May 13, 2014
HOW’S THAT “SMART DIPLOMACY” WORKIN’ OUT FOR YA? (CONT’D): In Syria, Tehran Declares Victory. Enough is enough: Hashtag ‘em!
As American foreign policy continues its long string of failures—not a series of singles and doubles, as President Obama asserted in a recent news conference, but rather season upon season of fouls and strikes—the question becomes: Why?
Why does the Economist magazine put a tethered eagle on its cover, with the plaintive question, “What would America fight for?” Why do Washington Post columnists sympathetic to the administration write pieces like one last week headlined, “Obama tends to create his own foreign policy headaches”? . . .
Often, members of the Obama administration speak and, worse, think and act, like a bunch of teenagers. When officials roll their eyes at Vladimir Putin’s seizure of Crimea with the line that this is “19th-century behavior,” the tone is not that different from a disdainful remark about a hairstyle being “so 1980s.” When administration members find themselves judged not on utopian aspirations or the purity of their motives—from offering “hope and change” to stopping global warming—but on their actual accomplishments, they turn sulky. As teenagers will, they throw a few taunts (the president last month said the GOP was offering economic policies that amount to a “stinkburger” or a “meanwich”) and stomp off, refusing to exchange a civil word with those of opposing views.
In a searing memoir published in January, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates describes with disdain the trash talk about the Bush administration that characterized meetings in the Obama White House. Like self-obsessed teenagers, the staffers and their superiors seemed to forget that there were other people in the room who might take offense, or merely see the world differently. Teenagers expect to be judged by intentions and promise instead of by accomplishment, and their style can be encouraged by irresponsible adults (see: the Nobel Prize committee) who give awards for perkiness and promise rather than achievement.
If the United States today looks weak, hesitant and in retreat, it is in part because its leaders and their staff do not carry themselves like adults.
Obama doesn’t act presidential. Presidents act presidential not because they’re stuffy or out-of-touch, but because experience shows that when you don’t act presidential, it often winds up handing opponents a club to beat you with. Obama might know this if he had had significant experience in national politics before running for President, but he didn’t. His staff, alas, is taking its cues from him, instead of remedying his deficiencies.
Which are becoming increasingly apparent.