This opinion piece by Eliot Cohen, former State Department counselor during the George W. Bush administration, pulls no punches when dealing with the inadequacies of Team Obama. While European magazines suddenly wonder just “what America will fight for,” (1) Cohen advises not even asking the question, given the administration’s fundamental lack of maturity and judgement:
Often, members of the Obama administration speak and, worse, think and act, like a bunch of teenagers. When officials roll their eyes at Vladimir Putin’s seizure of Crimea with the line that this is “19th-century behavior,” the tone is not that different from a disdainful remark about a hairstyle being “so 1980s.” When administration members find themselves judged not on utopian aspirations or the purity of their motives—from offering “hope and change” to stopping global warming—but on their actual accomplishments, they turn sulky. As teenagers will, they throw a few taunts (the president last month said the GOP was offering economic policies that amount to a “stinkburger” or a “meanwich”) and stomp off, refusing to exchange a civil word with those of opposing views.
In a searing memoir published in January, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates describes with disdain the trash talk about the Bush administration that characterized meetings in the Obama White House. Like self-obsessed teenagers, the staffers and their superiors seemed to forget that there were other people in the room who might take offense, or merely see the world differently. Teenagers expect to be judged by intentions and promise instead of by accomplishment, and their style can be encouraged by irresponsible adults (see: the Nobel Prize committee) who give awards for perkiness and promise rather than achievement.
If the United States today looks weak, hesitant and in retreat, it is in part because its leaders and their staff do not carry themselves like adults. They may be charming, bright and attractive; they may have the best of intentions; but they do not look serious. They act as though Twitter and clenched teeth or a pout could stop invasions or rescue kidnapped children in Nigeria. They do not sound as if, when saying that some outrage is “unacceptable” or that a dictator “must go,” that they represent a government capable of doing something substantial—and, if necessary, violent—if its expectations are not met. And when reality, as it so often does, gets in the way—when, for example, the Syrian regime begins dousing its opponents with chlorine gas, as it has in recent weeks, despite solemn deals and red lines—the administration ignores it, hoping, as teenagers often do, that if they do not acknowledge a screw-up no one else will notice.
That’ll cause a snit in the Oval Office, but it’s not the first time this administration has been cited for its narcissism and lack of seriousness. Over the years I’ve several times described Obama as “callow,” most recently when talking about a George Will piece that decried the administration’s adolescent tactics.
An administration takes its overall tone from the man who heads it, the guy sitting behind the Resolute Desk. In this case, we’re stuck with a man-child who’s unable to handle the challenges the world throws in his face with sobriety and the sense of duty and tradition his office carries — and demands. And this attitude is reflected in those he hires, and those they themselves hire.
And there are still just under three years to go.
(1) That’s bloody rich of The Economist. Now they whine about a lack of American leadership, but, back when W was in office, they were aghast and outraged by “cowboy Americans shooting up the world.” (To paraphrase) Make up your minds, guys!
UPDATE: John Bolton weighs in, via IJR:
“I think it’s, unfortunately, typical of much of the way the administration has conducted policy these last several years. It’s all about politics and communication and spin and a lot less about performance, conducted by a lot of relatively young people who are not schooled in foreign policy. Don’t get me wrong, I love children, I just don’t think they should be in charge of our foreign policy.”
Maybe we should give them a time-out.
(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)