Commentary Magazine


Topic: Peter Feaver

Eisenhower, Washington, Lincoln, and Prudence

As commentators are beginning to note, Monday marks the 50th anniversary of Eisenhower’s Farewell Address, and the following Thursday marks the same anniversary for Kennedy’s inaugural, two classics of American rhetoric that could hardly be further apart and still remain in the same genre. It is a long way from Ike’s measured and noble praise of balance to Kennedy’s inspiring but unrestrained call to “pay any price.” It’s usual to say that the 1960s didn’t really began until Kennedy was assassinated, if not later, but the transition from Eisenhower’s restraint to Kennedy’s rhetorical lack of it may mark the transition more effectively than the murder in Dallas.

So far, my favorite pieces on the Eisenhower anniversary are by my friend and former colleague Will Inboden at Shadow Government and by my current colleague Jim Carafano in the Washington Examiner. I’ve got a piece myself coming out at Heritage’s Foundry on the actual anniversary that explores the rhetorical and substantial similarities between Eisenhower’s Farewell Address and its famous predecessor by George Washington. In writing that piece, I was struck by just how rarely it is that the U.S. elects a president who finds inspiration in prudence. Like Will, I’m not persuaded by Peter Feaver’s argument that Obama is meaningfully similar to Eisenhower: the attitudes of the two presidents toward federal spending, to take just one obvious and vitally important example, could hardly be more different. Read More

As commentators are beginning to note, Monday marks the 50th anniversary of Eisenhower’s Farewell Address, and the following Thursday marks the same anniversary for Kennedy’s inaugural, two classics of American rhetoric that could hardly be further apart and still remain in the same genre. It is a long way from Ike’s measured and noble praise of balance to Kennedy’s inspiring but unrestrained call to “pay any price.” It’s usual to say that the 1960s didn’t really began until Kennedy was assassinated, if not later, but the transition from Eisenhower’s restraint to Kennedy’s rhetorical lack of it may mark the transition more effectively than the murder in Dallas.

So far, my favorite pieces on the Eisenhower anniversary are by my friend and former colleague Will Inboden at Shadow Government and by my current colleague Jim Carafano in the Washington Examiner. I’ve got a piece myself coming out at Heritage’s Foundry on the actual anniversary that explores the rhetorical and substantial similarities between Eisenhower’s Farewell Address and its famous predecessor by George Washington. In writing that piece, I was struck by just how rarely it is that the U.S. elects a president who finds inspiration in prudence. Like Will, I’m not persuaded by Peter Feaver’s argument that Obama is meaningfully similar to Eisenhower: the attitudes of the two presidents toward federal spending, to take just one obvious and vitally important example, could hardly be more different.

Of course, a president doesn’t have to be prudential to be great. Still, the overlap between greatness (or near-greatness, in Eisenhower’s case) and prudentialism is striking. The only other president who has, to my knowledge, been described at length as philosophically prudential is Lincoln, by William Lee Miller in his Lincoln’s Virtues: An Ethical Biography. Miller’s style takes being casual to a new and to me slightly irritating level, but it’s a fascinating read nonetheless. As Miller puts it: “The mature Abraham Lincoln would exhibit … a combination of the moral clarity and elevation of … the prophet, with the ‘prudence’ and ‘responsibility’ of a worthy politician. … Prudence as a virtue [does not] exclude, as pragmatism tends to do, general moral ideals and larger moral patterns beyond the immediate situation. … Prudence as a moral virtue made a bridge to intellectual virtue.”

But as Eisenhower might have noted, and as Miller does note, the entire tradition of prudence has been devalued, in favor of the more desiccated concept of pragmatism. As a more recent president put it, the question is simple: “What works?” And Eisenhower’s address helps explain why. As he noted, the threat to American liberties was posed not so much by big government as such but by top-down direction of all kinds. Much of this originated in the federal government, but not all of it: there was also a risk of becoming “the captive of a scientific-technological elite.” Such an elite, with its progressive pretensions to expertise and fixing things, is inherently hostile to concepts of prudence and balance, which imply that many problems can at best be managed, not solved.

Perhaps that is why Eisenhower’s Address is now, with the exception of the oft-misunderstood passage about the dangers of the military-industrial complex, much more cited than read: it is based on a philosophy that Eisenhower — like Washington — believed provided the safest foundation for American liberties but that is so profoundly out of tune with the age on which the U.S. embarked after he left office that we can no longer understand what he was saying. If that is so, I view our national need to recover that philosophy as a problem of the first magnitude.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Quicker than we imagined: “By 47 to 45 percent, Americans say Obama is a better president than George W. Bush. But that two point margin is down from a 23 point advantage one year ago. ‘Democrats may want to think twice about bringing up former President George W. Bush’s name while campaigning this year,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.'”

Sooner than either imagined: “Embattled Democrats are increasingly turning to former President Bill Clinton to prop up their campaigns in the final weeks before November’s midterm elections. The former president is far and away the biggest draw for the party less than a month out, hitting races in states where Democrats would rather President Obama stay away.”

A White House departure didn’t come fast enough for some. Peter Feaver: “The only thing surprising about Jim Jones’s departure is he survived this long.” His buffoonery was his defining characteristic.

About time that someone started debunking the president’s accusations about “foreign money.” The Gray Lady: “[A] closer examination shows that there is little evidence that what the [Chamber of Commerce] does in collecting overseas dues is improper or even unusual, according to both liberal and conservative election-law lawyers and campaign finance documents. In fact, the controversy over the Chamber of Commerce financing may say more about the Washington spin cycle — where an Internet blog posting can be quickly picked up by like-minded groups and become political fodder for the president himself — than it does about the vagaries of campaign finance.” Actually, it says more about the president’s penchant for telling untruths.

Belatedly, we learn that Jewish-American leaders had serious concerns all along about Obama’s Middle East policy. How brave of them to go public only when Obama’s political standing is in decline.

Democrats finally run out of patience with Jerry Brown and demand that he apologize for a campaign associate who called Meg Whitman a “whore.” Yes, there goes the Golden State. Again.

Much too late, Obama gets around to publicly calling for the release of Chinese dissident and now Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo.

No rush — the Arab League stalls, hoping the Obami might up the bribes incentives for Bibi to extend the settlement moratorium. “Arab countries will give the US one month to find a compromise which can save peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians after negotiations stalled over the issue of Israeli building in West Bank settlements, AFP reported a diplomat at the Arab League meeting in Libya as saying on Friday. The unnamed diplomat said that a resolution to be approved later Friday by the Arab League Follow-up Committee on the peace process calls for the US administration to be given ‘a one month chance to seek the resumption of negotiations, including a halt to settlement [building].'”

Suddenly, David Broder discovers Rob Portman: “Now 54 and a fitness fanatic, Portman has achieved his status by being smart, disciplined and a team player. Business people know he does his homework, and Democrats find him approachable. Except for [Mitch] Daniels, there are few Republicans who have delved as deeply into fiscal and budgetary policy, trade and health care as has Portman, who notably expanded the Office of Management and Budget’s focus on Medicare and Medicaid, even when Bush showed little interest in the issue.”

An overnight sensation: Wisconsin GOP Senate candidate Ron Johnson. “In this year of political surprises, Mr. Johnson inhabits a niche all his own. He emerged from the tea party without being fully of it. … Mr. Johnson says he employs 120 people at a single plant that makes specialized plastics. ‘I’m not some big corporation. I run the type of business [that] is the backbone of our economy, the engine of job creation.’ America’s prosperity stems from its ‘freedoms, the free market,’ Mr. Johnson says. ‘I think people get that.'”

Eventually, we come full circle. Bush administration critic Jack Goldsmith argues we shouldn’t have military tribunals or civil trials. Just lock ‘em up. Sounds good to me.

It took long enough. Jeffrey Goldberg confirms that Matthew Yglesias is an ignoramus when it comes to Israel.

Quicker than we imagined: “By 47 to 45 percent, Americans say Obama is a better president than George W. Bush. But that two point margin is down from a 23 point advantage one year ago. ‘Democrats may want to think twice about bringing up former President George W. Bush’s name while campaigning this year,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.'”

Sooner than either imagined: “Embattled Democrats are increasingly turning to former President Bill Clinton to prop up their campaigns in the final weeks before November’s midterm elections. The former president is far and away the biggest draw for the party less than a month out, hitting races in states where Democrats would rather President Obama stay away.”

A White House departure didn’t come fast enough for some. Peter Feaver: “The only thing surprising about Jim Jones’s departure is he survived this long.” His buffoonery was his defining characteristic.

About time that someone started debunking the president’s accusations about “foreign money.” The Gray Lady: “[A] closer examination shows that there is little evidence that what the [Chamber of Commerce] does in collecting overseas dues is improper or even unusual, according to both liberal and conservative election-law lawyers and campaign finance documents. In fact, the controversy over the Chamber of Commerce financing may say more about the Washington spin cycle — where an Internet blog posting can be quickly picked up by like-minded groups and become political fodder for the president himself — than it does about the vagaries of campaign finance.” Actually, it says more about the president’s penchant for telling untruths.

Belatedly, we learn that Jewish-American leaders had serious concerns all along about Obama’s Middle East policy. How brave of them to go public only when Obama’s political standing is in decline.

Democrats finally run out of patience with Jerry Brown and demand that he apologize for a campaign associate who called Meg Whitman a “whore.” Yes, there goes the Golden State. Again.

Much too late, Obama gets around to publicly calling for the release of Chinese dissident and now Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo.

No rush — the Arab League stalls, hoping the Obami might up the bribes incentives for Bibi to extend the settlement moratorium. “Arab countries will give the US one month to find a compromise which can save peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians after negotiations stalled over the issue of Israeli building in West Bank settlements, AFP reported a diplomat at the Arab League meeting in Libya as saying on Friday. The unnamed diplomat said that a resolution to be approved later Friday by the Arab League Follow-up Committee on the peace process calls for the US administration to be given ‘a one month chance to seek the resumption of negotiations, including a halt to settlement [building].'”

Suddenly, David Broder discovers Rob Portman: “Now 54 and a fitness fanatic, Portman has achieved his status by being smart, disciplined and a team player. Business people know he does his homework, and Democrats find him approachable. Except for [Mitch] Daniels, there are few Republicans who have delved as deeply into fiscal and budgetary policy, trade and health care as has Portman, who notably expanded the Office of Management and Budget’s focus on Medicare and Medicaid, even when Bush showed little interest in the issue.”

An overnight sensation: Wisconsin GOP Senate candidate Ron Johnson. “In this year of political surprises, Mr. Johnson inhabits a niche all his own. He emerged from the tea party without being fully of it. … Mr. Johnson says he employs 120 people at a single plant that makes specialized plastics. ‘I’m not some big corporation. I run the type of business [that] is the backbone of our economy, the engine of job creation.’ America’s prosperity stems from its ‘freedoms, the free market,’ Mr. Johnson says. ‘I think people get that.'”

Eventually, we come full circle. Bush administration critic Jack Goldsmith argues we shouldn’t have military tribunals or civil trials. Just lock ‘em up. Sounds good to me.

It took long enough. Jeffrey Goldberg confirms that Matthew Yglesias is an ignoramus when it comes to Israel.

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It’s Not Just Afghanistan

Peter Baker at The New York Times (h/t Peter Feaver) highlights this nugget from Bob Woodward’s book:

During a daily intelligence briefing in May 2009, [Dennis] Blair warned the president that radicals with American and European passports were being trained in Pakistan to attack their homelands. Mr. Emanuel afterward chastised him, saying, “You’re just trying to put this on us so it’s not your fault.” Mr. Blair also skirmished with Mr. Brennan about a report on the failed airliner terrorist attack on Dec. 25. Mr. Obama later forced Mr. Blair out.

Let’s unpack this: seven months before the Christmas Day bombing attempt and a year before the Times Square bomber’s failed effort, Blair was trying to raise the red flag about jihadists attacks on the homeland. What he got was a chewing out by the Obama hacks, who think such matters shouldn’t be “put” on them. It’s baffling really — is this above Obama’s pay grade?

Here again, we have the startling indifference to national security and the domination of politics over policy. You can just see the wheels clicking: We don’t want to get blamed. We’ll have no plausible deniability if they don’t keep telling us stuff.

Even Jimmy Carter, shocked by Afghanistan, took national security seriously (albeit, he was hobbled by incompetency). Obama really is in a class by himself when it comes to shirking national-security concerns.

Peter Baker at The New York Times (h/t Peter Feaver) highlights this nugget from Bob Woodward’s book:

During a daily intelligence briefing in May 2009, [Dennis] Blair warned the president that radicals with American and European passports were being trained in Pakistan to attack their homelands. Mr. Emanuel afterward chastised him, saying, “You’re just trying to put this on us so it’s not your fault.” Mr. Blair also skirmished with Mr. Brennan about a report on the failed airliner terrorist attack on Dec. 25. Mr. Obama later forced Mr. Blair out.

Let’s unpack this: seven months before the Christmas Day bombing attempt and a year before the Times Square bomber’s failed effort, Blair was trying to raise the red flag about jihadists attacks on the homeland. What he got was a chewing out by the Obama hacks, who think such matters shouldn’t be “put” on them. It’s baffling really — is this above Obama’s pay grade?

Here again, we have the startling indifference to national security and the domination of politics over policy. You can just see the wheels clicking: We don’t want to get blamed. We’ll have no plausible deniability if they don’t keep telling us stuff.

Even Jimmy Carter, shocked by Afghanistan, took national security seriously (albeit, he was hobbled by incompetency). Obama really is in a class by himself when it comes to shirking national-security concerns.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Dorothy Rabinowitz isn’t snowed by the liberal claptrap over the Ground Zero mosque: “[H]ow is it that the planners, who have presented this effort as a grand design for the advancement of healing and interfaith understanding, have refused all consideration of the impact such a center will have near Ground Zero? Why have they insisted, despite intense resistance, on making the center an assertive presence in this place of haunted memory? It is an insistence that calls to mind the Flying Imams, whose ostentatious prayers—apparently designed to call attention to themselves on a U.S. Airways flight to Phoenix in November 2006—ended in a lawsuit. The imams sued. The airlines paid.”

Obama’s Iraq speech left Peter Feaver cold: “President Obama’s speech on Iraq was a disappointment. Not a surprise, but a disappointment. It was disappointing because it was yet another missed opportunity. He could have shown real statesmanship by acknowledging he was wrong about the surge. He could have reached across the aisle and credited Republicans who backed the policy he vigorously opposed and tried to thwart, a policy that has made it possible (but by no means certain) to hope for a responsible end to the Iraq war. … Instead of giving such a speech, Obama gave a campaign address trying to claim credit for anything that is going well in Iraq and trying to avoid blame for anything that is going poorly.”

An avalanche of bad polling for Obama: “President Obama’s job approval numbers fell to a new low Tuesday as the White House struggles to convince voters it is leading the economy out of recession. Unemployment stands at 9.5 percent but is widely expected to rise in the coming months, starting with the monthly report for July, set for release on Friday. … Such numbers are trouble for House and Senate Democrats, because low presidential approval ratings are generally disastrous for the president’s party in a midterm election.”

Marc Ambinder, however, is still shoveling White House hooey (not to mention playing the race card): “So Obama’s net effect on congressional races might just turn about to be a big ‘meh.’ As skeptical as white people are about Obama’s policy agenda, enough still want him to succeed.” If all the polling is wrong, this would be a reasonable argument.

It’s not the first time the media made a mountain out of a molehill: “The government is expected to announce on Wednesday that three-quarters of the oil from the Deepwater Horizon leak has already evaporated, dispersed, been captured or otherwise eliminated — and that much of the rest is so diluted that it does not seem to pose much additional risk of harm.”

Shouldn’t Fox give Glenn Beck the cold shoulder? He’s up to his old, noxious tricks — tossing around Holocaust comparisons again.

Bravo! Senate Republicans freeze confirmation of new DNI until the Obama administration releases threat-assessment data on Gitmo detainees.

Dorothy Rabinowitz isn’t snowed by the liberal claptrap over the Ground Zero mosque: “[H]ow is it that the planners, who have presented this effort as a grand design for the advancement of healing and interfaith understanding, have refused all consideration of the impact such a center will have near Ground Zero? Why have they insisted, despite intense resistance, on making the center an assertive presence in this place of haunted memory? It is an insistence that calls to mind the Flying Imams, whose ostentatious prayers—apparently designed to call attention to themselves on a U.S. Airways flight to Phoenix in November 2006—ended in a lawsuit. The imams sued. The airlines paid.”

Obama’s Iraq speech left Peter Feaver cold: “President Obama’s speech on Iraq was a disappointment. Not a surprise, but a disappointment. It was disappointing because it was yet another missed opportunity. He could have shown real statesmanship by acknowledging he was wrong about the surge. He could have reached across the aisle and credited Republicans who backed the policy he vigorously opposed and tried to thwart, a policy that has made it possible (but by no means certain) to hope for a responsible end to the Iraq war. … Instead of giving such a speech, Obama gave a campaign address trying to claim credit for anything that is going well in Iraq and trying to avoid blame for anything that is going poorly.”

An avalanche of bad polling for Obama: “President Obama’s job approval numbers fell to a new low Tuesday as the White House struggles to convince voters it is leading the economy out of recession. Unemployment stands at 9.5 percent but is widely expected to rise in the coming months, starting with the monthly report for July, set for release on Friday. … Such numbers are trouble for House and Senate Democrats, because low presidential approval ratings are generally disastrous for the president’s party in a midterm election.”

Marc Ambinder, however, is still shoveling White House hooey (not to mention playing the race card): “So Obama’s net effect on congressional races might just turn about to be a big ‘meh.’ As skeptical as white people are about Obama’s policy agenda, enough still want him to succeed.” If all the polling is wrong, this would be a reasonable argument.

It’s not the first time the media made a mountain out of a molehill: “The government is expected to announce on Wednesday that three-quarters of the oil from the Deepwater Horizon leak has already evaporated, dispersed, been captured or otherwise eliminated — and that much of the rest is so diluted that it does not seem to pose much additional risk of harm.”

Shouldn’t Fox give Glenn Beck the cold shoulder? He’s up to his old, noxious tricks — tossing around Holocaust comparisons again.

Bravo! Senate Republicans freeze confirmation of new DNI until the Obama administration releases threat-assessment data on Gitmo detainees.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Israel can bank on the Tea Partiers (but the “pro-Israel left” — an oxymoron if there ever was one — not at all): “Now that the congressional supporters of the Tea Party movement have formed their own caucus, their policy positions are becoming easier to track. Expanding their foray into foreign policy, 21 members of the new caucus have now come out explicitly endorsing Israel’s right to strike Iran’s nuclear program.”

You can’t take any “facts” in an E.J. Dionne column to the bank. Quin Hillyer reads (and demolishes) Dionne’s latest so you don’t have to.

You can bank on Sen. Joe Lieberman to see through the hysteria on the Afghanistan war-documents leak: “The disclosure of tens of thousands of classified documents on the Afghanistan war is profoundly irresponsible and harmful to our national security. The Obama administration is absolutely right to condemn these leaks. ‘Most of these documents add nothing to the public understanding of the war in Afghanistan. The materials –which cover the period from 2004 to 2009 — reflect the reality, recognized by everyone, that the insurgency was gaining momentum during these years while our coalition was losing ground.'”

I guess the Palestinians can’t bank on Obama to deliver up Israel on a platter: “A senior U.S. envoy warned the Palestinian president that he must move quickly to direct talks with Israel if he wants President Barack Obama’s help in setting up a Palestinian state, according to an internal Palestinian document obtained by The Associated Press on Monday.”

Democrats banking on Obama or the capping of the BP oil leak to lift their poll numbers are going to be disappointed: “Republican candidates now hold a 10-point lead over Democrats on the Generic Congressional Ballot for the week ending Sunday, July 25, the widest gap between the two parties in several weeks.”

You can’t bank on the liberal media even to advertise their own leaks accurately these days. Peter Feaver: “Another week, and another Big Bombshell Story in the national security press, this time a series of stories based on the leak by Wikileaks of over 90,000 classified cables and reports from the Afghan theater. (A sidebar: The word “leak” just doesn’t seem adequate for a data dump and security breach of this magnitude. This is not so much a leak as a gusher.) … There does not appear to be any bombshell revelation here. Perhaps the more interesting and damning revelations are to come, but presumably the newspapers led with their best stuff.”

The Obama-Reid-Pelosi troika can’t even bank on a First Amendment–stomping win on campaign-finance “reform”: “Despite some last-minute prodding from President Barack Obama on Monday, Senate Democrats still are scrambling to find the remaining few votes needed to overcome a filibuster of a campaign finance bill that appears destined to fail Tuesday.”

Child rapists? Anti-Semites? You can always bank on Hollywood to support their own.

Israel can bank on the Tea Partiers (but the “pro-Israel left” — an oxymoron if there ever was one — not at all): “Now that the congressional supporters of the Tea Party movement have formed their own caucus, their policy positions are becoming easier to track. Expanding their foray into foreign policy, 21 members of the new caucus have now come out explicitly endorsing Israel’s right to strike Iran’s nuclear program.”

You can’t take any “facts” in an E.J. Dionne column to the bank. Quin Hillyer reads (and demolishes) Dionne’s latest so you don’t have to.

You can bank on Sen. Joe Lieberman to see through the hysteria on the Afghanistan war-documents leak: “The disclosure of tens of thousands of classified documents on the Afghanistan war is profoundly irresponsible and harmful to our national security. The Obama administration is absolutely right to condemn these leaks. ‘Most of these documents add nothing to the public understanding of the war in Afghanistan. The materials –which cover the period from 2004 to 2009 — reflect the reality, recognized by everyone, that the insurgency was gaining momentum during these years while our coalition was losing ground.'”

I guess the Palestinians can’t bank on Obama to deliver up Israel on a platter: “A senior U.S. envoy warned the Palestinian president that he must move quickly to direct talks with Israel if he wants President Barack Obama’s help in setting up a Palestinian state, according to an internal Palestinian document obtained by The Associated Press on Monday.”

Democrats banking on Obama or the capping of the BP oil leak to lift their poll numbers are going to be disappointed: “Republican candidates now hold a 10-point lead over Democrats on the Generic Congressional Ballot for the week ending Sunday, July 25, the widest gap between the two parties in several weeks.”

You can’t bank on the liberal media even to advertise their own leaks accurately these days. Peter Feaver: “Another week, and another Big Bombshell Story in the national security press, this time a series of stories based on the leak by Wikileaks of over 90,000 classified cables and reports from the Afghan theater. (A sidebar: The word “leak” just doesn’t seem adequate for a data dump and security breach of this magnitude. This is not so much a leak as a gusher.) … There does not appear to be any bombshell revelation here. Perhaps the more interesting and damning revelations are to come, but presumably the newspapers led with their best stuff.”

The Obama-Reid-Pelosi troika can’t even bank on a First Amendment–stomping win on campaign-finance “reform”: “Despite some last-minute prodding from President Barack Obama on Monday, Senate Democrats still are scrambling to find the remaining few votes needed to overcome a filibuster of a campaign finance bill that appears destined to fail Tuesday.”

Child rapists? Anti-Semites? You can always bank on Hollywood to support their own.

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The National Security Strategy of 2010. Or 2006. Whatever.

I’m with my former boss, Les Gelb, who complains that President Obama’s new National Security Strategy is essentially a grab bag of concerns that don’t amount to a coherent strategy. This is evident from the opening letter attached to it under the president’s name:

Our strategy starts by recognizing that our strength and influence abroad begins with the steps we take at home. We must grow our economy and reduce our deficit. We must educate our children to compete in an age where knowledge is capital, and the marketplace is global. We must develop the clean energy that can power new industry, unbind us from foreign oil, and preserve our planet. We must pursue science and research that enables discovery, and unlocks wonders as unforeseen to us today as the surface of the moon and the microchip were a century ago. Simply put, we must see American innovation as a foundation of American power.

This isn’t necessarily wrong, but where do you draw the line? Perhaps finding a new judge to replace Simon Cowell on American Idol is vital to the continued strength of American soft power. By Obama’s reasoning, every facet of American society can be said to have some connection with American policy abroad.

There is much more about domestic policy in this document — as there is about every aspect of foreign policy. There are lines that gladden the heart of more hawkish commentators (like me), including a commitment to “maintain the military superiority that has secured our country, and underpinned global security, for decades”; a ringing endorsement of democracy promotion (“our support for universal rights is both fundamental to American leadership and a source of our strength in the world”); and a vow to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida and its affiliates.”

Naturally, there is even more to gladden the hearts of liberals, including a call for “comprehensive engagement,” a commitment “to engage and modernize international institutions and frameworks,” and to “pursue the goal of a world without nuclear weapons.”

This everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach also entails talk of “strengthening international norms against corruption” and “pursuing a comprehensive global health strategy.”

This is, I suppose, what happens when every branch of government gets to weigh in while such a document is being drafted. But it is possible to do something different. Love it or hate it, the Bush National Security Strategy of 2002 was a truly innovative and influential document that will be long remembered for declaring the need for preventative action against aggressors and terrorists. Eight years later, I can still recalls some of its lines: “The gravest danger our Nation faces lies at the crossroads of radicalism and technology” and “America will act against such emerging threats before they are fully formed.”

There is no such intellectual groundbreaking in the Obama document, which is, as Peter Feaver notes, more than anything a continuation, with some slight adjustments, of the National Security Strategy produced by the Bush administration in its second term.

You remember that Bush National Security Strategy of 2006, don’t you? No? You don’t? Well I suspect you won’t remember the Obama strategy of 2010 either.

I’m with my former boss, Les Gelb, who complains that President Obama’s new National Security Strategy is essentially a grab bag of concerns that don’t amount to a coherent strategy. This is evident from the opening letter attached to it under the president’s name:

Our strategy starts by recognizing that our strength and influence abroad begins with the steps we take at home. We must grow our economy and reduce our deficit. We must educate our children to compete in an age where knowledge is capital, and the marketplace is global. We must develop the clean energy that can power new industry, unbind us from foreign oil, and preserve our planet. We must pursue science and research that enables discovery, and unlocks wonders as unforeseen to us today as the surface of the moon and the microchip were a century ago. Simply put, we must see American innovation as a foundation of American power.

This isn’t necessarily wrong, but where do you draw the line? Perhaps finding a new judge to replace Simon Cowell on American Idol is vital to the continued strength of American soft power. By Obama’s reasoning, every facet of American society can be said to have some connection with American policy abroad.

There is much more about domestic policy in this document — as there is about every aspect of foreign policy. There are lines that gladden the heart of more hawkish commentators (like me), including a commitment to “maintain the military superiority that has secured our country, and underpinned global security, for decades”; a ringing endorsement of democracy promotion (“our support for universal rights is both fundamental to American leadership and a source of our strength in the world”); and a vow to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida and its affiliates.”

Naturally, there is even more to gladden the hearts of liberals, including a call for “comprehensive engagement,” a commitment “to engage and modernize international institutions and frameworks,” and to “pursue the goal of a world without nuclear weapons.”

This everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach also entails talk of “strengthening international norms against corruption” and “pursuing a comprehensive global health strategy.”

This is, I suppose, what happens when every branch of government gets to weigh in while such a document is being drafted. But it is possible to do something different. Love it or hate it, the Bush National Security Strategy of 2002 was a truly innovative and influential document that will be long remembered for declaring the need for preventative action against aggressors and terrorists. Eight years later, I can still recalls some of its lines: “The gravest danger our Nation faces lies at the crossroads of radicalism and technology” and “America will act against such emerging threats before they are fully formed.”

There is no such intellectual groundbreaking in the Obama document, which is, as Peter Feaver notes, more than anything a continuation, with some slight adjustments, of the National Security Strategy produced by the Bush administration in its second term.

You remember that Bush National Security Strategy of 2006, don’t you? No? You don’t? Well I suspect you won’t remember the Obama strategy of 2010 either.

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They Doth Protest Too Much — or Not Enough

Robert Gibbs went nuts over the New York Times story reporting that Robert Gates had sent a memo to the president in January warning that the administration lacked an adequate plan to prevent Iran from going nuclear. He claimed the Times didn’t have the entire memo and that the reporter took Gates’ warning out of context. But of course Gibbs didn’t release the memo or read from it; he only pointed to Gates’s damage-control statement after the fact. Gibbs went to great lengths to stress that the memo really didn’t set anyone’s “hair on fire.” Well, I’m sure this crowd never finds it hair-inflaming when someone points out that its Iran policy lacks seriousness.

As Peter Feaver points out, the damage control was less reassuring than the original memo:

The original story had Gates warning his administration counterparts in January that their Iran strategy was failing and that they needed to scrutinize more carefully military contingency options. … More to the point, what is alleged to be in the Gates memo is true, almost inarguably so: after a year of patient effort, President Obama’s Iran strategy was failing and showed little prospect of actually deflecting the Iranian nuclear trajectory. At that time, the administration’s Plan A of unconditional outreach to Iran had clearly failed, the administration was walking back from its stated Plan B of “crushing sanctions,” and many observers were beginning to talk about Plan C as “learning to live with the Iranian bomb.”

So the original story amounted to this: the most impressive member of President Obama’s Cabinet sent around a memo describing fairly and accurately the perilous condition of one of the administration’s most important national security initiatives. I can understand why the administration didn’t like the story, but I would have been far more worried if the story was untrue.

The real question is why the American Jewish community and Congress aren’t more alarmed about the absence of anything approaching a viable plan to thwart the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions. If the administration is ho-hum, the rest of the foreign policy establishment, Congress, and American Jewish leaders aren’t exhibiting much more urgency. The sanctions bill is in a holding pattern, Congress is meandering through financial regulation and climate legislation, and from Jewish officialdom we’ve yet to hear more than politely worded letters suggesting it’s time to get going on sanctions.

We’re told Iran could be a year away from a nuclear weapon, and we still have no sanctions (crippling or otherwise) on the table. The administration has spent quite a bit more time trying to restrain Israel from acting. (How many trips have U.S. officials made to Israel for this purpose? Many, I would venture.) What it should have been doing is rallying public opinion and devising a feasible plan — military or otherwise — that would block the mullahs from acquiring a nuclear weapon. So if Gibbs says the memo didn’t raise many eyebrows — why not? And what are Israel’s supporters going to do about it?

Robert Gibbs went nuts over the New York Times story reporting that Robert Gates had sent a memo to the president in January warning that the administration lacked an adequate plan to prevent Iran from going nuclear. He claimed the Times didn’t have the entire memo and that the reporter took Gates’ warning out of context. But of course Gibbs didn’t release the memo or read from it; he only pointed to Gates’s damage-control statement after the fact. Gibbs went to great lengths to stress that the memo really didn’t set anyone’s “hair on fire.” Well, I’m sure this crowd never finds it hair-inflaming when someone points out that its Iran policy lacks seriousness.

As Peter Feaver points out, the damage control was less reassuring than the original memo:

The original story had Gates warning his administration counterparts in January that their Iran strategy was failing and that they needed to scrutinize more carefully military contingency options. … More to the point, what is alleged to be in the Gates memo is true, almost inarguably so: after a year of patient effort, President Obama’s Iran strategy was failing and showed little prospect of actually deflecting the Iranian nuclear trajectory. At that time, the administration’s Plan A of unconditional outreach to Iran had clearly failed, the administration was walking back from its stated Plan B of “crushing sanctions,” and many observers were beginning to talk about Plan C as “learning to live with the Iranian bomb.”

So the original story amounted to this: the most impressive member of President Obama’s Cabinet sent around a memo describing fairly and accurately the perilous condition of one of the administration’s most important national security initiatives. I can understand why the administration didn’t like the story, but I would have been far more worried if the story was untrue.

The real question is why the American Jewish community and Congress aren’t more alarmed about the absence of anything approaching a viable plan to thwart the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions. If the administration is ho-hum, the rest of the foreign policy establishment, Congress, and American Jewish leaders aren’t exhibiting much more urgency. The sanctions bill is in a holding pattern, Congress is meandering through financial regulation and climate legislation, and from Jewish officialdom we’ve yet to hear more than politely worded letters suggesting it’s time to get going on sanctions.

We’re told Iran could be a year away from a nuclear weapon, and we still have no sanctions (crippling or otherwise) on the table. The administration has spent quite a bit more time trying to restrain Israel from acting. (How many trips have U.S. officials made to Israel for this purpose? Many, I would venture.) What it should have been doing is rallying public opinion and devising a feasible plan — military or otherwise — that would block the mullahs from acquiring a nuclear weapon. So if Gibbs says the memo didn’t raise many eyebrows — why not? And what are Israel’s supporters going to do about it?

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Not Realpolitik

The New York Times and Rahm Emanuel were spinning this week that Obama was a practitioner of “realpolitik” in the style of George H.W. Bush. I suggested this was poppycock, for there is little that is realistic or hardheaded or frankly effective about the Obama foreign policy. Others agree. In a forum at Foreign Policy magazine, Peter Feaver opines:

Emanuel’s quote is puzzling. President Obama may be more “realpolitik” than George W. Bush in the sense that he has downgraded the place of human rights and support for democracy in his foreign policy. But it is certainly not “realpolitik” to slight the personal relationships of presidential diplomacy — and it would be hard to identify something more unlike George H.W. Bush than this feature of the Obama approach to foreign policy. In any case, the rewards for this alleged “realpolitik” turn are still hard to measure. President Obama is significantly more popular with the general publics in the other great powers (except possibly in Asia), but if measured cold-bloodedly by American “self-interest,” the last President Bush had at least as good and probably more effective and cooperative relations with the governments of those great powers (except possibly with Russia). Relations with Britain, China, France, Germany, India, and Japan were more troubled in 2009 than they were in 2008.

Bob Kagan – like Justice Potter Stewart on pornography (“I know it when I see it”) — says he thinks he knows “realpolitik,” and this isn’t it:

It is not a plan to rid the world of nuclear weapons through common agreement by all the world’s powers. And it is not a foreign policy built on the premise that if only the United States reduces its nuclear arsenal, this will somehow persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear program, or persuade China and other reluctant nations in the world to redouble their pressure on Iran to do so. That is idealism of a high order. It is a 21st-century Wilsonian vision. And it is precisely the kind of idealism that realists in the middle of the 20th century rose up to challenge. Realists would point out that the divergent interests of the great powers, not to mention those of Iran, will not be affected in the slightest by marginal cuts in American and Russian nuclear forces.

The confusion no doubt stems from the fact that President Obama is attempting to work with autocratic governments to achieve his ends. But that does not make him Henry Kissinger. When Kissinger pursued diplomacy with China, it was to gain strategic leverage over the Soviet Union. When he sought détente with the Soviets, it was to gain breathing space for the United States after Vietnam. Right or wrong, that was “realpolitik.” Global nuclear disarmament may or may not be a worthy goal, but it is nothing if not idealistic.

It is interesting that the Obami spinners seek refuge in Kissinger (or Metternich) for a role model for the supposedly high-minded, we-are-the-world president. It does, I think, convey a certain nervousness that the country, not to mention the rest of the world, might find the president, well, not very savvy or hard-headed. After all, he frittered away a year on Iranian engagement, is shrinking our defense budget as a share of federal expenditures, and has let lefty lawyers rewrite anti-terror policies from the ACLU handbook. So perhaps they are a bit worried that the president might get tagged as a run-of-the-mill weak-on-national-security liberal. So they’ve come up with label that is as ill-suited a description of Obama’s foreign policy as “moderate” was to describe his domestic policy predilections. And frankly, they aren’t fooling anyone this time around.

Realpolitik would be using the threat of force to corner the mullahs. Realpolitik would be eschewing time-wasting entreaties to the mullahs and instead promoting regime change in Iran. Realpolitik would be bolstering our missile defenses and enhancing our Eastern European alliances to check the Russian bear. Realpolitik would be enhancing rather than straining our relations with Britain, France, Israel, and India. In short, it’s doing what Obama is not.

The New York Times and Rahm Emanuel were spinning this week that Obama was a practitioner of “realpolitik” in the style of George H.W. Bush. I suggested this was poppycock, for there is little that is realistic or hardheaded or frankly effective about the Obama foreign policy. Others agree. In a forum at Foreign Policy magazine, Peter Feaver opines:

Emanuel’s quote is puzzling. President Obama may be more “realpolitik” than George W. Bush in the sense that he has downgraded the place of human rights and support for democracy in his foreign policy. But it is certainly not “realpolitik” to slight the personal relationships of presidential diplomacy — and it would be hard to identify something more unlike George H.W. Bush than this feature of the Obama approach to foreign policy. In any case, the rewards for this alleged “realpolitik” turn are still hard to measure. President Obama is significantly more popular with the general publics in the other great powers (except possibly in Asia), but if measured cold-bloodedly by American “self-interest,” the last President Bush had at least as good and probably more effective and cooperative relations with the governments of those great powers (except possibly with Russia). Relations with Britain, China, France, Germany, India, and Japan were more troubled in 2009 than they were in 2008.

Bob Kagan – like Justice Potter Stewart on pornography (“I know it when I see it”) — says he thinks he knows “realpolitik,” and this isn’t it:

It is not a plan to rid the world of nuclear weapons through common agreement by all the world’s powers. And it is not a foreign policy built on the premise that if only the United States reduces its nuclear arsenal, this will somehow persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear program, or persuade China and other reluctant nations in the world to redouble their pressure on Iran to do so. That is idealism of a high order. It is a 21st-century Wilsonian vision. And it is precisely the kind of idealism that realists in the middle of the 20th century rose up to challenge. Realists would point out that the divergent interests of the great powers, not to mention those of Iran, will not be affected in the slightest by marginal cuts in American and Russian nuclear forces.

The confusion no doubt stems from the fact that President Obama is attempting to work with autocratic governments to achieve his ends. But that does not make him Henry Kissinger. When Kissinger pursued diplomacy with China, it was to gain strategic leverage over the Soviet Union. When he sought détente with the Soviets, it was to gain breathing space for the United States after Vietnam. Right or wrong, that was “realpolitik.” Global nuclear disarmament may or may not be a worthy goal, but it is nothing if not idealistic.

It is interesting that the Obami spinners seek refuge in Kissinger (or Metternich) for a role model for the supposedly high-minded, we-are-the-world president. It does, I think, convey a certain nervousness that the country, not to mention the rest of the world, might find the president, well, not very savvy or hard-headed. After all, he frittered away a year on Iranian engagement, is shrinking our defense budget as a share of federal expenditures, and has let lefty lawyers rewrite anti-terror policies from the ACLU handbook. So perhaps they are a bit worried that the president might get tagged as a run-of-the-mill weak-on-national-security liberal. So they’ve come up with label that is as ill-suited a description of Obama’s foreign policy as “moderate” was to describe his domestic policy predilections. And frankly, they aren’t fooling anyone this time around.

Realpolitik would be using the threat of force to corner the mullahs. Realpolitik would be eschewing time-wasting entreaties to the mullahs and instead promoting regime change in Iran. Realpolitik would be bolstering our missile defenses and enhancing our Eastern European alliances to check the Russian bear. Realpolitik would be enhancing rather than straining our relations with Britain, France, Israel, and India. In short, it’s doing what Obama is not.

Read Less

No More Islamic Terrorism!

Under siege during the Christmas Day bomb incident, the Obami huffily insisted that they do too know we are at war and that they do too take it seriously. Their policy decisions and actions suggest otherwise. This report explains:

President Barack Obama’s advisers plan to remove terms such as “Islamic radicalism” from a document outlining national security strategy and will use the new version to emphasize that the U.S. does not view Muslim nations through the lens of terrorism, counterterrorism officials say.

The change would be a significant shift in the National Security Strategy, a document that previously outlined the Bush Doctrine of preventive war. It currently states, “The struggle against militant Islamic radicalism is the great ideological conflict of the early years of the 21st century.”

It’s all about Muslim outreach, you see. Don’t want to identify whom it is we are fighting, because their co-religionists might take offense. That these co-religionists are often the victims of Islamic radicalism is irrelevant to the Obami. That this rhetorical mush is the sort of thing that prevents us from anticipating and preventing jihadist attacks like the Fort Hood massacre is also not of any apparent concern. It’s all about getting away from the Bush administration mindset: “That shift away from terrorism has been building for a year, since Obama went to Cairo and promised a ‘new beginning’ in the relationship between the U.S. and the Muslim world. The White House believes the previous administration based that relationship entirely on fighting terrorism and winning the war of ideas.”

So let’s focus on the really important stuff: global-warming training. We don’t want to say “Islamic extremism,” but we have a new team at the NSC that “has not only helped change the vocabulary of fighting terrorism, but also has shaped the way the country invests in Muslim businesses, studies global warming, supports scientific research and combats polio.” We learn that when “officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration returned from Indonesia, the NSC got a rundown about research opportunities on global warming.” Nice.

All of this would be well enough if we didn’t face radical jihadists who are ideologically motivated to slaughter Americans. Nor is there the slightest evidence that this Muslim outreach is helping to solve the most urgent issues we face:

Peter Feaver, a Duke University political scientist and former Bush adviser, is skeptical of Obama’s engagement effort. It “doesn’t appear to have created much in the way of strategic benefit” in the Middle East peace process or in negotiations over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, he said.

Obama runs the political risk of seeming to adopt politically correct rhetoric abroad while appearing tone-deaf on national security issues at home, Feaver said.

It is, like so much of what Obama does, the sort of thing you’d expect a college professor plucked out an Ivy League faculty directory to do if he were suddenly elevated to the presidency. Renounce use of nuclear weapons! Free health care for all! Change the subject from terrorism to cooperation! Unfortunately, we live in the real world, and all that runs up against hard truths and unpleasant facts. It is a dangerous time for such an unserious approach to the world.

Under siege during the Christmas Day bomb incident, the Obami huffily insisted that they do too know we are at war and that they do too take it seriously. Their policy decisions and actions suggest otherwise. This report explains:

President Barack Obama’s advisers plan to remove terms such as “Islamic radicalism” from a document outlining national security strategy and will use the new version to emphasize that the U.S. does not view Muslim nations through the lens of terrorism, counterterrorism officials say.

The change would be a significant shift in the National Security Strategy, a document that previously outlined the Bush Doctrine of preventive war. It currently states, “The struggle against militant Islamic radicalism is the great ideological conflict of the early years of the 21st century.”

It’s all about Muslim outreach, you see. Don’t want to identify whom it is we are fighting, because their co-religionists might take offense. That these co-religionists are often the victims of Islamic radicalism is irrelevant to the Obami. That this rhetorical mush is the sort of thing that prevents us from anticipating and preventing jihadist attacks like the Fort Hood massacre is also not of any apparent concern. It’s all about getting away from the Bush administration mindset: “That shift away from terrorism has been building for a year, since Obama went to Cairo and promised a ‘new beginning’ in the relationship between the U.S. and the Muslim world. The White House believes the previous administration based that relationship entirely on fighting terrorism and winning the war of ideas.”

So let’s focus on the really important stuff: global-warming training. We don’t want to say “Islamic extremism,” but we have a new team at the NSC that “has not only helped change the vocabulary of fighting terrorism, but also has shaped the way the country invests in Muslim businesses, studies global warming, supports scientific research and combats polio.” We learn that when “officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration returned from Indonesia, the NSC got a rundown about research opportunities on global warming.” Nice.

All of this would be well enough if we didn’t face radical jihadists who are ideologically motivated to slaughter Americans. Nor is there the slightest evidence that this Muslim outreach is helping to solve the most urgent issues we face:

Peter Feaver, a Duke University political scientist and former Bush adviser, is skeptical of Obama’s engagement effort. It “doesn’t appear to have created much in the way of strategic benefit” in the Middle East peace process or in negotiations over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, he said.

Obama runs the political risk of seeming to adopt politically correct rhetoric abroad while appearing tone-deaf on national security issues at home, Feaver said.

It is, like so much of what Obama does, the sort of thing you’d expect a college professor plucked out an Ivy League faculty directory to do if he were suddenly elevated to the presidency. Renounce use of nuclear weapons! Free health care for all! Change the subject from terrorism to cooperation! Unfortunately, we live in the real world, and all that runs up against hard truths and unpleasant facts. It is a dangerous time for such an unserious approach to the world.

Read Less

The Less Obama Talks, the More Popular His Issues Become?

My former White House colleague Peter Feaver, in examining the latest CNN polling data, makes this incisive point:

What interests me about this poll, however, is not the overall number, but rather that for the most part President Obama scores the lowest on the issues he has made centermost and about which he has talked the most:

  • Health Care: 40 percent approve and 58 percent disapprove
  • The economy: 43 percent approve and 54 percent disapprove
  • Unemployment: 45 percent approve and 53 percent disapprove
  • The federal budget deficit: 36 percent approve and 62 percent disapprove

And he scores the highest on the issues that he talks about the least:

  • The situation in Afghanistan: 55 percent approve and 42 percent disapprove
  • Terrorism: 53 percent approve and 45 percent disapprove
  • The situation in Iraq: 51 percent approve and 46 percent disapprove

There are several conclusions one might draw from this data; none of them are particularly good for the administration. And one in particular, if it is in fact accurate, should alarm the White House: “perhaps,” Feaver writes, “the more the president talks about an issue the more he drives his own numbers on that issue down.”

This is not quite the effect our next Lincoln or FDR was supposed to have. Perhaps if Obama ceases talking about health care, it might get somewhat greater support.

My former White House colleague Peter Feaver, in examining the latest CNN polling data, makes this incisive point:

What interests me about this poll, however, is not the overall number, but rather that for the most part President Obama scores the lowest on the issues he has made centermost and about which he has talked the most:

  • Health Care: 40 percent approve and 58 percent disapprove
  • The economy: 43 percent approve and 54 percent disapprove
  • Unemployment: 45 percent approve and 53 percent disapprove
  • The federal budget deficit: 36 percent approve and 62 percent disapprove

And he scores the highest on the issues that he talks about the least:

  • The situation in Afghanistan: 55 percent approve and 42 percent disapprove
  • Terrorism: 53 percent approve and 45 percent disapprove
  • The situation in Iraq: 51 percent approve and 46 percent disapprove

There are several conclusions one might draw from this data; none of them are particularly good for the administration. And one in particular, if it is in fact accurate, should alarm the White House: “perhaps,” Feaver writes, “the more the president talks about an issue the more he drives his own numbers on that issue down.”

This is not quite the effect our next Lincoln or FDR was supposed to have. Perhaps if Obama ceases talking about health care, it might get somewhat greater support.

Read Less

And What About the Results? (UPDATED)

Over at Foreign Policy, Peter Feaver reviews from recent Washington Post and New York Times profiles on Hillary Clinton the pluses and minuses of her tenure as secretary of state. Pluses: she plays well with others (the president, Robert Gates, the foreign service), and she helped cover up the Copenhagen debacle. (“According to the NYT, Secretary Clinton apparently deserves some credit for salvaging a fig-leaf exit strategy from the ill-fated Copenhagen conference on climate change. Whether the State Department also deserves some blame for the way Copenhagen ran off the rails, the paper does not say.”) That’s it.

The minuses: (1) “Secretary Clinton does not appear to be the key foreign policy player on any topic of importance,” and (2) “Secretary Clinton has yet to help the Obama administration forge and explain a coherent grand strategy, or even coherent interlocking mid-level strategies.”

Mr. Feaver is perhaps a dry humorist. He wraps up, proclaiming, “Where the positives and negatives will ultimately net out depends on whether the Obama foreign policy begins to bear some positive fruit.” He and these accounts, of course, ignore that Clinton has utterly failed to do her job, which is to “be the key foreign policy player” and “forge and explain a coherent grand strategy, or even coherent interlocking mid-level strategies.” That is the job, after all. Moreover, there are a string of foreign policy mishaps, gaffes, and misjudgments that touch every continent. (OK, not Antarctica.)

She has all the efficiency of an officious hall monitor, all the social skills one could expect of a junior foreign-service officer, and all the pals one could hope for in the elite media. What she doesn’t have is a trace of competence or the force of personality to rise above the gaggle of those who pass for “policy gurus” in this administration. Sort of like saying that except for never wanting to fight, Gen. George McClellan was a great general. Yes, except for the “doing” the job part, Clinton’s been a boffo secretary of state.

UPDATE: A knowledgeable reader suggests that, in fact, Feaver is using understatement to critique Clinton’s performance. Given Feaver’s work on the George W. Bush National Security Council, it is not hard to conclude that he views Clinton’s tenure as less than successful.

Over at Foreign Policy, Peter Feaver reviews from recent Washington Post and New York Times profiles on Hillary Clinton the pluses and minuses of her tenure as secretary of state. Pluses: she plays well with others (the president, Robert Gates, the foreign service), and she helped cover up the Copenhagen debacle. (“According to the NYT, Secretary Clinton apparently deserves some credit for salvaging a fig-leaf exit strategy from the ill-fated Copenhagen conference on climate change. Whether the State Department also deserves some blame for the way Copenhagen ran off the rails, the paper does not say.”) That’s it.

The minuses: (1) “Secretary Clinton does not appear to be the key foreign policy player on any topic of importance,” and (2) “Secretary Clinton has yet to help the Obama administration forge and explain a coherent grand strategy, or even coherent interlocking mid-level strategies.”

Mr. Feaver is perhaps a dry humorist. He wraps up, proclaiming, “Where the positives and negatives will ultimately net out depends on whether the Obama foreign policy begins to bear some positive fruit.” He and these accounts, of course, ignore that Clinton has utterly failed to do her job, which is to “be the key foreign policy player” and “forge and explain a coherent grand strategy, or even coherent interlocking mid-level strategies.” That is the job, after all. Moreover, there are a string of foreign policy mishaps, gaffes, and misjudgments that touch every continent. (OK, not Antarctica.)

She has all the efficiency of an officious hall monitor, all the social skills one could expect of a junior foreign-service officer, and all the pals one could hope for in the elite media. What she doesn’t have is a trace of competence or the force of personality to rise above the gaggle of those who pass for “policy gurus” in this administration. Sort of like saying that except for never wanting to fight, Gen. George McClellan was a great general. Yes, except for the “doing” the job part, Clinton’s been a boffo secretary of state.

UPDATE: A knowledgeable reader suggests that, in fact, Feaver is using understatement to critique Clinton’s performance. Given Feaver’s work on the George W. Bush National Security Council, it is not hard to conclude that he views Clinton’s tenure as less than successful.

Read Less




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