Thinking people are trying to understand the grotesque failure that is Barack Obama’s foreign policy. As the Middle East descends into chaos and Vladimir Putin takes charge, enquiring minds what to know what went wrong.
Now, Niall Ferguson, of Harvard University and the Hoover Institution has offered an exceptionally good analysis of the problem. Ferguson has just published a major work on Henry Kissinger, the first volume of a definitive biography. Reviews are been exceptionally laudatory.
Looking at America’s recent inability to conduct an effective foreign policy, Ferguson suggests two Kissingerian reasons.
First, the person at the top was selected for other skills. “The typical political leader of the contemporary managerial society,” noted Mr. Kissinger, “is a man with a strong will, a high capacity to get himself elected, but no very great conception of what he is going to do when he gets into office.”
Second, the government was full of people trained as lawyers. In making foreign policy, Mr. Kissinger once remarked, “you have to know what history is relevant.” But lawyers were “the single most important group in Government,” he said, and their principal drawback was “a deficiency in history.” This was a long-standing prejudice of his. “The clever lawyers who run our government,” he thundered in a 1956 letter to a friend, have weakened the nation by instilling a “quest for minimum risk which is our most outstanding characteristic.”
American presidents fail at foreign policy, Ferguson suggests, because they do not know how to think strategically and have no real sense of history. Worse yet, they are either lawyers themselves or they surround themselves with advisers who have legal training.
According to Ferguson, Obama’s strategy was long on fantasy and short on reality:
Now I see that this was the strategy—a strategy aimed at creating a new balance of power in the Middle East. The deal on Iran’s nuclear-arms program was part of Mr. Obama’s aim (as he put it to journalist Jeffrey Goldberg in May) “to find effective partners—not just in Iraq, but in Syria, and in Yemen, and in Libya.” Mr. Obama said he wanted “to create the international coalition and atmosphere in which people across sectarian lines are willing to compromise and are willing to work together in order to provide the next generation a fighting chance for a better future.”
If we take Obama’s strategy on its own terms, it is failing:
It is clear that the president’s strategy is failing disastrously. Since 2010, total fatalities from armed conflict in the world have increased by a factor of close to four, according to data from the International Institute of Strategic Studies. Total fatalities due to terrorism have risen nearly sixfold, based on the University of Maryland’s Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism database. Nearly all this violence is concentrated in a swath of territory stretching from North Africa through the Middle East to Afghanistan and Pakistan. And there is every reason to expect the violence to escalate as the Sunni powers of the region seek to prevent Iran from establishing itself as the post-American hegemon.
But, Ferguson continues, beyond the fact that Obama knows nothing about foreign policy, he has surrounded himself with people who know less:
Those who know the Obama White House’s inner workings wonder why this president, who came into office with next to no experience of foreign policy, has made so little effort to hire strategic expertise. In fairness, Denis McDonough (now White House chief of staff) has some real knowledge of Latin America. While at Oxford, National Security Adviser Susan Rice wrote a doctoral dissertation on Zimbabwe. And Samantha Power, ambassador to the U.N., has published two substantial books (one of which—“A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide”—she will need to update when she returns to academic life).
But other key players are the sort of people Henry Kissinger complained about more than half a century ago: Michael Froman, the trade representative, was one of Mr. Obama’s classmates at Harvard Law School; Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken is a Columbia J.D.; éminence grise Valerie Jarrett got hers from the University of Michigan. What about Secretary of State John Kerry? Boston College Law School, ’76.
Ferguson argues persuasively that Obama’s foreign policy has failed because he himself is incompetent and uninformed. Foreign policy is not the place for on-the-job training. It may not seem like it, but Ferguson is offering a generous appraisal. It is better to begin with a generous appraisal before asking whether Obama might not have more nefarious motives, and whether another ghostly figure might be influencing American foreign policy.
Perhaps Jeremiah Wright is not exercising a direct influence on President Obama, but since our president spent twenty years imbibing the wisdom of a man who is a close friend and colleague of that noted bigot, Louis Farrakhan, one should examine the Obama policy and attitude toward Israel in the light of Wright’s mentorship.
Today, Israel is facing another intifada. One imagines that the decision to attack Israelis had something to do with the fact that the American president has treated the Israeli prime minister with uncommon contempt. At a time when many people concluded that Obama, having apparently succeeded in sacrificing the security of Israel to the will of the ayatollahs, and having instructed his Secretary of State and United Nations Ambassador to boycott the Netanyahu U. N. speech, has helped incite the current wave of violence. The message from Obama-- and the Europeans-- has been that Israel is on its own.
Since Obama chose a notable Israel-hater like Wright as his mentor, Obama must not have found Wright's message overly offensive. He may have found it positively uplifting.
This to introduce the fact that yesterday. Farrakhan hosted a rally in Washington to commemorate his Million Man March. It was called “Justice or Else!”
Among the speakers was Jeremiah Wright. Among other things, he claimed, at a time when Palestinians are ramping up attacks on Israelis, that Palestinian Lives Matter.
What did Wright have to say?
Among his controversial statements was this one: “Jesus was Palestinian.”
To which John Hinderaker responded:
Sorry, Rev, Jesus was a Jew. The Palestinians, if by that one means Arabs, didn’t arrive on the scene for another 600 years.
Wright accused Israel of being an apartheid state and added that he, like famed academic dimwit Judith Butler, supports the BDS movement.
Apartheid is going on in Palestine as we sit here. There’s an apartheid wall being built, twice the size of the Berlin Wall in height, keeping Palestinians off of illegally occupied territories, where the Europeans have claimed that land as their own.
As Hinderaker points out, Israel built the wall to stop Palestinian terrorism. And, for the most part it has been very successful.
He explained what Wright was saying:
The “illegally occupied territories” are Israel, and the “Europeans” are Jews. No mention of the actual purpose of the barrier, to prevent Arab terrorists from infiltrating into Israel.
People like to say that Obama disembarrassed himself of Wright when he gave a speech in 2008. This is patent nonsense. Wright taught Obama how to think about many things, among them the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Once you develop a habitual way of thinking about an issue, you continue to think that way… unless you spend years working your way out of it.
There are good indications that, when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians, Obama and the world are haunted by the ghostly presence of Rev. Jeremiah Wright.