Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Time to Sack the Obama Foreign Policy Team

The Obama administration has admitted that it made a mistake by not sending the president or vice president to Paris last Sunday for a rally against terrorism.

Of course, some people do not agree. Former president Jimmy Carter, when not blaming it all on the Israelis, offered that Obama could not go to Paris because he had just come back from vacation and had a desk full of mail.

With friends like that… it’s best to admit to the error and move on.

Amazingly enough, several readers of this blog do not understand why Obama should have been in Paris. One is tempted to say that they do not understand what the administration calls “optics” and what everyone else knows to be the ceremonial and symbolic role of the presidency.

I have had my say on the topic. Today, I present the views of Leslie Gelb, a left-of-center foreign policy hand. Gelb worked for the Johnson administration, the Carter administration, the Brookings Institute and the New York Times.

Manifestly, he is not inclined to have a negative view of President Obama.

This morning, Gelb wrote:

Here’s why America’s failure to be represented at the Paris unity march was so profoundly disturbing. It wasn’t just because President Obama’s or Vice President Biden’s absence was a horrendous gaffe. More than this, it demonstrated beyond argument that the Obama team lacks the basic instincts and judgment necessary to conduct U.S. national security policy in the next two years. It’s simply too dangerous to let Mr. Obama continue as is—with his current team and his way of making decisions. America, its allies, and friends could be heading into one of the most dangerous periods since the height of the Cold War.

Mr. Obama will have to excuse most of his inner core, especially in the White House. He will have to replace them with strong and strategic people of proven foreign policy experience. He’ll also need to seed the Defense and State Departments with new top people serving directly as senior advisers to the secretaries. And he also will need to set up regular consultations—not the usual phony ones—with the two key Senate leaders in this field, Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker and Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, two people who can really improve his decisions and bolster his credibility. Many will be tempted to dismiss these crash solutions as several bridges too far, as simply unrealistic. But hear me out. It can be made much more plausible than it seems at first blush. What’s more, if Mr. Obama doesn’t do something along the lines of what’s proposed here, he and we are in for unmanageable trouble.

After explaining that he has never in his career made such a drastic recommendation, Gelb continues:

It was an absolute no-brainer for either Mr. Obama or Mr. Biden personally to show the American flag on the streets of Paris. Of course every senior staff person should have recommended it three seconds after the news of the Parisian horrors. So far as we know, none did. Sure, this was an inexplicable and utter staff failure, but the president and the vice president shouldn’t have required anyone to tell them what to do in this situation. It was, after all, about terrorism, the main issue of the era. If all these top officials blew this obvious decision, shudder at how they’ll handle the hard ones.

First, Mr. Obama will have to thank his senior National Security Council team and replace them. The must-gos include National Security Adviser Susan Rice, Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, chief speech writer/adviser Ben Rhodes, andforeign policy guru without portfolio Valerie Jarrett. They can all be replaced right away, and their successors won’t require senatorial confirmation.

The fault, of course, lies with the man at the top:

In the end, making the national security system work comes down to one factor, one man—Barack Obama. He’s the key problem, and he’s the only one who can bring about a solution. He’s such a closed person. He’s first rate as an intellectual thinker, but he thinks about problems as an intellectual and not as a policy maker and a leader. Alas, that’s just too clear. He also doesn’t like to be challenged with give and take. If he were to bring in the kind of people I suggest, he would have to resolve at the outset to give them a full hearing and tangible respect for their views.


Sam L. said...

Mr. Gelb writes"...he will have to...". "...he will also need to...". Only if The Won wants to, and I'm pretty sure he doesn't, doesn't care to, won't trouble himself to. With the experience of six years, this should be obvious.

HE also wrote, "It was an absolute no-brainer...", to which I cannot stop myself from saying They Have No Brains.

Mr. Gelb just doesn't understand, and never will, what Rush Limbaugh and Governor Palin knew oh, not so long ago.

JP said...

Well, you are talking about America here.

Not only are there a sizable number of people who can't find France on a map, there are a sizable number of people who are isolationist and could care less what the rest of the world thinks.

Ares Olympus said...

re: Amazingly enough, several readers of this blog do not understand why Obama should have been in Paris. One is tempted to say that they do not understand what the administration calls “optics” and what everyone else knows to be the ceremonial and symbolic role of the presidency.

I'm sorry. This analyzing Obama's lack of attendance to a mass rally seems such a wasted effort to me, a distraction from more interesting questions.

Yes, everyone knows the president has a symbolic role, but there's going to be divergent opinions of what that role is, and how it is expressed. One problem to consider, a President needs high level security, so his presence can actually make the rally more dangerous, if police are required to be around the president and not more evenly scattered to protect people from new violence. There's lots to consider I'm sure, so I don't consider myself worthy to judge.

It does remind me of the Boston Marathon bombing in April 2013, and similar, two brothers, only 3 deaths, but 264 injured, and 16 people lost limbs. And its even more senseless, with no personal animosity towards the mostly spectators who were killed and injued.

Seeing the victims in France, its interesting, 12 dead, 11 men, ages 42-80.

I read somewhere that the brothers didn't want to kill the women. Found a link, and a strange quote:"Don’t be afraid, calm down. I won’t kill you. You’re a woman, we don’t kill women. But think about what you do, what you do is bad. I’m sparing you and because I’ve spared you, you will read the Qur’an".

I don't think the killers as moral for sparing woman, but it does show they consider themselves moral, with standards of some sort.

And it also makes me wonder how I want to die, and how I don't want to die. Like is it better to live while hiding under a desk while a woman stands in the open protecting me? I mean a coward would say yes, but perhaps the killer might find me anyway, and kill the woman for lying or something.

On the other side I think of a friend, and she told a story when she was in her 20's, and there was a bar fight, both drunk, and at some point she got the chance to get between them and asked the (meaner??) guy for a dance, and apparently this little question pulled him out of his mad rage, and he just say "I'm sorry I can't dance" and then the fight was over.

On the other side, knowing the "terrorists" don't want to shoot women might show a tactical advantage, and we should encourage women to all carry guns, or be prepared to use a gun to take out an attacker. And its a credible position, no one who has access to a gun and the slightest skill would leave a gun unfired when a murderer is shooting people.

So maybe the next terroristic attack will have a story about how one woman with a handgun, and how she wounded two shooters, so they could be overpowered by others, and we'll all be excited by this success. And after that terrorists will be forced to consider women also as targets and have no one to look into their eyes searching for their common humanity.

I don't think "nonviolence" has the power to reduce deaths in situations like this, and when a madman has a gun and is firing it, there are no moral rules except to do anything to stop the violence.

Still, its strange to me, that I feel safer without a gun. A person with a gun has to live with his actions at some level, and shooting someone looking into your eyes for mercy is a different act than shooting someone in fear because they are running or might be reaching for a gun.

I don't know how brave I'll be in any such situation of madmen with guns, but wondering makes for more interesting questions than judging what other people are doing.

Ares Olympus said...

Here's another more interesting related event, arrest of a French comedian:
Notorious French comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala has been arrested for being an “apologist for terrorism” after suggesting on Facebook that he sympathised with one of the Paris gunmen, a judicial source has said.

Prosecutors had opened the case against him on Monday after he wrote “Tonight, as far as I’m concerned, I feel like Charlie Coulibaly” – mixing the slogan “Je suis Charlie”, used in tribute to the journalists killed at magazine Charlie Hebdo, with a reference to gunman Amédy Coulibaly. Dieudonné was arrested on Wednesday.

Being arrested for being an apologist seems troubling, but otherwise I don't know what to make of it. Personally I'd rather be the arrestee than prosecutor or judge, but we'll see what happens.

I suppose, if I was Dieudonné, I'd say "I'm guilty of having politically incorrect thoughts and feelings and failing to keep them to myself. Mr. Judge, please tell me what you'd like me to do about it?"

Its easy to confess when you don't feel overly guilty, but if there's a 50,000 euro fine for having sympathy for murders, that's a pricey confession.

Maybe then we can go full circle and Charlie Hebdo can express comic sympathy for their own murders in solidarity with Dieudonné's "pen"?

Chris Mallory said...

Why should the US tax payer be forced to pay to send a government employee to France to take part in a progressive "feel good" march? Nothing that happens in France is any business or responsibility of the US tax payer or the US government. The president is not our leader, he is our employee. His only job is to carry out the will of the American people by enforcing the laws as passed by the Congress. That is it.

Dennis said...

Sadly, far too many people forget we live in a global environment. This environment and what happens affects all of us in the long, and sometimes in the short, run. The way leaders, and I use the term loosely, act for the people they are supposed to represent, creates a perception that either contributes to or degrades, how other determine where we stand on global issues.
A common respect practiced by people and extended to countries demands a recognition of respect given and received. What a country gives it is likely to receive. Common decency and a smart foreign policy necessitates a level of participation that demonstrates that commonality shown for grief at a global level.
To not understand that is to perpetuate distrust and a confusion as to where this country stands. Life is not so different that the same sort of rules we utilize in dealing with our friends who have had a loss apply at the global level.
Selfish and narcissitic people never will understand the larger context because they really do think they are smarter than everyone else. I would suggest that if one does not understand the opinion of others a better policy is to question their own approach. Surely one cannot believe that only they have access to the truth?

Stuart Schneiderman said...

It's easy to say that it's none of our business, but isolationism has never solved anything. While we were ignoring WW I in Europe the continent produced an unspeakable carnage... which led to WW II. We are allies of France and other European countries. We have treat obligations to them. Ever hear of NATO. We have important economic and trade relationships with them. Besides, participating in the march would have expressed solidarity with all of those who are fighting Islamist terrorism. For failing to show up we looked as though we were expressing sympathy with it.

JP said...

"It's easy to say that it's none of our business, but isolationism has never solved anything. While we were ignoring WW I in Europe the continent produced an unspeakable carnage... which led to WW II."

I'm pretty sure that the goal of the the isolationists isn't to solve problems or to stop carnage. They also have no interest in Nato and would prefer that it be scrapped because it's of no value to them.

I'm not an isolationist, I'm just pointing out that you are talking about America, where 10%, 15% (?) of the people probably think this way.

You: If we don't do something, people will suffer and devastation will result! We have relationships to think about.

Isolationist: Thank you for flying Total Bastard Airlines. Buh-Bye.

You: We have obligations! Trade relationships!

Isolationist: Show me where *I* *personally* agreed to anything! Can't find my signature? Gee, I wonder why. Buh-Bye.

You: Don't you understand? We have to do something! We must show leadership!

Isolationist: Buh-Bye. I'm sorry, Which part didn't you understand? The "buh" or the "bye"?

JP said...

"I don't think "nonviolence" has the power to reduce deaths in situations like this, and when a madman has a gun and is firing it, there are no moral rules except to do anything to stop the violence."

The goal of non-violence, in the sense of the Christian-ish martyr-ish, pacifist tradition, isn't really to "reduce deaths".

It's to not use violence, under any circumstances, even for self-defense, regardless of whether your death is the result or the death of your loved ones is the result.

So, from a moral perspective, not everyone agrees on the ground rules, particularly self-preservation or protection of loved ones falls lower on the moral ladder than not committing violence in certain groups.

For instance, as a different example, the Shakers refused to have children on moral grounds.

It's helpful to remember that moral frameworks can be self-liquidating.