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An disaster waiting to happen

The Telegraph says that President Obama was too exhausted to give British PM Gordon Brown a proper welcome.

Sources close to the White House say Mr Obama and his staff have been "overwhelmed" by the economic meltdown and have voiced concerns that the new president is not getting enough rest.

British officials, meanwhile, admit that the White House and US State Department staff were utterly bemused by complaints that the Prime Minister should have been granted full-blown press conference and a formal dinner, as has been customary. They concede that Obama aides seemed unfamiliar with the expectations that surround a major visit by a British prime minister.

But Washington figures with access to Mr Obama's inner circle explained the slight by saying that those high up in the administration have had little time to deal with international matters, let alone the diplomatic niceties of the special relationship.

Allies of Mr Obama say his weary appearance in the Oval Office with Mr Brown illustrates the strain he is now under, and the president's surprise at the sheer volume of business that crosses his desk.

A well-connected Washington figure, who is close to members of Mr Obama's inner circle, expressed concern that Mr Obama had failed so far to "even fake an interest in foreign policy".

Maybe part of the reason the White House is frazzling itself into the ground is that they're trying to remake everything. Everything has now become part of the delta. Everything is changing. Now they are facing the revenge of the second derivative: the rate of the rate of change. They are trying to restructure the government so it is run with Czars instead of cabinet secretaries; "engaging" hostile nations with little or no preconditions and getting blown off; changing the basis of the economy to conform to their untried vision of the future; creating the single greatest expansion of government since FDR; redesigning health care; holding consultations on everything and planning to save the world from Climate Change. They're busy because crisis creates an "opportunity" for their own vague revolution.

The cumulative consequence of these actions is a vast increase in the amount of risk the entire system has to endure because variables are being added faster than they are being solved. The margins are gone -- removed by design. The margins are in the way. But while things might hold together for so long as the road ahead is smooth, what happens if things hit a bump? What happens in the Obama administration, too preoccupied to "even fake an interest in foreign policy meets a sudden challenge?

So far the Obama administration has only had to deal with the economy. And despite their campaign handwringing about how much less safe America has become, its foreign enemies, perhaps still picking themselves up off the ground from the pasting they received at the hands of George W. Bushchimp, have not yet made a move. But one day they too may notice that nobody is at home.

But the cup of foreign affairs will not pass away from Washington. The NYT describes President Obama's thinking on the Taliban.

Asked if the United States was winning in Afghanistan, a war he effectively adopted as his own last month by ordering an additional 17,000 troops sent there, Mr. Obama replied flatly, “No.” ...

Mr. Obama said on the campaign trail last year that the possibility of breaking away some elements of the Taliban “should be explored,” an idea also considered by some military leaders. But now he has started a review of policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan intended to find a new strategy, and he signaled that reconciliation could emerge as an important initiative, mirroring the strategy used by Gen. David H. Petraeus in Iraq.

At the same time, he acknowledged that outreach may not yield the same success. “The situation in Afghanistan is, if anything, more complex,” he said. “You have a less governed region, a history of fierce independence among tribes. Those tribes are multiple and sometimes operate at cross purposes, and so figuring all that out is going to be much more of a challenge.”

For American military planners, reaching out to some members of the Taliban is fraught with complexities. For one thing, officials would have to figure out which Taliban members might be within the reach of a reconciliation campaign, no easy task in a lawless country with feuding groups of insurgents.

And administration officials have criticized the Pakistani government for its own reconciliation deal with local Taliban leaders in the Swat Valley, where Islamic law has been imposed and radical figures hold sway. Pakistani officials have sought to reassure administration officials that their deal was not a surrender to the Taliban, but rather an attempt to drive a wedge between hard-core Taliban leaders and local Islamists.

And now he's going to try the same thing. Will it work? Maybe. But the devil is in the details or in the lack of attention to them.