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By John Ubaldi
Contributor, In Homeland Security
In a stunning report, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes gave a candid observation of how the Obama administration views U.S. foreign policy and the foreign policy establishment.
In “The Aspiring Novelist Who Became Obama’s Foreign-Policy Guru,” a New York Times Magazine article, freelance reporter David Samuels extensively interviewed Rhodes and examined the close relationship with the president as it relates to Obama’s foreign policy.
In previous administrations, presidents have always had a close confidant in foreign affairs. Almost always, it was someone who had extensive experience in the international arena. President Obama chose to use someone without experience and who had, ironically, received his master’s degree in creative writing.
Presidents, for a variety of reasons only known to them, choose to listen or seek advice regarding foreign policy from someone who at least has experience in international affairs. This president’s close confidant is someone with virtually no experience, which is a mystery to even the president’s supporters.
Obama’s Foreign Policy: Ignore the Experts
As the president began his administration, he had strong foreign policy experts. These experts included former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Leon Panetta, former National Security Adviser General James Jones and a host of others. With the turbulent world we currently live in, it’s astonishing that the president seeks the advice of someone devoid of any international experience.
Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates mentioned in a Politico magazine story in January that during the “Arab Spring” revolution, President Obama listened to his younger aides on how to handle the situation. These younger aides, like Rhodes, Samantha Power and Antony Blinken (Vice President Joe Biden’s national security adviser at the time), urged Obama to get “on the right side of history” and give Mubarak a decisive push.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton later described them in her memoir as being “swept up in the drama and idealism of the moment.” She, along with other elders like Gates and then-National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, warned of unintended consequences. Obama’s then-chief of staff, William Daley, listened to Rhodes in White House meetings and wondered what he really knew about Egypt.
In the New York Times magazine piece, Samuels comments:
“Part of what accounts for Rhodes’s influence is his ‘mind meld’ with the president. Nearly everyone I spoke to about Rhodes used the phrase “mind meld” verbatim, some with casual assurance and others in the hushed tones that are usually reserved for special insights. He doesn’t think for the president, but he knows what the president is thinking, which is a source of tremendous power. One day, when Rhodes and I were sitting in his boiler-room office, he confessed, with a touch of bafflement, ‘I don’t know anymore where I begin and Obama ends.’”
It seems President Obama and his loyal followers in his administration came into office with the singular focus of repudiating the foreign policy of President George W. Bush. They also sought to signal to the rest of the world a radical shift in American foreign policy.
Rhodes and Obama Share Contempt for Foreign Policy Establishment
Rhodes, as Samuels says, “developed a healthy contempt for the American foreign policy establishment, including editors and reporters at The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker and elsewhere, who at first applauded the Iraq war and then sought to pin all the blame on Bush and his merry band of neocons when it quickly turned sour.
If anything, that anger has grown fiercer during Rhodes’ time in the White House. He referred to the American foreign policy establishment as the Blob. According to Rhodes, the Blob includes Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates and other Iraq war promoters from both parties, who now whine incessantly about the collapse of American security in Europe and the Middle East.”
This is the anti-establishment thought process President Obama has. Obama even mentioned it in his own interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in the March issue of “The Atlantic” in the article, “The Obama Doctrine”.
In his interview, President Obama clearly shows his disdain for the foreign policy establishment and the group of think tanks clustered around Washington as a potent force. However, this force is one that needs to be handled and nurtured.
Far too often, President Obama believes he is smarter than everyone else. Others just don’t understand what he is trying to accomplish. This all-knowing persona manifested itself when the president tried to convince his fellow Democrats to support the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) trade legislation.
Many Democrats came out of the meeting frustrated. They felt that the president kept reiterating that ‘you just need to trust me, I know what is best’. The president discounted them as uninformed on the issues and assured them that he knew best.
Famed military analyst Thomas Ricks writes of Rhodes in The New York Times Magazine: “His lack of conventional real-world experience of the kind that normally precedes responsibility for the fate of nations — like military or diplomatic service, or even a master’s degree in international relations, rather than creative writing — is still startling.”
The question which the author of the New York Times Magazine should have asked Rhodes at the end of his interview should have been: “If you believe in President Obama’s new direction in foreign policy, why is the world in such chaos and worse off than when Obama took office?”
The World in Chaos
Max Boot in Commentary Magazine issued a stunning rebuke of the Obama administration’s handling of foreign policy. Boot says, “If the president and his senior adviser are such geniuses, why have they presided over a steady deterioration of America’s position in the world? Why, on their watch, has China stepped up its aggression in the South China Sea? Why has Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea? Why has Libya descended into chaos along with Iraq and Yemen?
Why has Syria been torn apart by a civil war that killed nearly half a million people and sent millions of refugees flooding neighboring states? Why has an Islamic State arisen in the heart of the Middle East along with numerous other terrorist groups? Why is Iran, the No. 1 state sponsor of terrorism, more powerful than it has ever been since the ancient heyday of the Persian Empire?”
As the United States enters the final six months of the 2016 presidential election campaign, it’s time to begin asking both the Democratic and Republican candidates for president: “What is your vision for U.S. foreign policy?” The second question should be, “Who are your foreign and military advisers?”
It is clearly time to get the major league all-star team of experts and not the T-ball league of rudimentary experts. If we don’t, it will be a long four years.