When Leslie Gelb writes a column entitled “Amateur Hour at the White House,” which sounds like he’s channeling Dick Cheney, the White House has a problem. Gelb is no right-winger but rather a dean in the Beltway foreign-policy establishment. The former New York Times columnist, Carter administration official, and now president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations reviews the lame Asia trip and finds that it “suggests a disturbing amateurishness in managing America’s power.” He then blasts away:
On top of the inexcusably clumsy review of Afghan policy and the fumbling of Mideast negotiations, the message for Mr. Obama should be clear: He should stare hard at the skills of his foreign-policy team and, more so, at his own dominant role in decision-making. Something is awry somewhere, and he’s got to fix it.
He rightly observes that it is hard to see much purpose in the trip. Without real progress on issues of consequence, Gelb argues that “Mr. Obama should have taken a well-deserved vacation in Hawaii.” The nub of the problem, he goes on to say, is that Obama doesn’t really have a foreign policy. Invoking “the God of Multilateralism without spelling out America’s leadership role” doesn’t really count. Gelb’s advice is to bring in new advisers.
Well, they can’t do any worse than the current crew has. But the problem, of course, stems from Obama’s obsessive infatuation with that “God of Multilateralism,” an aversion to projecting American power, and a refusal to embrace (or even fake belief in) American exceptionalism. Then there is Obama’s adoption of unhelpful excuse-mongering on behalf of those anxious to be unhelpful (e.g., the Palestinians are like enslaved African Americans, the Russians are fearful of the West), his amoral willingness to jettison human rights in the hopes of gaining favor with tyrants, and his narcissistic view of foreign policy that assumes his personal history and non-George-Bush-ness will be significant in dealing with international powers.
Will new advisers solve all that — and would Obama even listen to those who didn’t share his passive-aggressive predilections? It’s not likely, unless Obama himself acknowledged first that his foreign policy has been an embarrassing bust. No sign of that yet, although Gelb does his best to alert a White House unusually immune to criticism that the complaints are not simply the dreamed-up critiques of right-wingers. One imagines — hard as it may be to — that things will have to get worse before the Obami’s foreign policy gets better.