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Norman Podhoretz on how President Obama is weakening US foreign policy on purpose

A while back, I did a piece here about US government space policy. I tried to answer the question of why President Obama was doing it so bizarrely well, given that he seemed to be doing lots of other stuff so bizarrely badly. My answer was basically that he is doing everything well, as he understands it. He believes the US government has been chucking its weight around in the world far too much of late, and that this aspect of its activities should be weakened. And he believes that the US government hasn’t chucked its weight around enough, domestically. That aspect of US government policy should be strengthened. All this has been and is being busily accomplished, indeed accomplished with considerable political virtuosity, with Big Government and the political party that favours Big Government working ever more closely in harmony with one another.

Norman Podhoretz seems to agree, certainly on the foreign policy bit:

It is entirely understandable that Barack Obama’s way of dealing with Syria in recent weeks should have elicited responses ranging from puzzlement to disgust. Even members of his own party are despairingly echoing in private the public denunciations of him as “incompetent,” “bungling,” “feckless,” “amateurish” and “in over his head” coming from his political opponents on the right.

For how else to characterize a president who declares war against what he calls a great evil demanding immediate extirpation and in the next breath announces that he will postpone taking action for at least 10 days – and then goes off to play golf before embarking on a trip to another part of the world? As if this were not enough, he also assures the perpetrator of that great evil that the military action he will eventually take will last a very short time and will do hardly any damage. Unless, that is, he fails to get the unnecessary permission he has sought from Congress, in which case (according to an indiscreet member of his own staff) he might not take any military action after all.

Summing up the net effect of all this, as astute a foreign observer as Conrad Black can flatly say that, “Not since the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, and before that the fall of France in 1940, has there been so swift an erosion of the world influence of a Great Power as we are witnessing with the United States.”

Yet if this is indeed the pass to which Mr. Obama has led us – and I think it is – let me suggest that it signifies not how incompetent and amateurish the president is, but how skillful. His foreign policy, far from a dismal failure, is a brilliant success as measured by what he intended all along to accomplish.

I am seldom convinced by explanations of why the President of the USA has just done something that the explainer considers stupid, when the explanation is that the President of the USA is himself stupid. I didn’t believe this kind of thing when it was said about Reagan or Bush jnr by their political opponents, and I don’t believe it now when it is said about Obama, by his political opponents. Those who argue that this or that bad thing happened because the President is an idiot call this argument things like: “Occam’s Razor”. But I think they confuse brevity and simplicity, and what they want to believe, with truth.

If the President is so stupid, how come he’s President? He got that bit right, didn’t he? And President Obama is a member of an even more exclusive club, one that also includes Reagan and Bush jnr. He is a President of the USA who got himself re-elected. The dumber and more disastrous you think his first term policies were, then the smarter you must concede he had to be to win re-election.

I think the argument that Obama knows just what he’s doing and is doing just fine, by his reckoning, makes far more sense.

21 comments to Norman Podhoretz on how President Obama is weakening US foreign policy on purpose

  • Regional

    The sooner America withdraws from the world stage the better.

  • Michael

    If I could figure out how to not have to live in that world I would say we be gone.

  • Pat McCann

    So Norman agrees with Rush….

  • Regional

    Nothing will change, it’ll be same old crap different day as usual.

  • Bruce Hoult

    That’s where you get “If XX was done to the USA by a foreign power it would be an act of war”.

  • Rich Rostrom

    Never assume malice where incompetence will suffice.

    Obama is not especially smart. He was floated to the Presidency by the financial crisis of 2008, and by the influence of the chattering class, which is now almost exclusively leftist.

    Obama and his circle do indeed feel that U.S. hegemony should be diminished. They also beliove their “smart diplomacy” would resolve problems. After all, they are enlightened, sophisticated, cosmopolitans – “transnational progressives”, or “tranzis” for short. Much smarter than cowboys like Bush or Reagan.

    Their enthusiasm for this, now actually being in charge, has been constrained by a vestigial sense of responsibility, and the political reality that outright capitulation would be a political disaster.

    Thus terrorists are still in Gitmo, the U.S. has not abandoned Afghanistan, and Obama uses drone strikes and other means against al-Qaeda. Controlling that power, they feel they can be smart in using it; and humanitarian impulses can be real (though feeble).

    But the left has devoted decades to discrediting the U.S. and U.S. military power. Obama’s crowd took many months to muster the resolve to act against Qaddafi, leading to the present disorder in Libya. The same syndrome paralyzes them over Syria.

    The Obama crew doesn’t want to empower Iran and Russia at the expense of the U.S. They’ve blundered into that.

  • PapayaSF

    Regional, be careful what you wish for. Historically periods of superpower/empire dominance are periods of peace, and the times after their falls are periods of wars and chaos.

  • Vinegar Joe

    @Regional “The sooner America withdraws from the world stage the better.”

    Too bad the US didn’t do this in the Fall of 1941, eh?

    But seriously, I agree with you. But for very different reasons.

  • Regional

    Vinegar Joe,
    Seppoland in 1941 should have just stood back and developed the Atomic Bomb and B36, Boom! Boom!, and
    America was howled down as it tried to keep the peace and deter Russian expansion, fuck ’em!

  • Podhoretz has it right, although I do agree with Rich Rostrom that Obama is far from brilliant: he is simply still in that period where he can fool most of the people most of the time. This period will end, but by that time his second term will be up anyway.

  • I also think that there’s an additional factor at play, and that is Obama’s personal lack of interest in foreign affairs – but that may be secondary to Podhoretz’ points.

  • If Paul Marks is correct about Obama being a heavy-duty communist then I guess Obama must be very disappointed at what little he has been able to achieve.

  • Paul Marks

    Barack Obama has “achieved” a lot Patrick.

    Obamacare will (when it I fully implemented) bankrupt a lot of the United States (in best “Cloward and Piven” fashion). And “Dodd-Frank” has completed the government domination of finance (yes at the same time that Putin’s boy Max Keiser is dancing about pretending that the Wall Street crowd control the government, the reverse is actually closer to the truth).

    That is two things – I could go on.

    By the way – I have never claimed that Barack Obama is a “heavy duty” Communist.

    I have claimed (indeed “claimed” is hardly the right word – as it is bleeding obvious to anyone who is prepared to do five minutes research into Barack Obama’s background) that he is a “bog standard” Frankfurt School Marxist, the sort of person who dominates much of the American education system.

    Patrick – if you threw a stone (if it only it could be a hand grenade) at a meeting of the standard types of people who dominate “Social Sciences” and “Humanities” departments in most American universities, you would be quite likely to hit a “Critical Theory” (i.e. Frankfurt School) Marxist.

    That is the Barack Obama type – not “heavy duty”, just bog standard (the American media is full of them also).


    Even the non Marxist left is in favour of “world governance” (because the term “World Government” sounds a bit nasty).

    And it is not just stuff such as Agenda 21.

    Woodrow Wilson was – just a he was in favour of domestic tyranny (see the book of his chief of staff Colonel House “Philip Dru: Administrator” or his own book “The State”).

    Even Kant was in favour of a World Federation (“no surprise there” say the Randians). Just as he was in favour of government education and welfare (he was, after all, a Prussian – just a Prussian who wanted a fluffy version of Prussia on a world scale).

    The French Revolutionaries dreamed of world government – long before Karl Marx was born.

    Barack Obama is a leftist – THEREFORE he is a traitor plotting to strengthen the “International Community” at the expense of the independence of the United States. That is what leftists are – fans of the “international community” (the U.N. the World Court, the international “human rights” Conventions, the “responsibility to protect” and so on).

    Nothing unexpected there – and one does not need Marxism to explain it.

    Although, yes, Barack Obama is a Marxist (so are a vast number of people in American academia and so on – although it is Frankfurt School type Marxism, that Karl himself might not have been very happy with).

    Historically there have been two broad types of American leftist…

    The nationalist type – the “Teddy” Roosevelt type (with a bit of the “blood-and-soil” “National Socialist” in them, although one should not go too far in stressing this).

    And the internationalist type of leftist – the Woodrow Wilson type.

  • Richard Thomas

    I don’t think Obama is in charge in any case. Too much odd about his rise to power and actions which really don’t make sense. If someone hadn’t put him there, someone would have stopped him from being there.

  • phwest

    Most people have their areas of competence and vast areas of relative ignorance, the sum of knowledge being a rather large space. That Obama is quite skilled in getting himself elected does not serve as evidence that he has any particular skill at governance.

  • Dyspeptic Curmudgeon

    Grey’s Law ( turn of phrase from Arthur Clarke):
    Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.
    creates a corollary:
    Any *really* advanced malice is indistinguishable from incompetence.

    That is: your really evil machiavellian Moriarty, can make himself appear to be a bumbling buffoon. It does not matter if the ‘correct’ end is achieved.

  • Rob

    Let’s not over-egg the Machiavellian pudding. Obama blundered because he is a Progressive narcissist, like Blair, and he carelessly nailed his trousers to the mast, and has desperately been trying to climb down since.

    I bet the State Department privately had kittens when he mouthed off about HIS red line. Never commit in public unless you are 100% serious. You would think he would have learned that by now.

  • Vinegar Joe

    What I find delicious is the way the British/European/World fawned over Obama in 2008. You wanted him and you got him. As Mr. Spock said in ‘Amok Time’:

    “After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing,
    after all, as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.”

  • Alsadius

    Frankly, I see no reason to believe that Obama is much more than he appears to be – a smart guy, with a gift for spinning an inspirational speech that lets people believe he’ll be everything they could want, but with no actual ability to perform at any sort of diplomacy. He’s never been in any kind of executive or foreign-policy position before the Presidency, and he’s never had to deal seriously with other stakeholders. He seems to have no sense of how to play hardball in negotiations – he can kneecap someone, like he did Jack Ryan, and he can talk great when nothing’s at stake, but in every interaction with Congress or the foreign world, he’s come off second-best.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Alsadius, I think you give It too much credit. That Jack Ryan business was standard machine hardball (just more blatant than usual), and I think it’s got Axelrod all over it. And the Dems have been playing that sort of game for a long, long time. (Not just the Dems. It’s standard politics going clear back to the Founding.)

    Of course, the thing is, the incumbent is only somewhat of an American-style leftist. It is also an inheritor of a hate-the-white-Imperialists-cum-USSR-induced-African-hate-the-Americans-(and-Brits)-hysteria tradition. It also suffers from a permanent identity crisis (but so do lots of other people). And contrary to many, I don’t think It’s all that bright. But it’s good at a certain narrow kind of manipulation, suitable for training the reality-challenged (a.k.a. Community Organizing, Alinsky-style) and at hawking the con, like “Professor” Harold Hill.

  • Julie seems to have the best sense of the er, man. (‘It’ best describes my feeling about…it as well).