By now everyone understands that foreign policy is not the President’s strong suit. Just about everyone sees that he, with his two secretaries of state, has done a very poor job managing America’s relationships in the world.
For my part I have tried to give President Obama the benefit of the doubt. He is obviously in so far over his head that he does not even know that he does not know what he is doing. He has become a living example of the problems that occur when someone takes a job for which he does not have the requisite training or experience.
Others have suggested that Obama’s foreign policy enacts a set of underlying principles that are none too friendly to America’s national interest. When given the chance Obama has derided America’s friends and bowed down to America’s enemies. It’s reasonable to assume that it was intentional.
This morning Eliot Cohen blames the Obama foreign policy failure, not only on inexperience, but on an adolescent attitude. Or better, on boyish charm. Cohen does not use the term, but his description reminds us of a boy who refused to grow up, who lived in Neverland, who was arrogant and insolent, full of himself and totally confident of his abilities, regardless.
No, I am not thinking of Michael Jackson. I am thinking of Peter Pan.
From taking selfies at Nelson Mandela’s funeral to conducting foreign policy via hashtags, Obama has been anything but dignified and presidential.
Clues may be found in the president's selfie with the attractive Danish prime minister at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela in December; in State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki in March cheerily holding up a sign with the Twitter TWTR +5.90%hashtag #UnitedForUkraine while giving a thumbs up; or Michelle Obama looking glum last week, holding up another Twitter sign: #BringBackOurGirls. It can be found in the president's petulance in recently saying that if you do not support his (in)action in Ukraine you must want to go to war with Russia—when there are plenty of potentially effective steps available that stop well short of violence. It can be heard in the former NSC spokesman, Thomas Vietor, responding on May 1 to a question on Fox News about the deaths of an American ambassador and three other Americans with the line, "Dude, this was like two years ago."
Since the leader sets the tone, other members of the administration also act like overgrown children:
Often, members of the Obama administration speak and, worse, think and act, like a bunch of teenagers. When officials roll their eyes at Vladimir Putin's seizure of Crimea with the line that this is "19th-century behavior," the tone is not that different from a disdainful remark about a hairstyle being "so 1980s." When administration members find themselves judged not on utopian aspirations or the purity of their motives—from offering "hope and change" to stopping global warming—but on their actual accomplishments, they turn sulky. As teenagers will, they throw a few taunts (the president last month said the GOP was offering economic policies that amount to a "stinkburger" or a "meanwich") and stomp off, refusing to exchange a civil word with those of opposing views.
Among other puerile qualities, the administration leaders are completely self-absorbed and self-absolved. And they refuse to be judged by the consequences that their policies produce:
Like self-obsessed teenagers, the staffers and their superiors seemed to forget that there were other people in the room who might take offense, or merely see the world differently. Teenagers expect to be judged by intentions and promise instead of by accomplishment, and their style can be encouraged by irresponsible adults (see: the Nobel Prize committee) who give awards for perkiness and promise rather than achievement.
Call it immaturity if you like, but it projects exactly the wrong image.
If the United States today looks weak, hesitant and in retreat, it is in part because its leaders and their staff do not carry themselves like adults. They may be charming, bright and attractive; they may have the best of intentions; but they do not look serious. They act as though Twitter and clenched teeth or a pout could stop invasions or rescue kidnapped children in Nigeria. They do not sound as if, when saying that some outrage is "unacceptable" or that a dictator "must go," that they represent a government capable of doing something substantial—and, if necessary, violent—if its expectations are not met. And when reality, as it so often does, gets in the way—when, for example, the Syrian regime begins dousing its opponents with chlorine gas, as it has in recent weeks, despite solemn deals and red lines—the administration ignores it, hoping, as teenagers often do, that if they do not acknowledge a screw-up no one else will notice.
Hoping that no one will notice the mess… surely that does not inspire confidence, either at home or abroad.