Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Kidding Around With Foreign Policy

It's hard to say when this "youth" thing started in politics. Some would say Jack Kennedy, but he didn't act like a teenager (at least not in public), but like an actual young, but mature, man. Nobody confused him with Elvis, like they later did with Clinton. In his era, maturity in politics was still considered a plus. The youthful "vigor" he was characterized by was the same, pretty much, as Teddy Roosevelt's vigor. No, I think it did start with Clinton, and was conflated with "coolness," an attribute of youth, and by his era, it was cool for a 40-year-old to act like a kid. And the whole Clinton Era felt somehow like Mickey Rooney saying to Judy Garland, "Hey — Let's put on our own Presidential Adminstration!"

And if anything, the bar has raised (dropped?) a bit for the Obama Administration. Tales of Obama's youth, vague as they are, seem to be about Obama now. There's no real hint of him "growing" in any direction. It's like his teenage coolness is some kind of Platonic ideal, and nobody expects, or even wants, him to grow up. And that applies to everybody who works for him. Even aged Joe Biden still looks like the high school jerk that he is down deep inside. Half his spokesmen seem to be teenage girls, and those that don't look like it, act like it. Over at Stuart Schneiderman's blog, Had Enough Therapy? we have these observations:

A Peter Pan Foreign Policy

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.

Cohen writes:

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.

Cohen explains:

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.
Quibcag: Since the quote is about immaturity, I thought it best to use an illustration of teenagers at the beach from Hayate the Combat Butler (ハヤテのごとく! Hayate no Gotoku!).


  1. Cohen is upset that Obama is not sending enough of other people's kids to go die for Cohen's international dreams. Cohen was never brave enough to sign enlistment papers, but he loves to cheerlead for war. Nothing but a worthless NeoCon. Obama's FP is bad, but it is the one thing he has gotten even half way right during his regime.

  2. I think you're quite right about Cohen, but his assessment of Obama I think is correct. Neocons DO want the US to be competent in foreign affairs for when they need it to act as you described. Neocons are often right about such details, but of course for the wrong reasons. You could be right about Obama, but I rather doubt if a Romney would be doing much different. I think we're fighting all the wars that the neocons want us to for the present. If they really wanted intervention in Syria, they'd get it, but the cover story would differ under Obama :)

  3. "Cohen was never brave enough to sign enlistment papers"

    False. Eliot Cohen is an Army veteran. His son also served with the Army in Iraq.