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The Seminar Presidency

David Ignatius concedes that Obama is conducting a do-over on Afghanistan. (“What’s odd about the administration’s review of Afghanistan policy is that it is revisiting issues that were analyzed in great detail — and seemingly resolved — in the president’s March 27 announcement of a new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.”) But what is most horrifying is the description of the process — academic, indecisive, and seemingly designed to get to the lowest common denominator:

As Obama’s advisers describe the decision-making process, it sounds a bit like a seminar. National security adviser Jim Jones gathers all the key people so that everyone gets a voice. A top official explains: “We don’t get marching orders from the president. He wants a debate. . . . We take the competing views and collapse them toward the middle.” This approach produced a consensus on Iran and missile defense, and as National Security Councils go, Obama’s seems to work pretty smoothly.

Yikes. Works smoothly? Well, if the point is to reach some blissful, mushy middle ground on virtually everything without regard to the real-world consequences of the actions, then it’s like silk. But is the presidency a graduate course on international relations? This one appears to be — filled with platitudes and catch-phrases one would hear in the Ivy League (“interdependence” is right up there), disdain for military force (“Never solves anything!” — er, except slavery and Nazism), and the fetish for “consensus.” It’s all very smooth and polite and the results are very well disastrous.

A half-measure in Afghanistan, the quagmire of “engagement” with Iran, and jerking missile defense out of Europe may engender “consensus” among essentially like-minded advisers, but all will leave the U.S. more vulnerable and the world more dangerous. Makes you miss the Decider.


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