Welcome back from Labor Day weekend. From the first Morning Jolt of the week:
Democrats Suddenly Realize What They Miscalculated About the World: Everything
As we await Congress’s decision on authorizing the use of U.S. military force in Syria, Democrats are suddenly realizing that their foreign-policy brain-trust completely misjudged the world.
Being nicer to countries like Russia will not make them nicer to you. The United Nations is not an effective tool for resolving crises. Some foreign leaders are beyond persuasion and diplomacy. There is no “international community” ready to work together to solve problems, and there probably never will be.
You can pin this on Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Susan Rice, but most of all, the buck stops with the president. Those of us who scoffed a bit at a state senator ascending to the presidency within four years on a wave of media hype and adoration are not quite so shocked by this current mess. We never bought into this notion that getting greater cooperation from our allies, and less hostility from our enemies, was just a matter of giving this crew the wheel and letting them practice, as Hillary Clinton arrogantly declared it, “smart power.” (These people can’t even label a foreign-policy approach without reminding us of how highly they think of themselves.) They looked out at the world at the end of the Bush years, and didn’t see tough decisions, unsolvable problems, unstable institutions, restless populations, technology enabling the impulse to destabilize existing institutions, evil men hungry for more power, and difficult trade-offs. No, our problems and challengers were just a matter of the previous hands running U.S. foreign policy not being smart enough.
How stressed is Obama? He’s starting to climb onto the Resolute desk during phone calls. To the right, Vice President Biden thinks about squirrels.
Well, here we are, five years later. Anthony H. Cordesman, the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, yesterday:
When Samuel Beckett wrote “Waiting for Godot,” he was not writing an instruction manual on strategy for American Presidents. Unfortunately, however, that seems to be the instruction manual President Obama has read. He has suddenly transformed a rushed call for immediate action into a waiting game where it is not clear what he or the U.S. is waiting for, and where much of the action may come to border on tragicomedy…
The President needs to show real leadership, not overreaction, sudden reversal, and uncertainty. We need the President to shape a broad policy for the Syrian civil war even more than we need a far clearer policy for preventing the use of chemical weapons. More broadly, we need leadership to deal with Iran, its moves towards nuclear weapons and any new options created by Iran’s election. We need clear decisions over how the U.S. will deal with Afghanistan as it pulls out its combat troops. We need a clear definition of what “rebalancing” in Asia really means. We need a clear concept for our future national security posture and spending, and our defense strategy, rather than a food fight over defense spending alone. This is the 21st century. It is not a play and we cannot wait for Godot.
Lest you think this is some Bush-team cheerleader, back in 2006, Cordesman was writing:
As a Republican, I would never have believed that President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld would waste so many opportunities and so much of America’s reputation that they would rival Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara and McGeorge Bundy for the worst wartime national security team in United States history.
Honest to God, the self-described smart set told us, again and again, Obama would bring a calmer world, just by showing up. (In their defense, the Nobel Committee did practically gve him the Nobel Peace Prize based on attendance.)
Let’s recall how Andrew Sullivan hyperventilated about how Obama would calm anti-American tensions in the Middle East just by showing his face:
Consider this hypothetical. It’s November 2008. A young Pakistani Muslim is watching television and sees that this man—Barack Hussein Obama—is the new face of America. In one simple image, America’s soft power has been ratcheted up not a notch, but a logarithm. A brown-skinned man whose father was an African, who grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, who attended a majority-Muslim school as a boy, is now the alleged enemy. If you wanted the crudest but most effective weapon against the demonization of America that fuels Islamist ideology, Obama’s face gets close. It proves them wrong about what America is in ways no words can.
The other obvious advantage that Obama has in facing the world and our enemies is his record on the Iraq War. He is the only major candidate to have clearly opposed it from the start. Whoever is in office in January 2009 will be tasked with redeploying forces in and out of Iraq, negotiating with neighboring states, engaging America’s estranged allies, tamping down regional violence. Obama’s interlocutors in Iraq and the Middle East would know that he never had suspicious motives toward Iraq, has no interest in occupying it indefinitely, and foresaw more clearly than most Americans the baleful consequences of long-term occupation.
This was not some drunken screed (as far as we know); this was a cover piece in The Atlantic magazine. The chattering classes considered this serious thought back in December 2007. Events have proven that ultimately, the president’s hue and middle name don’t really matter. Anti-Americanism is driven by the United States’s role in the world as a secular, Judeo-Christian, economic, cultural and military superpower and the fact that so many other nations and cultures require a scapegoat, rival, or demon figure.
The mega-hype continued into 2009. Here’s Lee Hamilton, former Democratic congressman and co-chair of the 9/11 Commission, in April 2009:
President Obama’s accomplishments, as listed by Hamilton, include: “Re-energizing our efforts in Pakistan and Afghanistan, commencing the withdrawal from Iraq, dramatically shifting nuclear-weapons policy, including support for the CTBT and cooperation with Russia, changing policies towards Cuba, an opening to Iran, working with our partners to de-nuclearize the Korean Peninsula, pushing peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, and Syria, helping Mexico fight the drug cartels and more.”
Think about it. Hamlton genuinely believed those were his accomplishments! Note the ATF and DOJ were sending guns to the Mexican drug cartels back when he was saying that.
Now Kerry tells us, “because of the guaranteed Russian obstructionism of any action through the UN Security Council, the UN cannot galvanize the world to act as it should.”
No @%, Senator Global Test. The United Nations could rarely, if ever, galvanize the world. Maybe back after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait back in 1990. Now, whenever there’s a crisis in the world, Russia and China see an opportunity – to make a few bucks through arms sales, to build a relation with a client state, to expand their sphere of influence, or to just antagonize us for the sake of antagonizing us.
The United Nations did not suddenly become an ineffective debating society with little or no influence on the real crises in the world. It has been that for years, and some of us noticed this long before the current crew did.
(This doesn’t stop some of the Democrats’ alleged foreign-policy geniuses from reflexively uttering their rote talking points. Friday night, on Chris Hayes’s show, Bill Richardson said, “I would try to get some kind of ban on arm shipments, send Assad to the International Court of Justice, that the Security Council can do, a condemnation statement. I would continue this U.N. effort.” Keep banging your head against the wall! Sooner or later those bricks will break!)
The whole “reset button” ceremony with Hillary Clinton and Russia’s Sergey Lavrov was a formal commemoration of the incoming administration’s naïveté. The “famously stormy” relationship between Condi Rice and Lavrov was not a matter of Rice not being diplomatic enough or nice enough or trying hard enough. It reflected that Vladimir Putin and most of Russia’s highest levels of government defined their interests as opposing our interests.
But no one could have foreseen that, right? Russian implacability on Syria was completely a shock to all the experts, right? Could anybody have seen this coming? Oh, wait:
“[Russia] is without question our number one geopolitical foe, they fight for every cause for the world’s worst actors.” – Mitt Romney, March 26, 2012.
But hey, that guy thought negotiating with the Taliban was foolish, too.
This crew, so certain of their charm, persuasiveness, and diplomatic mettle somehow failed to persuade the British government or people that the effort against Assad is worth joining.
When it hits the fan elsewhere in the world, the EU is not going to come running with peacekeepers. There is nobody else but us.