Monday, May 9, 2016


In the New York Times Magazine (May 8, 2016), Samuel Adams wrote a piece about the rise of Ben Rhodes in Obama's court.  The portrait that comes out is one of a highly smart personality, loyal and apparently devoid of existential angst. Affirmations are made which do appear extravagant, such as Valerie Jarrett and the President's shared experiences, having both lived in predominantly Muslim countries; the glorification of the Iran deal and the reorientation of American policy in the Middle East; the contempt for the American foreign policy establishment; the toll of war in Syria (450,000 slaughtered) compared to the tens of thousands of deaths in the Congo, and one can go on. This hyper-intelligent man is the product of a Zeitgeist which favors sound-bite over commentary.

Rhodes is more about story than history.  He shows little respect for Kissinger and appears to have no time for precedent. I seldom have been confronted with the portrait of a man so devoid of shadows. The launching pad of his ideas is called "amnesia".  Everyone who has the privilege to come close to foreign policy must be aware of historical/cultural causes and contemporary effects. One should not feel trapped by past derailments or adjustments but neither should one ignore them. The Westphalian model might be out of fashion in this White House, but it might come back with a vengeance.

The Obama foreign policy is obviously more complex than the Risk "game" alluded to in the article. Nevertheless, the outline of the decision making of this administration feels antagonistic, snobbish and impervious to differentials. This foreign policy looks more like the product of an isolated laboratory than of a think-tank, open to plurality.  Paradoxically, the disdain of "establishment" sounds almost Trump-like, albeit in a more sophisticated mode.  Some might argue that this is a form of Realpolitik. This is false insofar as the former German model waged diplomatic incursions that took into consideration vested interests and legitimacy. Likewise Nixon and Reagan made sure that in their "musical chairs political moves", the director never lost sight of his orchestra.

In reality, recent American diplomatic moves have given a small dividend, while at the same time destabilizing alliances which looked "waterproof."  How can one seriously crow about "success" while China continues to follow its own path and while Putin stalks the US fleet, undisputed.  Iran Before = Iran After, for now.
This US policy is strangely disconnected. At least the political battles between the US and the EU over the second Iraq war were waged in the open (remember the brawl with Rumsfeld in Munich?). Now everything is muted since the EU is on life support and other formerly close American allies are looking for alternative routes.

The Boy Wonder of Obama's White House is like his boss:  smart, reluctant to engage, and closer to artificial intelligence than to historical reconstruction. Proclaimed better intentions are contradicted by the manipulation of collaborative sources, news and comment. There is no clean record "there".  Sometimes it is indeed better to deconstruct, but when the tone-deaf and the blind coalesce, the damage done might be hard to correct.

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