the netroot will go nuts).

Morton Kondracke seems to favor the second as a working hypothesis. In a must-read column he writes:

Every voter understands the simple principle that you don’t make up your mind about something until you have checked the facts — but this week Obama declared he will stick to his predetermined troop- withdrawal schedule no matter what he might learn on his forthcoming trip to Iraq. The only reasonable explanation for his rigidity is that he’s hemmed in by the overwhelming demand of the Democratic base — and left-wing bloggers above all — that he not backtrack on the central promise of his campaign: to end the war. . . .But he couldn’t bring himself to admit that he was wrong about the surge, which has manifestly reduced violence and has opened the way for significant Iraqi political and military progress. As the State Department reported this month, the Iraqi government is making progress on 15 of the 18 political benchmarks set for it by Congress. A majority of Iraqi provinces are now the military responsibility of Iraqi forces. Obama, while tipping his hat to the performance of the U.S. military, continued to dismiss any evidence of political progress. He and aides act as though the Sunni turn against al-Qaida in Iraq and the government’s suppression of Shiite militias just happened — neglecting the security provided by the surge. Obama’s tack, if persisted in after his trip, opens him up to devastating McCain commercials using Obama on videotape predicting that the surge would fail alongside Iraqi testimonials that it was essential to free their country from al-Qaida atrocities. Obama was wrong to say that Iraq “is not and never was the central front in the war on terrorism.” It certainly was, for awhile, when Osama bin Laden was urging Islamicists to go there to achieve martyrdom killing Americans.

Most troubling is the possibility that the performance of the campaign’s foreign policy apparatus is a preview of the Obama administration’s foreign policy apparatus. There are apparently hundreds (if not thousands) of folks waiting to join the State and Defense Departments who hold beliefs that defy evidence and logic. They honestly believe that Iraq is unimportant, unconditional direct talks with Iran will unlock the promise of world peace, we can talk up protectionism at home without scaring our trading partners, and the less input from military commanders in war zones the better.

Take your pick as to which theory makes the most sense. But 300? I guess it takes a lot of people to script a foreign trip so tightly that there is no room for a gaffe.