Yes, Virginia, Obama Foreign Policy Is Ignorant and Stupid Rather Than a Conspiracy

-- In the past, there was a lot of feedback from non-government institutions that had to be taken into account. Even if you were a smug, arrogant son-of-a-gun you had to be cautious so as not to be embarrassed or humiliated by doing something dumb and getting called on it. The Obama administration doesn’t have to worry, and that has a bad effect on its behavior.

-- Conservatives and Republicans still have to live by the old rules because they get no such pass by these institutions. On the contrary, they are subjected to intense scrutiny, biting criticism, and even deliberate misrepresentation. So whether or not they are correct, they know that every mistake or miscalculation will be relentlessly highlighted. This can be annoying and unfair, but it is also a good thing for a government to deal with critics and not just courtiers.

If Sarah Palin says something stupid, a hundred sources will ridicule her and she won't make the same mistake again. If Barack Obama says something stupid, he won't learn anything because of the silence of the fans.

-- Conversely, politicians want to be loved by the "cream" of society. They are stung by being considered fools and so trim their sails in order to court praise. But if the intellectual elite, the universities, the mass media, the cultural elite, and Hollywood almost unanimously sing your praises daily, it is easy to think you are infallible no matter how wrong you are.

-- The career bureaucracies at the State and Defense departments represent an institutional memory and an independent source of information and analysis. Even if one doesn’t agree with the ideas and proposals put forward by the uniformed military, Foreign Service, and civil service, they have a lot of experience and knowledge that is indispensible.

Unfortunately, while all presidents decide not to listen to this advice there have been few that have done so more than the Obama administration.

This is partly due to having a secretary of state who is a former rival and a secretary of defense who is a holdover from the previous administration. The CIA is led by someone who is clueless, while the national security advisor is a political operative who administers ideologues who have their own channel to the president.

In short, this is a moment in history when external and internal checks have failed to an almost unprecedented extent.

-- Finally, it is helpful to have a president with some grasp of international affairs, who is willing to depend on someone with tremendous knowledge (think of President Richard Nixon’s close working relationship with National Security Advisor and later Secretary of State Henry Kissinger), and doesn’t think he already knows anything.

Let’s face it, why would a man who has only been a community organizer, adjunct law professor, state legislator, and very briefly a senator with a bad attendance record have a real feel for international affairs? The fact that he is an ideologue and arrogant even by the usual standards of politicians and presidents makes things worse.

So while there are some very good people in U.S. government agencies and even some very competent political appointees, the mess does result from arrogance, stupidity, ignorance, inexperience, and ideology of those who are making the final decisions.

Of course, it is also true that the ideology guiding these decisions -- which is supposedly so wonderful -- is objectively quite destructive of U.S. interests. A reader wisely suggests the maxim that there are those who know what they are doing and those who don't. For those who really understand the ideology they are promoting, it is intended to weaken the U.S. role in the world because they think it has been bad, to end U.S. leadership because they think it has been bullying, and to empower various people in the Third World because they think that they've been oppressed and exploited by the United States.

They are thus doing a huge amount of damage and dismantling -- hopefully only temporary -- much that American diplomats and soldiers have spent decades in building.

Yes, they are doing the best they can. And that’s precisely the problem.