|Obama’s Foreign Policy: Flawed Policy, Failed People|
By Troy Senik
Thursday, November 15 2012
Barack Obama – a man whose instincts towards Caesarism don’t quite fit under the rug – has a bad habit of becoming triumphalist in the aftermath of electoral victory. In 2009, only a few days into his presidency, Obama told a group of Republican congressmen who were at the White House to discuss the shape of his stimulus plan that he needn’t seriously consider their proposal to tilt the package more heavily towards tax cuts because “I won.” So much for there not being red states and blue states.
Having been reaffirmed by the electorate last week, he’s at it again.
Less than 72 hours after winning a second term, Obama announced himself unwilling to entertain Republican alternatives to raising income tax rates on high earners, pronouncing that “this was a central question during the election” and “a majority of Americans agree with my approach.” Now that obstinance is extending itself to foreign affairs, where the president has become intransigent on objections to U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice succeeding Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.
Though Rice’s widely anticipated nomination has not yet been announced, Obama was already digging in his heels on the issue at a Wednesday press conference in the East Room of the White House. The source of his pique was a pledge made earlier in the day by Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham to block Rice’s nomination because of her role in the administration’s response to the terrorist attacks on American officials in Benghazi, Libya.
It was Rice who had the unenviable task of working the Sunday morning talk show circuit to peddle the White House’s official line: that the attacks were the spontaneous result of a crowd of protesters whipped into a violent frenzy by a YouTube video. With that narrative subsequently shown to have been utterly false (there wasn’t even a crowd of protesters present during the attack), the administration’s credibility has suffered a huge hit – and so has Rice’s.
For his part, Obama seemed genuinely offended at the notion that a cabinet-level official in his administration should be held accountable for what she says. In an increasingly hostile tone, he pronounced, “… For them to go after the U.N. ambassador, who had nothing to do with Benghazi and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received and to besmirch her reputation is outrageous.”
Several questions issue from that complaint. If Rice had nothing to do with Benghazi, then why was she the one chosen as the administration’s mouthpiece? Are senior government officials not to be held accountable for public misstatements just because they were operating off of faulty intelligence? After all, isn’t part of their job to question and probe the information that’s given to them (particularly, when as Obama’s own press secretary eventually said, it was “self-evidently” a terrorist attack)?
If, as the administration has repeatedly protested, they were still trying to get a clear picture of what happened in Benghazi in the immediate aftermath of the attack, why dispatch a senior administration official to make definitive statements on national television?
Not only is this grounds for criticizing Rice, it’s grounds for scrutinizing the entire Obama foreign policy team, an opportunity that confirming new officials for the second term affords. With the exceptions of Bob Gates and Leon Panetta, both of whom have been serviceable and honorable Secretaries of Defense, there’s always been plenty of dead wood in this area.
National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, for example, is a foreign policy naïf and Democratic political hack whose bona fides include more than half a decade spent as a lobbyist for Fannie Mae.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose image benefits from her lack of the basic incompetence that plagues much of the rest of Obama’s team, still makes her fair share of mistakes – from announcing that the U.S. would quit pressuring China on human rights violations to spending more time condemning the producer of the YouTube film supposedly responsible for the Benghazi attacks than the attackers themselves.
Even under the spotlight of congressional testimony, Attorney General Eric Holder refused to associate terrorism with radical Islam.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano prefers to avoid the word “terrorism” altogether, instead favoring the phrase “man-caused disasters.”
These are not serious people. And the figures likely to join or replace them in a second Obama term look to be more of the same. If Rice, for example, is nominated for Secretary of State, she’ll have to answer not only for the Benghazi debacle, but also for the fact that, while serving in the Clinton State Department, she was one of the main figures responsible for scuttling a deal in which Sudan would turn over Osama Bin Laden to the U.S. (she also pointedly refused to acknowledge the genocide in Rwanda).
Based on recent Beltway chatter, it’s also possible that Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, widely known to covet the State Department post, may end up running the Pentagon instead. Kerry at State would be bad enough. This is, after all, the man who, during the 2004 presidential debates, famously proposed a “global test” for when America should be able to take action overseas. But his installation at the Defense Department would only add insult to injury. Imagine the world’s most powerful, capable fighting force – already reeling from morale problems – being run by a man who once boasted of throwing away the decorations he earned in military service.
Considered in isolation, these are indictments of each of the figures Obama has chosen to serve in his administration. Collectively, however, they are indictments of the judgment of the President himself, whose personnel decisions are symptomatic of a broader pathology: being consistently overmatched by foreign policy. The fish rots from the head. As long as Obama is in the Oval Office, don’t expect any improvements.
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