As you ready your liver for tonight's final presidential debate, wet your whistle with this surprisingly harsh Foreign Policy piece by Rosa Brooks, a progressive former L.A. Times columnist who from 2009-2011 served as counselor to the U.S. defense undersecretary for policy. Much of Brooks' piece may read like bureaucratic score-settling, but it still serves as a withering indictment of President Barack Obama's "dysfunctional" foreign policy shop. Excerpt:
[T]o a significant extent, President Obama is the author of his own lackluster foreign policy. He was a visionary candidate, but as president, he has presided over an exceptionally dysfunctional and un-visionary national security architecture -- one that appears to drift from crisis to crisis, with little ability to look beyond the next few weeks. [...]
President Obama promised to ensure transparency and competence in government, but too often, nepotism trumps merit. Young and untried campaign aides are handed vital substantive portfolios (I could name names, but will charitably refrain, unless you buy me a drink), while those with deep expertise often find themselves sidelined. [...]
The National Security Staff operates as a tiny fiefdom. Many NSS senior directors say they speak with Tom Donilon only once or twice a year. Donilon and Deputy National Security Advisors Denis McDonough and Ben Rhodes function as gate-keepers, and even Cabinet-level officials often struggle to get direct access to the president. Some gate-keeping is necessary, of course, but this president lives in as much of an echo chamber as George W. Bush did. Add to this President Obama's even more infrequent contact with the press and his infrequent meetings with members of Congress, and you end up with debate performances like the one the president gave on October 3, in which he seemed surprised and irritated at being challenged in public.
Getting out of his bubble may not come naturally for Obama. As Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, put it in an unguarded moment, "The truth is, Obama doesn't call anyone, and he's not close to almost anyone. It's stunning that he's in politics, because he really doesn't like people."