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Belmont Club

The Man Who Didn’t Need Kennan

March 19th, 2014 - 2:01 am

David Remnick of the New Yorker was on the road with Barack Obama and wrote in late January of this year of a conversation he had with the president.  Obama was unperturbed by the clouds on the horizon. All would be right, he said, as soon as he found somebody to talk to: the right strategic partners. Remnick wrote:

Anne-Marie Slaughter, who worked at the State Department as Hillary Clinton’s director of policy planning, says, “Obama has a real understanding of the limits of our power. It’s not that the United States is in decline; it’s that sometimes the world has problems without the tools to fix them.” Members of Obama’s foreign-policy circle say that when he is criticized for his reaction to situations like Iran’s Green Revolution, in 2009, or the last days of Hosni Mubarak’s regime, in 2011, he complains that people imagine him to have a “joystick” that allows him to manipulate precise outcomes.

Obama told me that what he needs isn’t any new grand strategy—“I don’t really even need George Kennan right now”—but, rather, the right strategic partners.

For much of his administration Obama’s choice of strategic partner was Vladimir Putin. He sent an ambassador to Russia pledged to a reset. Hillary Clinton presented the Russian foreign minister with a prop symbolizing “reset”. But now it seems that was all money poured down a rathole. And now, as the Cold War has effectively restarted, one wonders whether he would still say with such confidence “I don’t really even need George Kennan right now”?

Of course he would. Obama has lots of confidence. It’s his stock in trade. And now that we’ve all bought his patented elixir and coughed it right up, what is there to say? That Barack Obama will be remembered by history as the man who threw away the victory in Iraq, who threw away Ronald Reagan’s victory in the Cold War and — at the rate he’s going — may eventually succeed in undoing Franklin’s Roosevelt’s victory in World War 2?

The way Mitt Romney described the situation is this: “Why are there no good choices?”

From Crimea to North Korea, from Syria to Egypt, and from Iraq to Afghanistan, America apparently has no good options. If possession is nine-tenths of the law, Russia owns Crimea and all we can do is sanction and disinvite — and wring our hands.

Iran is following North Korea’s nuclear path, but it seems that we can only entreat Iran to sign the same kind of agreement North Korea once signed, undoubtedly with the same result.

Our tough talk about a red line in Syria prompted Vladimir Putin’s sleight of hand, leaving the chemicals and killings much as they were. We say Bashar Assad must go, but aligning with his al Qaeda-backed opposition is an unacceptable option.

And how can it be that Iraq and Afghanistan each refused to sign the status-of-forces agreement with us — with the very nation that shed the blood of thousands of our bravest for them?

There are no good choices because America is in a foreign policy clip-joint. Everything on the menu is bad and all the liquor is bogus.  We should be looking for a way back on to the street and not seeking a way to get further in. The word is out: every bad guy within hail knows Obama is a screw-up and worse, one with delusions of grandeur.

The enemies of America know they are faced with the ultimate incompetent: the sort who keeps doubling down on a losing hand because he’s too vain to admit error and unable to even see he’s losing.  They’re going to keep selling him rotgut and he’s going to keep onselling it to the Rubes as long as it lasts. As Jennifer Rubin wrote in the Washington Post: ‘Obama is never wrong, never responsible’.  He can’t admit to a mistake. It will all work out when he finds the right strategic partner.

You know things are undeniably bad when the New York Times concludes that Obama’s foreign policy is “under stress”.  David Sanger uses every trick of the writer’s art to soften the brutal failure and begins by listing the things he did differently and sadly concludes that none of them seem to have worked as planned. “For five years, President Obama has consciously recast how America engages with the world’s toughest customers. But with Russia poised to annex Crimea after Sunday’s referendum, with a mounting threat to the rest of Ukraine and with the carnage in Syria accelerating, Mr. Obama’s strategy is now under greater stress than at any time in his presidency.”

But so far those tools — or even the threat of them — have proved frustratingly ineffective in the most recent crises. Sanctions and modest help to the Syrian rebels have failed to halt the slaughter; if anything, the killing worsened as negotiations dragged on.

The White House was taken by surprise by Vladimir V. Putin’s decisions to invade Crimea, but also by China’s increasingly assertive declaration of exclusive rights to airspace and barren islands. Neither the economic pressure nor the cyberattacks that forced Iran to reconsider its approach have prevented North Korea’s stealthy revitalization of its nuclear and missile programs.

In short, America’s adversaries are testing the limits of America’s post-Iraq, post-Afghanistan moment.

“We’re seeing the ‘light footprint’ run out of gas,” said one of Mr. Obama’s former senior national security aides, who would not speak on the record about his ex-boss.

The article doesn’t even have the moral courage to say: mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. You would have thought it was the least they could do.

The  article’s vocabulary is telling: ‘stress’, ‘tests’, ‘relationships’.  Words out of Good Housekeeping rather than Foreign Policy. The New York Times keeps talking about the Obama’s “next test” — as in “Russia is the next test” — as if history were some game of gentleman’s cricket with a break for tea and cucumber sandwiches. Sanger persists in using these anodyne words even as Russian troops are coming across the borders of Ukraine because he represents a profoundly unserious view.

Obama was chosen by unserious people to face very serious thugs like Vladimir Putin. People for whom everything to this point has been a cocktail party and games. And American allies — those who are on the front line — know it. Sanger writes:

The Israelis worry there is diminished interest in keeping American aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf, and fear that if a nuclear deal is struck with Iran, Washington will no longer anchor an alliance to contain Tehran. The Saudis are talking anew about the possibility of needing a nuclear deterrent of their own.

Stripped of its euphemisms America’s position in the Middle East, Europe and Asia has collapsed and the world is arming up nukes.  And the troops in Afghanistan — aren’t they dependent on the route through Russia for logistics? Isn’t that the size of it? Does the situation have the attention of people in the New York Times yet?

Nope not yet.

The intellectual elite who endorsed Obama are a population who’ve never been hungry or felt paralyzing danger. They grew to manhood and old age in the bosom of a Pax Americana and were vain enough to throw away because they felt guilty for the security it provided. They don’t realize they’ve opened the door and the tigers are staring out at them.  They’re still thinking in terms of “tests” with the ruffians of the world and instead of realizing that they are playing in a casino for real money.

Naturally they don’t need George Kennan. Why would they? They have Barack Obama.


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Top Rated Comments   
I really don't blame president Obama. He is who he is. And he told everyone what he was going to do right up front. I am going to fundamentally transform America. Abolish unproven missile defense systems. Delay or stop all future combat systems. Take our bombers off hair trigger alert. You didn't build that. Etc..

The Kos boys heard 'im. They got it loud and clear. Same with the Occupy Crowd. They didn't think he was kidding. But all the pundits said, "nah he can't mean that. He's only saying that as rhetoric. He's going to be a traditional, centrist democrat."

And was he?

But it's not just Obama the elite weren't listening to. When Putin said, I'm going to take the Crimea. I'm going to restore the glory of Russia, the reaction was the same. "Nah he can't mean that. He's only saying that as rhetoric."

When China says it's going to claim the whole South China sea, do we listen? Do we listen when Kim Jong Un and Islamic fanatics say they're going to turn America into ash and kill every Jew and take over Israel?

We hear the words, but our understanding is: "nah he can't mean that. They're only saying that as rhetoric."

Each step of the way they've told us exactly what they mean to do. And each step of the way we've decided they don't mean it, even when they do.

We don't need Kennan. We need our ears cleaned.
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28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
For decades now we have taken people who should have been lifetime laborers, stay-at-home parents, domestic workers, wait staff, hotel workers, and ag laborers, and given them alleged bachelors degrees in things like "Postmodern English Literature" or "Public Policy" or "Activist Journalism" or other silly and useless subjects while simultaneously filling their heads with the notion that this "education" entitles them to a life of material comfort and lack of anxiety about their income stream. All so mommy and daddy could put the sticker in the back window of their car and show everyone in their town or neighborhood that they won the Golden Parent Award for sending little Jared or Courtney to college, and their little precious won't end up working for a living and not having teh all important .......STATUS.......

This was made to work by our cynical and dishonest politicians looking the other way while allowing people from south of the border in illegally to do all those things instead to keep our society functioning.

While it might have been a blow to the status and lifestyle of those with the fake degrees and the unrealistic expectations about the material and financial value of their work, and embarrassing for the parents to admit (the horror!) that one of their little precious darlings didn't go the college route, it would have been far better overall for the U.S. if the illegals were kept out, these kids never went to college, the "degrees" were never conferred, and those people did all of those necessary jobs instead.

We now have burger flippers with degrees who have chips on their shoulders, expect more out of life than their intellect and skill set and personality could ever justify, and in many cases have huge debts to pay off.

Any wonder that such as these will follow a leader who promises to make good on their expectations, and vote for that leader despite any of his or her foreign policy deficiencies in a rough world?
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
"The intellectual elite who endorsed Obama" are neither intellectuals nor are they elite.

They are the credentialed but not educated, disinformed, status conscious, and sinecure seeking crowd of thugs that now populate the education and information industries. A ruling class that puts itself forth as the most intelligent, most informed, most compassionate, most evolved humans in history, simply better and wiser than any humans who have ever lived.

Despite the evidence.

As such, even if a few of them have an inkling about the foreign policy disaster that has befallen us over the past eight or so years, they will do nothing to disturb the beautiful lie that they wake up to each morning - that they have declared year zero, put in place a perfect system designed by their perfect selves, and the universe has seen fit to reward them with the power and material wealth and the anxiety-free existence that they so obviously deserve - if only they can assert their dominance and condescension over the evil bitter clingers within our borders.

The Gramscian termite and his thuggish fellow travelers have reduced the whole thing to sawdust, but by some miracle it still has enough form to provide these awful people with the illusion that they are the deserving wealthy and happy rulers of something great. For today.

Nemesis has left its Hubris in San Francisco and Cambridge and Chicago and the rich suburbs surrounding DC. Rest assured she will come by to retrieve it, sooner or later.

28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (158)
All Comments   (158)
Sort: Newest Oldest Top Rated
Wretchard: The word is out: every bad guy within hail knows Obama is a screw-up and worse, one with delusions of grandeur.

Me: "delusions of grandeur"? If he just thought he merely so-so he would have delusions of adequacy instead.
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
--a report is coming across CNBW (a joint London/Singapore biz channel --channel 357 on Directv locally). A debris field has been spotted 2500 klicks fro Perth, west/southwest. AMSA is the satt --no details given but that handle, and that the largest piece is '24 meters surface area'. All assets in zone are en route, it will be 'hours' before anyone is on the scene.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
Hard to believe Russia's done with Ukraine yet. As Crimea isn't self sufficient, is resource poor, enough more will have to be taken to support the "new independent republic". Also, as the only access from Russia to Crimea is a single ferry point to the east, land access is likely desirable. Don't be surprised, therefore to see Putin "freeing" everything east of the Dneipper.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
Adi Ignatius remembers his dinner with Vladimir.

“I don’t believe these are misconceptions,” he spluttered. “Everybody is made to believe it’s OK to pinch the Russians. They are a little bit savage still, or they just climbed down from the trees and probably need to have their hair brushed … and the dirt washed out of their beards.”

http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/03/dinner-with-vladimir-putin-104739.html
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
What most people don't know about the Anschluss is that Nazi Germany attempted an Anschluss of Austria in 1934. Britain sent a diplomatic warning. France sent a diplomatic warning. Mussolini sent Italian troops to the border, and that led Adolf Hitler to back down.

Mr. Obama is sending a clear message and Mr. Putin is hearing it loud and clear. Part of the problem is that Putin has Obama pegged as a bully magnet. The other part of the problem is that Obama has not even tried to get genuine support from the Senate. When a president has an approval rating of under 40%, he needs to curry favor from Senators, especially on foreign policy. Yet, the Senate has had over nineteen years to ratify the Budapest Memorandum – 19 years! – and it still hasn't ratified that treaty.

Mr. Putin is many things, but he isn't stupid. He can hear the Senate's silence over those nineteen years. That silence probably sounds like a deafening roar in the Kremlin. The Senate has given approval to Mr. Obama to fight Mr. Putin with pillow cushions and tartly worded memos, but Mr. Obama has no real support from either Congress or the American public for doing anything more.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
Idoubt that in 1934 Hitler had the means to attempt a Austria anschluss
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
He certainly won't get that support if he doesn't ask for it. And he has (as you note) not yet even made a case. Not to mention it is doubtful he has (despite media pundits' fawning misperceptions) the oratory capability to persuasively make such a case. Nor does he have much time. It took Churchill, even with all his gifts, years of continual effort and preparation to get England to the point where it could finally come to its senses regarding the threat posed by a certain mustachioed corporal.
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
Fine but why say it? Why not leave the Russians with uncertainty? And why the term excursion? That conjures up a hamper full of sandwiches, a thermos of coffee and some cupcakes.

-----------------

President Obama says the United States military will not take action in Ukraine.

"We are not going to be getting into military excursion in Ukraine," Obama told San Diego's KNSD-TV Wednesday, according to the NBC affiliate's Web site. "What we are going to do is mobilize all of our diplomatic resources to make sure that we’ve got a strong international correlation that sends a clear message," Obama said.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2014/03/19/obama-no-military-excursion-in-ukraine/
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
Russia and the United States exchanged threats on Wednesday at a tense UN security council meeting over the Ukraine crisis, with the Russian envoy saying the US ambassador's "insults'' are jeopardizing Moscow's willingness to cooperate with Washington on other diplomatic matters.
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/europe/US-Russia-exchange-threats-at-tense-UN-meeting/articleshow/32333172.cms
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
US ambassador Samantha Power warned Russia that, two days after the Obama administration and other countries imposed sanctions on Russia, the US and its allies "are prepared to take additional steps if Russian aggression or Russian provocations continue.''

She also compared Russia's takeover of Crimea to theft. "A thief can steal property, but that does not confer the right of ownership on the thief,'' she said.

The Russian ambassador shot back: "It is simply unacceptable to listen to these insults addressed to our country.''
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
Oh, he's smart like a cat, this Obama. Two big bowls of food and a plushy armchair to snooze in all day. Reichsfuhrer Putinsky is the stupid one. He, for instance, isn't smart enough to realize that he could take all of Germany tomorrow morning and nobody would lift a finger.

He looks at our new "Village People" military and figures us for dead. But, he doesn't know the half of it.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
Russia will try to further provoke tensions in eastern and southern Ukraine after moving this week to annex the breakaway Crimean peninsula, interim Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said.
http://www.businessweek.com/news/2014-03-19/ukraine-s-yatsenyuk-warns-of-russian-escalation-on-border
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
Why would the Russians want to "take all of Germany"?

This isn't the USSR, this is Gazprom, Inc. CEO Putin need only seize strategic points to shift the corellation of forces so that the Europeans support his vision of a new economic order.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
>>> He, for instance, isn't smart enough to realize that he could take all of Germany tomorrow morning and nobody would lift a finger.<<<

Western Europe wasn't conquered in a day. My guess is:

1) Ukraine conquered by the end of next month, in chunks.
2) Baltic countries next, don't know in what order. Noting that NATO membership will mean absolutely squat as far as "collective defense".
3) Moldova, with some overlap between 2 and 3
4) Then a choice about order, Slovakia or Poland. Poland will resist, alone. Slovakia may resist, alone.
5) Germany and France will attempt to make some accommodation, NATO will dissolve.

Subotai Bahadur
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
Don't forget the south Caucasus, the'frozen conflict' on the Caspian, near the massive oil facilities (and start point of the big daddy pipeline the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan, or BTC) of Baku, just north of the meets of the three borders Iran Iraq Turkey: Ngorno-Karabach.

NK is a landlocked enclave inside Azerbaijan, with a population of Armenians. In the 1980s, somehow (cough)a separatist shooting war broke out when NK tried to secede and become Armenian, totally inside Azerbaijan.

Azeris objected and the killing started. Red Army had to build and garrison a military base in NK to peace-keep (cough cough) and there it still is --the Russian troops could need rescue at any minute! Right through the Georgia rump (infinitely easier now with the Red Army's new Abkahzia and South Ossetia military base lodgements on the south side of the mountains) and across the BTC pipeline and thru Israel friend Azerbaijan.

Armenia of course, is a Russia friend (thanks to the WW1-era Armenian genocide by the 'Young Turks' which kicked off the 20th century's list of genocidal ethnic cleansings).

So, an incident such as the Ukraine street fight during Sochi, is hanging fire in NK, waiting on orders.
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28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment

"President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron have blasted Russia ...". More like Obama and his spokes-metrosexuals have whined about Russia.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
Obama also “knew” he didn’t need the inspiration of a bust of Churchill.

“The intellectual elite who endorsed Obama are a population who’ve never been hungry or felt paralyzing danger” – There is a lot of wisdom distilled in that poster circulating on the internet featuring photos of world leaders at age 23: Netanyahu: in the field uniform of an IDF SoF operator; Putin: in the dress uniform of a KGB lieutenant; Obama: in rasta straw hat w/a joint sticking out of his smirking face (http://www.freezonemediacenternews.com/2014/03/world-leaders-at-age-23.html ).
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
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