Foreign Policy: The President Is a Screw-up

Sep 23, 09 | 8:44 AM   byMichael Wolff
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“A wholesale reconsideration of a strategy,” as the Times described the Obama administration’s present position on Afghanistan, might not be as bad as it sounds. If the Bush White House had ever had a wholesale reconsideration with regard to Iraq, the world would likely be in a better place.

Still, it doesn’t fill you with confidence. What it clearly says is we’ve got no idea what to do. Now, this could be because of changing circumstances and a new set of problems that puts you back at square one—shit does happen. Or because you’ve just been faking it.

Or worse. You’ve been totally making it up as you go along and have come to believe you’re a natural.

It seems pretty clear that the Obama foreign policy is being run in all important aspects by the president himself. On this subject, he fancies himself the smartest boy in the class. He’s the decider and he’s decisive.

Both the State Department and the Defense Department seem to be curiously content about letting him run with it (is Hillary Clinton wily or traumatized?).

To cover for our loss in Iraq, he was going to get a quick and big win in Afghanistan. And then, in a tour de force of enlightened government—and trying to do it better than Bill Clinton did—he was going to aggressively manage both Israelis (no settlements) and Arabs (shake hands, come on) and solve that problem. Except then it turned out there’s no winning in Afghanistan and no managing the unmanageable.

In fairness, of course, why should he be better at this than, say, George Bush? Obama may have exotic relatives, and have met a few Muslims, and have run for president promising peace, but nowhere in his career has he paid much more attention to foreign policy conundrums than Bush ever did. They’re both naifs.

George Bush, knowing nothing, let others do it for him. Barack Obama, know nothing either, is doing it himself.

Maybe the latter is better. At least Obama, having to think through and choose the next steps, will be forced to deal with the failure of his own logic. Well, perhaps.

The way he’s seeming to deal with it now is to let it be known that he’s dealing with it. According to the Times, “the president is having second thoughts about how deeply to engage in an intractable eight-year conflict that is not going well.” Well, yes. Good idea. And then?

Not to put too fine a point on it: There isn’t any indication or reason to believe he’s savvy enough or humble enough to get this right. So far, he’s not only been wrong, but, always a bad sign in foreign policy matters, a bit of a cocky ass.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at You can also follow him on Twitter:

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