President Barack Obama, who loves to be liked, must be wondering how he got such a poor record on foreign affairs. As far as anyone can tell, he deferred to the experts, like General Petraeus and Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice, and has got little more than grief for his politeness: thrown out of chaotic Iraq, bogged down in an ungrateful Afghanistan, red line wrapped around his throat in Syria, his pivot to Asia unpivved, his land-grabbing Israelis unperturbed.
His single moment of glory was the attack mission on Osama bin Laden, and even that was little more than a sixth-grade Christmas pageant put on by the military and security services who just wanted to show their gratitude for Obama's kind and continuing, um, deference -- let's leave it there.
Like most presidents -- George Bush the senior is an exception -- he came into office with no experience in foreign affairs, and no more knowledge than one might get reading the New York Times every day and some history books. So like the rest he leans heavily on those savants in the foreign-policy establishment. This was long ago purged of anyone except Gothic neocons and America-Firsters, who think that America has special duties, a special destiny, and a special relationship to international law, which is made for everyone else to follow. So it's not surprising that America has the same musty policy that the savants have been serving up with results that run from lousy (Korea, the Gulf War) to horrific (Vietnam, the Iraq War) for the last half-century.
Their latest effort is the revolution in Ukraine. I wonder: Did Obama himself order America to take a hand in it? Does he like the idea of overthrowing a properly elected government? You can be sure that the tame foreign-policy journalists will never ask him. The great mystery is this: did the savants foresee that President Putin, fearing Nato ships pulling up at Russia's Black Sea naval base, would annex Crimea? This could not possibly have been a goal of their machinations. Maybe in ten years some rogue diplomat will write a book telling the world how stunned the administration was by this move.
At any rate, the result of the Ukraine-Crimea can only be called another failure of the U.S. foreign policy elite. President Putin has annexed Crimea to great national éclat and left President Obama sputtering about how invasion is a violation of international law. The sanctions on Russia will hurt West European investment there too much to ever be given any real force. That's the trouble with globalization: sanctions boomerang.
Meanwhile, the unelected ultranationalist fascists from the Ukraine have signed their deal with the EU. You have to wonder what Angela Merkel, et. al., felt on sitting down at the signing table with "Yats the guy."
Perhaps he and his rightists ministers will be cured of their ultranationalism and fascism when they sit down with the IMF, who will tell them that their awful economic situation needs to get horrendously awful before it gets better. Ultranationalist fascists are not known for patience and gratitude. It will be interesting to see how they take this "help." But however they do, let's remember: it's those savants in the American foreign-policy establishment who are responsible for it. They wound up this monster and set it walking.
And who can doubt that those crafty American secret agents, smug with the success of their operation in Ukraine, are not doing the same thing in Venezuela? Well, it still is America's backyard, according to the musty foreign-policy elite. Not to control events there would be yet another sign of weakness.
Still, a new Cold War must offer hope to the foreign-policy elite, especially its military arm. Defense budgets were not looking good, now that terrorism is getting boring and Americans are looking dimly at new foreign commitments calling for big cash and leather boots on the ground. A new, long wrestlers' clinch like the first Cold War can only help out America.
In short, "Change you can believe in" has not come to the foreign policy establishment. It is on the same bumbling settings of domination and short-term gain that have got America and the world into one crisis after another. The Nobel-winner in the White House has not lived up to the prize. But given the advice he gets, this is hardly surprising.