The Man Who Didn't Need Kennan

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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