The Obama administration has been strikingly inept in the last few days in foreign policy, making a series of gaffes and counterproductive gestures that, had George W. Bush made them, would be igniting howls of anger and ridicule from the New York Times and the Left blogosphere. Now the crickets are chirping.
In a short span of time, the White House has managed to 1) embarrass visiting British Prime Minister Gordon Brown; 2) enrage Jerusalem by offering Gaza almost $ 1 billion ( in return for….?) while HAMAS is still firing rockets at Israelis ;and 3) pull the rug out from under our NATO allies Poland and the Czech Republic with of a give-away-the-store offer to Moscow on missile defense, while pleading for help with Iran. A clumsy and premature gesture that President Medvedev treated with contempt and left Prague and Warsaw, which stuck their necks out in agreeing to host the missile systems, scrambling for diplomatic fig leaves. I wonder to what degree the Czechs and Poles had been consulted beforehand? None of these actions appear to have been properly vetted and they left the new administration looking very green, slightly impulsive, indifferent toward America’s allies and fairly arrogant.
In fairness, almost every new administration makes first and second year blunders in foreign policy, most of which are completely forgettable in the long run. For example, as a student, an old professor of mine who was an eminent authority in Southeast Asian studies, once recounted to me LBJ giving ” the Johnson Treatment” to the King of Thailand, whose person is considered sacred to Thais and was, probably, in any event, unprepared for being put into a giant Texas bear hug. Ronald Reagan did not give Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher prior notice of the invasion of Grenada and had initially waffled in the early days of the Falklands War. At other times, the early mistakes prove decisive, such as John F. Kennedy’s failure of nerve during the Bay of Pigs ( or alternatively, approving a cocked-up covert-op plan in the first place) which helped precipitate the later Cuban Missile Crisis.
The one bright spot in foreign policy was the unveiling of the Obama administration’s new National Security Council structure which seems to have been judiciciously considered with an eye toward improving interagency DIME integration in policy formation and enforcing real discipline in execution. On paper, it’s a very good plan with some important changes for improving the national security community’s performance.
Now they need to put it into practice.