Sunday, October 26, 2008
New Yorker portrait of Obama foreign policy staff is NOT reassuring
Obama's foreign policy and national security inexperience is exceeded only by his smug and unjustified self-confidence in the field. A New Yorker profile intended to reassure us on his bona fides scared the hell out of me, as I explained in a guest-post at HughHewitt.com on Wednesday.
[Copied here for archival purposes on November 5, 2008, from the post linked above at HughHewitt.com.]
(Guest Post by Bill Dyer a/k/a Beldar)
I get most of my news and commentary online these days, but there's one room in my house where I like to read but I don't have a computer. Things stack up, and so I'm just now getting through my print edition of the October 13th issue of the New Yorker. In it, I found an article by Nicholas Lemann (which also appears online) about the respective foreign policy advisers of the Obama-Biden campaign and the McCain-Palin campaign.
I'm sure this passage is intended to re-assure me and other readers about the foreign policy bona fides of Barack Obama and those he's gathered around him, but for me, it has exactly the opposite effect — and it's certainly more timely right now, after Joe Biden's guarantee that our enemies will contrive a controversy to test a young President Obama in his first six months, than it was when originally published earlier this month:
Obama’s advisers, for their part, thought of Clinton and her advisers as being mired in the past, and as having too many egos, too many power struggles, and too many unresolved psychological issues. In addition to everything else they are post-, the Obama team gives the feeling of being post-therapy: they know who they are, they’re not needy, they have it under control....
The network of experts set up by [Anthony] Lake and [Susan] Rice eventually grew to about three hundred, divided into teams by region and issue, with each group generating its own material and passing it up the line. (Now, after the official absorption of Hillary Clinton’s foreign-policy apparatus, there may be as many as five hundred experts connected to the Obama campaign.) These people support a close group of about a half-dozen advisers .... The thoughts of the many experts — who generally respond by e-mail — are most often filtered through Rice, Lippert, and McDonough. Thus far, nobody leaks, nobody bickers in a way that can be discerned by outsiders, and there are not obvious camps. The general feel of the campaign, both in its spread-out virtual form and at its headquarters in a modern office tower in downtown Chicago, is a little like that of the Microsoft campus in the nineteen-nineties, or the Google campus today: everybody seems young, trim, competent, cool, and casual, but casual in a “you and I both know that we’re ferocious and brilliant and we’re going to crush the other team” way.
The tone comes from Obama himself — he’s a mixture of soulful outsider and competitive, hyper-organized meritocrat — and it has an ideological manifestation. The Obama people think of themselves as future-oriented strategic thinkers, not old-fashioned, gooey, Eleanor Roosevelt-style humanitarians — as people who get it, the “it” being the new realities of the twenty-first century. Although the candidates may be required to say that their foremost concern is how the economic crisis affects the middle class, they seem to get their inexhaustible drive from the belief that they might be able to run American foreign policy. Obama’s foreign-policy staff likes to think he reads their memos first. The most sustained signal we have about Obama’s personal views on foreign policy is the next-to-last chapter of his 2006 book “The Audacity of Hope,” which is called “The World Beyond Our Borders,” and which, by all accounts, he wrote himself, taking particular care with it...
The policy part of the chapter demonstrates a politician’s need to hedge: Obama says that he struggled with his decision to oppose the Iraq war, and he offers measured praise to President Reagan. But it does put forth fresh ideas. Obama wants to “build a new international consensus around the challenges of transnational threats.” Of great-power competition as the defining element in statecraft, he writes, “That world no longer exists.” Instead of Russia and China, we should be focussed mainly on “terrorist networks intent on repelling or disrupting the forces of globalization, potential pandemic disease like avian flu, or catastrophic changes in the earth’s climate,” and the way to make headway there is by bringing together multinational coalitions and adding new elements to the traditional foreign-policy tool kit. As Lake put it, when I spoke to him, traditional statesmen see international relations as a game of chess, and “post-realists” see it as more like the complicated multidirectional Japanese board game of Go — “but Obama knows you have to play both boards at the same time.” (In the Obama camp, all dichotomies are false dichotomies, which the candidate transcends.)
The most mystical believer in Obamaism whom I met was Scott Gration, the retired Air Force major-general — a burly, friendly, artifice-less guy who assured me that he had only recently begun to wear a tie regularly....
This frightens me on so many, many levels. To begin with, this monstrous staff — assembled by a mere candidate, who doesn't even yet have the vast hiring powers of an actual president — sounds a lot less like "the Microsoft campus in the nineteen-nineties, or the Google campus today" than it does the Microsoft of today, which famously brought us the Vista operating system. A retired Air Force major-general sounds good, but that's a pretty light rank for a presidential-level military adviser — and while I don't care much about his affinity or lack thereof for neckties, the fact that he's the "most mystical believer in Obamaism" is absolutely terrifying.
This sounds exactly like John F. Kennedy's "best and brightest" assembly. Obama thinks that's cool, because he doesn't understand that JFK was a foreign policy rookie who recklessly brought the world closer than it has ever been, before or since, to nuclear war. Indeed, this team sounds exactly like the Kennedy staffers that indulged their inexperienced boss when — to make up for having just been humiliated on an international scale when he got cold feet midway through the Bay of Pigs — he wanted to have a face-to-face summit with Kruschev in Vienna in June 1961, meeting "without preconditions." As a direct result, we got the construction of the Berlin Wall a matter of weeks later, and in just over another year, the Cuban Missile Crisis.
"All dichotomies are false dichotomies"? What happened to "good" and "evil"?
And great-power competition no longer existing? I cannot imagine a more reckless and dangerous notion. It does exist, it has existed since even before the time when the great powers were the Persians and the Greeks. In case Sen. Obama and his whiz kids haven't noticed it, a resurgent Russia is at this very minute playing games of chicken with the U.S. Navy off the Black Sea coastlines of Georgia and the Ukraine while quote-unquote "negotiating" with the Ukrainians for an extension of the old Soviet Navy strategic base at Sevastopol. The Chinese have just conducted their first space-walks and are building an aircraft carrier. And yes, the modern-day Persians — the mullahs of Iran — want back in the game, too, and they're doing everything in their power to leap-frog their way in with nuclear weapons.
Gentle readers, keep in mind that the passage I've quoted here is written by an Obama supporter. It's a "best-case spin" on the Obama team, intended to make them look wise and competent, the kind of people who will keep you and me and our children safe. But not even the prose-smiths of the New Yorker seem to realize that this team of snot-nosed elitists — "we’re ferocious and brilliant and we’re going to crush the other team" — is guaranteed to get the United States into a world of new troubles precisely because of that attitude.
This is no time for a president who is too naive to even begin to realize how naive he is. This is no time for a president who thinks if 300 advisers are great, 500 must be better. This is no time for a president who thinks being cool and "post-therapy" means you're equipped to deal with the world's most dangerous tyrants, some of whom already have the world's most dangerous weapons.
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There is a tremendous amount of triumphalism among the Obamanites, as expressed in their comments on HH. It corresponds to the hubris of their candidate. But are those five-hundred *experts* sufficient to overcome that hubris and the distorted worldview of Blessing Handsome?
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