Granted, Leslie Gelb is frustrated with Obama. After all, many in the foreign-policy establishment (from Gelb to Colin Powell) were convinced that Obama would correct the misjudgments of the Bush administration, restore our standing in the world, practice smart diplomacy, and most of all, not embarrass foreign-policy establishment types who touted him. So one can understand that Gelb is upset, but that’s really no excuse for his theory that the problem with the Obami foreign policy is that there isn’t enough conflict among the central players.
His theory goes like this: other presidents had more dissension within their foreign-policy teams, and other presidents were more successful in conducting foreign policy — so Obama should have more dissension within his team, too. Gelb then really veers into the abyss:
To the extent that anyone within the administration is challenging the conventional or consensual wisdom on any major policy, it seems to be Biden himself. Probably the only real strategist among Obama’s senior advisers, he fought hard to keep the number of new troops heading to Afghanistan well below the 30,000 level Obama finally approved.
So we should be thankful that Biden is there to make inane suggestions that are overridden and that merely delay the decision-making process, causing the president to look irresolute? Hmm. (And if Biden is the “only real strategist” in the administration, that might be the root of the problem.)
All this is silliness on stilts, of course. The problem is not lack of conflict but bad, dangerous ideas carried out ineptly. It’s hard for some Obama-philes to acknowledge the obvious and so much easier for them to blame the staff or, as Obama has done, whine that issues like the Middle East are so darn hard. But in point of fact the Obama administration is a foreign-policy toxic-waste dump of awful ideas and tactics (e.g., Iran engagement, bullying Israel, cutting missile defense and pulling the rug out from allies, pushing aside human rights). Agreement or lack thereof is not the problem. The problem is that the president has some very mistaken ideas about how the world works, what motivates our foes, and how America can exercise its influence in the world. But acknowledging all that would mean that those who backed Obama and spun for him for a very long time got it very, very wrong. So better to come up with crackpot theories, I suppose.