THE PLANK NOVEMBER 23, 2009
Les Gelb thinks Obama's trip to Asia was a flop, and that the time would have been better spent on a Hawaii vacation. He also wonders whether, after a couple of foreign trips with little to show for them, Obama's foreign policy team is serving him well:
First, the trip’s limited value per day of presidential effort suggests a disturbing amateurishness in managing America’s power. On top of the inexcusably clumsy review of Afghan policy and the fumbling of Mideast negotiations, the message for Mr. Obama should be clear: He should stare hard at the skills of his foreign-policy team and, more so, at his own dominant role in decision-making. Something is awry somewhere, and he’s got to fix it.
I don't agree that Obama should be castigated for the Asia trip's lack of "deliverables." I do think the Afghanistan policy review and Middle East diplomacy have left a lot to be desired. Just whose fault that is remains unclear. Different people have different theories and it's probably not fair to name names based on speculation. But to some degree, Obama inherited an incredibly lousy hand on foreign policy, and turning things around was never going to be simple and happy-making.
It's worth noting, finally, that we've already seen two minor shakeups. The veteran Middle East (and, more recently, Iran) guru Dennis Ross moved from the State Department to the national security council. And Obama's longtime foreign policy aide Mark Lippert recent departed the NSC, for reasons unclear, to return to the Navy.