Commentary Magazine


When Does the Realism Kick In?

Many others have noted the drivel emanating from our secretary of state — the platitudinous phrases, the double talk, and the insulation from reality. But it is also correct that we should not be surprised any longer:

In a way, you can’t blame her for her haplessness, secretarially speaking. Her own experience with matters foreign—being “shot at” by Bosnian “snipers,” for one, or, for another, kissing Suha Arafat while Mrs. Arafat’s blood-soaked husband was shoveling the untold millions he’d stolen from his miserable flock into Swiss bank accounts—has been somewhat . . . insubstantial. And in any case, she’s not exactly in charge. The Obamic foreign policy, such as it is, seems to be being formulated and conducted as much (maybe more?) from the West Wing as from Foggy Bottom, and by people even less familiar with the issues than she, who’ve done almost nothing in their lives but run political campaigns—and that’s in Chicago, where a little cold hard cash and some cold stiff bodies voting at graveyard polling stations can get anyone elected—and who are still in essence running a campaign today, though they call it a presidency.

She has declared that “ideology is so yesterday.” But so too is a sense of realism — yes, a true sense of who it is we face in the world, what motivates friends and foes, and what experience has taught us. No wonder the Obami are always “surprised” or “deeply disappointed” or “puzzled.” If you have historical amnesia, every day is a new one, and rebuffs, defeats, and dead ends come as surprises, disappointments, and puzzles.

The Obami, of course, dug themselves a deep hole by repudiating, or trying to repudiate, everything the Bush administration had tried. If the Bush team cultivated a close and productive relationship with Israel, they’d take a different tact. If the Bush administration forged bonds with Eastern Europe and extended our missile defense program, by gosh the Obami wouldn’t have any of that. If George W. Bush spoke movingly about human rights and met with dissidents, the Obami wouldn’t go there. It’s hard to be both reflexively rejectionist and ideology-free, isn’t it?

But the fault surely resides in the West Wing. Obama is a prisoner of so much ideology, it’s hard to keep track. There’s his blind faith in multilateralism. There’s his infatuation with the Left’s notion that an American groveling deficiency is at the root of “misunderstandings” with the “Muslim World.” And let’s not forget the “if we disarm, surely the despotic regimes will” hooey.

Dispensing of this or that hapless adviser might improve matters at the margins. It would be nice to think that we have one administration figure who doesn’t appear foolish when encountering a real interviewer (e.g., Chris Wallace, Candy Crowley). But ultimately, there’s no substitute for a wise, savvy, and resolute president. Until we get one of those, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.