Foreign Policy

All the President's Apparatchiks: Barack Obama's Failed Foreign Policy

President isolated on foreign policy by political advisors, according to a new book by a former State Dept advisor


splendid isolation
White House

Barack Obama is a "dithering" president whose foreign policy is formulated by political advisors trying to "spare the president the risks" that come with American leadership, basing it therefore largely on partisan concerns, according to a new book by a former State Department advisor now dean of the John Hopkins School of Advanced International studies. Vali Nasr's book, The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat, is scheduled to be released in April but has been excerpted by Foreign Policy, revealing just how political foreign policy and military decision-making is in the White House. A portion:

Not only did that not happen [getting things right in the Middle East, as Obama promised on the campaign trail], but the president had a truly disturbing habit of funneling major foreign-policy decisions through a small cabal of relatively inexperienced White House advisors whose turf was strictly politics. Their primary concern was how any action in Afghanistan or the Middle East would play on the nightly news, or which talking point it would give the Republicans. The Obama administration's reputation for competence on foreign policy has less to do with its accomplishments in Afghanistan or the Middle East than with how U.S. actions in that region have been reshaped to accommodate partisan political concerns.

By September 2012, when violent anti-American protests swept the Muslim world, claiming the lives of four members of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya and dozens of demonstrators, it became clear that we had gotten the broader Middle East badly wrong.

The American people are tired of war—rightly so—and they welcome talk of leaving the region. The president has marketed the U.S. exit from Afghanistan as a foreign-policy coup, one that will not only unburden America from the region's problems but also give the country the freedom it needs to pursue other, more pressing national security concerns.

This is an illusion. Ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention the broader, ill-defined "war on terror," is a very good idea, provided it is done properly and without damage to U.S. interests or the region's stability. But we should not kid ourselves that the rhetoric of departure is anything more than rhetoric; the United States is taking home its troops and winding down diplomatic and economic engagement—but leaving behind its Predators and Special Forces. We should not expect that the region will look more kindly on drone attacks and secret raids than it did on invasion and occupation.

Yet this is exactly the path that the White House has laid out.

Nasr presents a narrative of bureaucratic incompetence and infighting stymieing efforts in Afghanistan also seen in Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Afghan war tome, Little America.  Nasr also shows how the same toxic bureaucratic culture affects drone policy, timely considering how much of that policy, as presented to the public, boils down to "trust us." The White House just this week agreed to release, to the Senate Intelligence Committee, the actual memos justifying the president's power to kill terror suspects.

Read the rest of the Dispensable Nation excerpt here.

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  1. Hmm, Nasr’s analysis totally lines up with my (much more distant) perception for the past couple of years: BO is just a guy who likes playing president and giving speeches and really doesn’t know or care about policy or what his executive branch is doing. Which would explain why his administration lurches back and forth on every issue and can’t seem to get out of its own way: there’s a crazy quilt of bureaucrats struggling to advance their own little fiefdoms.

    1. Usually, even bad presidents seem to want to at least appear to put America before politics, when push comes to shove.

      1. Except he doesn’t have to worry about appearances with the media and his campaign urchins wiping his nose and zipping up his fly in case he forgets.

        1. No, this one is special. A new kind of bad altogether.

          1. No, this one is special. A new kind of bad

              1. And don’t call me Shirley.

                1. Looks like ProL picked the wrong week to quit sequestering glue.

  2. Wait, since when does Obama have a reputation for competent foreign policy?

    1. Since the media stopped caring about foreign policy.

    2. The media’s line is that he had to be more competent than Bush, so therefore he is.

  3. Oh, and say what you will about Romney, but he would have been a far more competent manager of the fedgov than BO is. Even if the silly contention that Romney=BO were true, we’d be better off. If anything he would have over-managed.

    1. Where does emptiness begin?
      Where does fullness end?
      Infinitesimally all-consuming

      1. Have you been possessed by Nicole? Do we need to organize some kind of exorcism?

        1. Nicole only responds to exorcisms performed by the First Evangelical Church of Christ United Methodist Episcopal Synod. So you’ll need to find one of their pastors or it won’t work.

          1. How did you know?!?

          2. I’m a pastor there. And there’s no way I’m exorcising nicole. The power of Christ does not compel me.

            1. The Power of Cripes compels you! The Power of Cripes compels you!

            2. You wouldn’t exercise Nicole? What are you, some kind of fag?

              1. You know I’m the gayest monster since gay came to Gaytown, idiot.

                1. Boxy Brown: “Master Shake is your slave name.”

                  Master Shake (muttering): “Well it does have master in it.”

                  1. Boy you gonna dis me, dis me to my face!

              2. exercise

                How did you know that’s even what I call it…


                1. Calm down, it’s ok dear. Just cry into the phallus.

                  1. Now I’m confused. Into it? I didn’t think that was how this worked…

                    1. JJ’s urethra is HUGE, nicole. Just colossal. He used to work as a model for Mapplethorpe; that’s where we met.

                    2. Well that does explain some things.

                      This could open up whole new worlds for pegging enthusiasts, amirite?

                    3. It’s disgusting. Semen literally just falls out of it as I’m walking along. I thought everyone else was the same way (not being a homo I never watch porn w/ dicks in it).

                    4. Aw, you’re almost like a lady!

                    5. It’s called “sounding” when you’re urethra fucking.

                    6. Men have a ureter, not a urethra.

                    7. Is that not how everybody else’s works? Now I’m confused…

    2. What makes you say that? Romney’s past performance — including his management of his campaigns — doesn’t indicate competency in management.

      Perhaps better than Obama, but certainly not notably better.

      1. Can you point to anything wrong with his campaign management or are you piling on like the others because he didn’t win.

        Also, he ran an outfit called Bain Capital that was very profitable. You may have heard of them 24/7 on BO’s ads all summer.

  4. Unfortunately this book is not released until April 23. Bah.

  5. OT: and here come the shapeshifters.…..ref=obfeed

    1. Ya think this 3D printing is the new interwebz? The next big thing? Should I be investing in this?

      1. It’s actually the new Segway.

        So yes, please invest all of your assets in this, including the rent money. And encourage the California pension funds to pile in as well.

      2. It’s going to be huge, but as usual, finding the right place to invest is tricky.

        1. I think the money is in the “ink”. Who makes the goop that goes in the printer? Are they specialized or is someone diversifying with multiple materials?

  6. This is what happens when people who lack principles are given authority.

    1. This is what happens when you give people real authority over you, without accountability.

      1. This is what happens when you allow other people to assert authority over you.

        1. This is what happens.

            1. ?


            2. T

              1. Comment with anti-anti-spam filler:


          1. This is what happens.

            Well, this is not a boat accident. And it wasn’t any propeller, and it wasn’t any coral reef, and it wasn’t Jack the Ripper.

            It was a shark.

            1. We’re going to need a bigger boat?

              1. Anytime anyone says, “This is what happens”, I can only ever think of the autopsy scene and that quote.

              2. No, we’re going to need a bigger government. Duh!

              3. We’re gonna need another Timmy!

        2. In every viable type of society, everyone has been either the authority or under the authority. The question is limiting authority, not obliterating it, because that ain’t an option.

          1. It’s so unsurprising that you would say that, Tulpy-Poo. Some of us just fucking ignore authority. I know that’s utterly alien to you, but guess what? It can be done.

            1. I like how he just dismisses getting rid of authority as “not an option”, so no need to even discuss it or make any moves in that direction. Nothing to see here, just move along.

              1. Tulpa?authority

              2. Tulpa gets wood from following authority, so of course getting rid of it isn’t an option for him.

                1. Remember Epi, his is the superior intellect.

                  1. He offered the world ICHOR!

            2. Admittedly, a well functioning Anarchist society is alien to many.

              1. “Nothing is certain but death and taxes.” – B. Franklin

            3. Some of us just fucking ignore authority.

              Sure you do. You don’t pay taxes? Don’t stop at red lights? Don’t renew your drivers license?

  7. The real goal of presidents in the 21st century is to keep from tarnishing their image and legacy just enough to sell books and join the lecture circuit.

    1. Didn’t work out for the first one.

      1. Who, Clinton? He’s making money hand over fist.

        1. I wasn’t counting the first 19 days of the century, though his pardons seem to have helped.

      2. No argument there…. regardless, I doubt W could’ve written a book all by himself, and he sucked as a public speaker anyway. Instead of “presidents” I probably should have just used the word “politicians.”

        1. Not sure Bush was as dumb as the press would have had us believe. He was certainly smarter than our current “leader”. Just not as politically savvy.

          1. He was certainly smarter than our current “leader”.

            I have a hard time telling the two apart. Neither man is an intellectual giant, but the media is certainly propping up the current president.

            1. And yet, one of them in his retirement will be a Distinguished Professor of Constitutional Law.

              1. And yet, one of them in his retirement will be a Distinguished Professor of Constitutional Law.

                Ironic, isn’t it? The man taught constitutional law and may go on to teach it again in the future after spending 8 years ignoring the constitution and his duty to uphold it.

                1. Nobel Peace Prize with a kill list.

                2. “Teaching Consitutional Law” doesn’t mean what normal people like us think it means. It actually means teaching future lawyers, judges, and politicians how to get around pesky phrases like “Congress shall make no law…” and how the commerce clause, and now thanks toe Chief Justice Roberts, the taxing power of Congress are essentially blank checks to do whatever they want.

                  Once you understand that point it makes a lot more sense.

  8. I was going to link to Nasr’s article yesterday after I read it. He comes off as being a solid Hillary backer who is seriously disillusioned with Obama’s insistence on being right at everyone’s expense and his continual resort to force. Obama’s approach to foreign policy is the same as his approach to domestic policy: He is right, his opponents are wrong, and he will use every inch of any lever he has to shut out opposing views.

    The difference is that in foreign policy he is able to use the military to force his opinions on others.

    1. Of course, she’s an unqualified buffoon, too.

      310 million people, and we can’t find competent “leaders”? What does that tell us? Maybe, I dunno, the system shouldn’t be set up to give the most venal and least competent in any useful sense near total power over the rest of us?

      1. A couple of times Nasr falls into the pit of blaming Obama’s advisors of filtering his inputs too harshly in order to get certain results out of him. This is a failure of many liberal critics of the Obama admin, and you even saw it in conservative critics of GW Bush: “my guy can’t be bad; he just has bad people surrounding him.”

        Maybe the problem is that Obama surrounded himself with those people on purpose. You know, so they would confirm his opinions and filter out contradictory information?

  9. a small cabal of relatively inexperienced White House advisors whose turf was strictly politics.

    doesn’t this pretty much cover EVERY aspect of this administration?

    1. GWB had Cheney and Rumsfeld, both of whom had played the game at the Cabinet level before. And despite my lack of love for Powell, he was a decent executive for the State Department. Obama basically couldn’t do this because anyone (besides Hillary) would be tarnished by being part of the Clinton administration (who the Obamanoids already thought were too powerful).

  10. The Emperor wears has no balls.

    1. Nice.

  11. I have no problem with political staff taking a foreign policy role.

    Frankly, I think the foreign policy of the US should be partisan, in the sense that the outcome of elections should impact how foreign policy is conducted. The permanent foreign relations staff might think that foreign policy belongs to them, and that there should be total policy continuity from administration to administration, and politics should have no impact on their work, but that’s a farce as far as I am concerned.

    That being said, I would excuse the inclusion of political staff to make sure that foreign policy reflects the President’s policy positions while a candidate (they’re usually the people best positioned to know and carry out those positions) – but not the inclusion of political staff to “frame” shit on a day to day basis with an eye towards attacking the opposition party. That even I think is BS.

    1. Perhaps. I would like these partisans to not get fucking rolled every time they went up against the career middle manager bureaucrats. That would raise them to a tolerable level of competence in my book.

      1. Thomas Walt has a piece up at Foreign Policy lamenting the fact that there isn’t a more permanent and politically isolated government apparatus that can thumb its nose even more effectively at the American public’s ideas of what US foreign policy should be. His Derpichlorian count is off the charts.

        1. Professionals who fall beneath the level of political appointments are tactical resources whose jobs entail doing their level best to achieve the strategic vision of the politcos.

          Now, in their defense, the political types have been especially venal and have no idea how to identify, plan, or implement a strategy. However, shut the fuck up and do what the boss tells you. If you find it unconscionable, quit. Like every other fucking job. Many of us have worked for bosses we considered professionally incompetent. The way to get clear of that is to make your boss look competent through your good work.

        2. Sorry; Steven Walt.

  12. Sort of on topic:
    “Email tells feds to make sequester as painful as promised”…..-promised/

    1. Some people never learn the first lesson of email. Before you hit the send button, imagine this email will be printed on the front page of the newspaper. Are you comfortable with that?

  13. the president had a truly disturbing habit of funneling major foreign-policy decisions through a small cabal of relatively inexperienced White House advisors whose turf was strictly politics.

    “Mr. President, the focus group thinks we should nuke Yemen. And then maybe Libya.”

    “Okely-dokely. [presses button]”

    1. “The missiles are flying. Hallelujah, Hallelujah!”

    2. [White board in the Situation Room]

      American state department personnel murdered in Libya. How does this affect us? And what can we do to turn this into a positive?

  14. Let’s go back to the bad old days of party movers and shakers picking the candidates in smoke filled back rooms. Cause the general population can’t pick a competent executive officer based upon actual skills and expertise, they only respond to glam and glitter.

    1. Blame campaign finance reform.

    2. And then you’d get Romney and H.Clinton type technocrats (at best) that Reason would STILL bitch about, and say are just as bad as Obama.

  15. Chained to obligation
    Nobody cares
    Raging ennui

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