Obama's Foreign Policy: Amateur Hour at the White House

During the 2008 Democratic primaries, Hillary Clinton’s most famous ad was about Obama failing to answer the 3 a.m. phone call. It played on the idea that he was completely inexperienced in foreign affairs, and that it would be too risky to have a rookie in there managing things.

The problem was that Hillary herself was hardly more experienced in that realm, unless you count being the spouse of a two-term president — which is ordinarily considered no experience at all.

But it’s really not all that unusual for first-term presidents to lack knowledge of foreign affairs. After all, where would they get it? On a senate committee, perhaps, or as a member of something like the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is where Hillary got her own modest amount of pre-2008-campaign experience.

Governors don’t tend to deal with foreign affairs, either; it is widely forgotten that the context for Sarah Palin’s statement about Russia and Alaska (“You can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska”) was an interview with Charles Gibson, who was questioning her foreign policy credentials and who specifically asked her about Alaska and Russia (“What insight into Russian actions particularly in the last couple of weeks, does the proximity of this state give you?”).

So Obama’s lack of foreign policy chops was hardly unusual; his experience was limited to short stints on a few committees. But much more importantly, unlike so many of his inexperienced predecessors, he didn’t have the humility to understand that he was deficient in that area, and to compensate for it by choosing a knowledgeable secretary of State. Instead, he appointed Hillary Clinton to the post, so now there were two foreign policy naifs in charge of the whole shebang.

Obama’s predecessor Bush II lacked such experience as well — although, like Hillary, he was a close family member of someone who did have it. But Bush knew enough to know what he didn’t know, and appointed actual experts to man (and woman) the job, such as Condoleezza Rice. Obama’s arrogance led him to believe that a few years of childhood spent in Indonesia, and some visits to Pakistan in early adulthood, would be enough — or actually, more than enough:

Ironically, this is an area — foreign policy is the area where I am probably most confident that I know more and understand the world better than Senator Clinton or Senator McCain.

It’s ironic because this is supposedly the place where experience is most needed to be Commander-in-Chief. Experience in Washington is not knowledge of the world. This I know. When Senator Clinton brags “I’ve met leaders from eighty countries” — I know what those trips are like! I’ve been on them….

You do that in eighty countries — you don’t know those eighty countries. So when I speak about having lived in Indonesia for four years, having family that is impoverished in small villages in Africa–knowing the leaders is not important — what I know is the people….

I traveled to Pakistan when I was in college — I knew what Sunni and Shia was [sic] before I joined the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

So why did he appoint Clinton despite all this? Was it purely political — to (as LBJ so famously said of someone of a different gender) have her inside the tent pissing out rather than outside pissing in? Perhaps. But it is also likely that Obama considered Clinton’s lack of knowledge to be a feature rather than a bug. After all, a relative neophyte would be less inclined to interfere with his own policies or to challenge him with his/her own greater expertise. This was also true of Obama’s selection of Leon Panetta to head the CIA and then Defense, and his choice of Thomas Donilon as his National Security advisor.

Obama likes to think of himself as the smartest person in the room. He prefers to surround himself with mediocrities and/or trusted yes-men/women and party operatives. The result? Well, we’re seeing it in Benghazi.

We don’t know exactly who made the most egregious errors in Benghazi: Obama, Clinton, Panetta, or Donilon, or whether they all had significant roles in the debacle and the ensuing coverup. There’s plenty of blame to go around, and plenty of incompetence.

At Breitbart, for example, Colonel Hunt reported early on that it was Hillary who had made the general decision not to order a greater security presence at Benghazi:

Hunt told Breitbart News that the new State Department Rules of Engagement for Libya, approved and signed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton since the 2011 fall of Khadafi’s regime, severely compromised the safety and security of murdered Ambassador Stevens and all American diplomatic staff in Libya.

He also stated that the decision not to staff Benghazi with Marines was made by Secretary of State Clinton when she attached her signature to the State Department Rules of Engagement for Libya document. Breitbart News has subsequently learned that under those rules of engagement, Secretary Clinton prohibited Marines from providing security at any American diplomatic installation in Libya.

Hunt told Breitbart News that…”We allowed a contractor to hire local nationals as security guards, but said they can’t have bullets. This was all part of the point of not having a high profile in Libya.”

What happened in Benghazi is an example of the triumph of leftist ideology over common sense. The idea is that, in order to project the appearance of friendliness and trust, we must forgo actually protecting ourselves. The fact that terrorists would see that as a golden opportunity for attack, and regard us as both weak and fools — and rightly so — does not compute. The idea is that people are more convinced by facades and poses than by reality, and that the proper ideology is more important than expertise.

But that’s not surprising; both Obama and Hillary Clinton (and the left as a whole) operate that way themselves to a great extent, and have based their own political careers on bravado and appearance rather than substance. Both Obama and Hillary Clinton represent, among other things, their own conviction that smart people (those who’ve done well in school, that is) can do anything they set their minds to, and that all it takes is a little posturing — which replaces actual knowledge and experience — to succeed. Bu they may have come up against reality in Benghazi.