THE SPINE APRIL 1, 2010
This is not my characterization of Barack Obama. It is the FT’s. And it is not exactly meant to evoke admiration. Now, the truth is that the Financial Times as an institution is quite sympathetic to most of Obama’s foreign policy tropes and positively dizzy about his views on Israel and the Palestinians. But Edward Luce and Daniel Dombey, who wrote their assessment on the highly respected daily “analysis” page, fully grasp that the president has nothing very much to show for all his own diligence and attention to detail. The real point of the appraisal--more gently expressed, to be sure--is that his judgments are not really wise.
Yes, of course, he has advisers. And, no, Hillary Clinton is not one of them. But that’s for our own information. It’s not her wisdom that’s lacking. There is the Chicago crowd, to which outsiders try to get themselves attached. There is a usual in-group which socializes together and maybe discusses what to say to the president. Though probably he asks first and then either does or does not listen.
Luce and Dombey cite an authoritative official: “If you were to ask me who the real national security adviser is, I would say there were three or four, of whom Rahm is one and of which Gen. Jones is probably the least important.” None of them is a Kissinger. But, thank God, none of them is an Albright either.
Still, there is, the reporters tell us, only 45 minutes a day for foreign policy. This is not much time. Since Obama dithers (take the 90 days-long decision on troops to Afghanistan), he’d better have good advice over which to dither.
But the problem may be that he doesn’t like advice at all. This is the meaning of the “sun king” metaphor. Indeed, he has strong instincts. Yet he does not know much about the countries and regions about which he offers obiter dicta,which he turns into orders.
Leslie Gelb, one of our wise senior diplomats and senior diplomatic commentators, poses this query: “The question is which bright spark advised the president to demand a settlement freeze without working out what the next step should be when Netanyahu inevitably said ‘No’?” Well, it was no bright spark but Barack Obama. And he is now stuck.