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“Leading from Behind”: The New Yorker’s Take On The Emerging Obama Doctrine

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I discussed Ryan Lizza’s stunning look inside President Obama’s collapsed foreign policy with Tim Pawlenty yesterday. (The transcript of the conversation with Pawlenty is here.)

Today I talked with Lizza about “The Consequentialist” and its portrayal of a schizophrenic foreign policy team, filled to the brim with academics and phrase-makers, women’s rights advocates and “earnest young women and me discussing globalization [and] the possibility that Facebook can topple tyrannies.”
(The transcript of the interview will be posted here later.)

Among the most damning of the piece’s passages are those that detail the epic fail that has been Obama’s Iran policy, including the White House rebuke of a young State department staffer during the mullahs repression of the Green Revolution for reaching out to Twitter to keep the service operating during the revolt. Second thoughts over that mullah-tilting policy surfaced during the Egyptian street demonstrations with Lizza reporting that “[s]ome of Obama’s White House aides regretted having stood idly by while the Iranian regime brutally repressed the Green Revolution.” Lizza’s piece went to bed before the Syrian revolution exploded and Obama revealed “Standing Idly By 2.0” but the gunned down on Syrian streets will certainly be comforted by the certain knowledge that regrets will surface in the White House as the president gets closer to November 2012.

Lizza reveals that on August 12, 2010, the president launched a review of American policy towards Middle Eastern regimes ruled by autocrats with a five page memo. That review was wrapping up just as the Tunisian revolution broke out. Great timing, that.

“Egypt” Lizza continues “offered a second chance” to the regretters. Though of course it didn’t. Egypt’s Mubarak was an ally and his successors seem increasingly to be far more likely to be fundamentalists opposed to peace with Israel than stalwart allies of American interests. A key distinction lost on Team Obama.

Then came Libya and while “American presidents usually lead in response to world crises…Obama seemed to stay hidden.” Lizza’s reporting of his conversation with Hillary Clinton in Tunis is jaw dropping as the Secretary fo State rhetorically asks “What is the standard” for intervention of the writer. Lizza also quotes a withering assessment of Obama’s incompetence from Zbig Brzezinski, a one-time supporter of the president.

“He doesn’t strategize,” Zbig tells Lizza. “He sermonizes.”

Actually, one of Obama’s advisors tells Lizza in the wrap-up graph, the president is “leading from behind.”

Read the whole thing, and be very worried.

There is a strong, coherent statement on foreign policy presently available, but it doesn’t come from a member of Obama’s foreign policy “team,” but rather from Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, in Foreign Policy, Let’s hope the wizards inthe White House read it.


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