Hollywood may inform Obama’s Washington more than we realize — all theater, no substance

Sometimes one reads something and thinks “That’s it!  That explains what’s been going on.”

I do believe that Elliott Abrams is on to something when he discusses the administration’s approach to Syria, and his point is much larger than the already ugly fact that the president may have misspoken American right into a war.  (Which kind of makes Bush’s gaffes, malapropisms, and linguistic mangles seem a whole lot less significant, right?)

Abrams points out that the New York Times report revealing that Obama’s red line was an ad lib, and a dangerous one at that, also reveals that the White House never actually had a plan.  Here’s what the Times reports:

Mr. Obama’s advisers also raised legal issues. “How can we attack another country unless it’s in self-defense and with no Security Council resolution?” another official said, referring to United Nations authorization. “If he drops sarin on his own people, what’s that got to do with us?”

But they concluded that drawing a firm line might deter Mr. Assad. In addition to secret messages relayed through Russia, Iran and other governments, they decided that the president would publicly address the matter.

After a detour to note how ironic it is that the same President who established an “Atrocities Prevention Board” a few months ago (“‘never again’ is a challenge to nations”) now has people saying “What do we care?”, Abrams gets down to the nitty-gritty of Obama’s approach to foreign policy — it’s all theater:

Second, the issue of bluffing. It is noteworthy in the Times story that the administration officials were dealing with words, with lines, with messages—never it seems with tougher decisions about actions. This is of course a huge mistake, as just about everyone now acknowledges, though how it comes to be made in year five of an administration is more mysterious.

Abrams contrasts this superficiality — figuring out how to sell an attitude, without having an actual attitude — with what went on under Reagan when the Soviet Union wanted to send advanced fighter planes to Nicaragua.  Abrams was the assistant secretary of state for Latin America, so it was up to him to read formally to his Soviet counterpart the administration’s stand:  “there was a unanimous view that we would not permit Russia to put advanced combat jets into Nicaragua and change the power balance that had existed in the region since the Cuban missile crisis. Everyone agreed.”

That’s what played out in the world.  But what Abrams remembers is that this is also what played out behind closed doors:

But what preceded such talking points was the NSC meeting. There, after everyone said yes, let’s deliver that message, James Baker spoke up. As I recall it, Baker said something like this: Look, we are not agreeing here on sending a message. We are agreeing now that if they act, we will act. We’re not going to come back here in a month or three months or six months and say, gee, now what do we do? If you are agreeing on taking this line and sending this message to the Soviets, you are agreeing now, today, that if they put those jets in, we will take them out. That’s what we are agreeing. Today.

Although Abrams says he wasn’t then and isn’t now a Baker fan, he was then and is now a fan of that type of sober, realistic thinking.  Abrams’ conclusion about the administration’s hollow, theatrical approach to the rapidly unfolding disaster in Syria applies with equal force to every single foreign policy situation Obama has faced.  As you read the words below, think not only about Syria, but about Libya, the Arab Spring, the Israeli/Palestinian debacles, etc.:

It seems there was no one at these Obama administration meetings wise or experienced enough to say “Hold on, what do we do when they call the bluff?” My boss back in the Reagan years, Secretary of State Shultz, was, like Baker, an ex-Marine and a serious guy. At these White House meetings on Syria this year and last, was there one serious guy? Seems not, and seems that that problem has not been solved.

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  • http://photoncourier.blogspot.com David Foster

    William Bullitt and Sigmund Freud, in their psychological study of Woodrow Wilson, said the following:
    Throughout his life he took intense interest only in subjects which could somehow be connected with speech…He took no interest in mathematics, science, art or music–except in singing himself, a form of speaking. His method of thinking about a subject seems to have been to imagine himself making a speech about it…He seems to have thought about political or economic problems only when he was preparing to make a speech about them either on paper or from the rostrum. His memory was undoubtedly of the vaso-motor type. The use of his vocal chords was to him inseparable from thinking.
    Obama is clearly very much the same way.

  • Ron19

    Yet another one dimensional facet of The One:
    It’s like watching Tom Cruise play air guitar.  After some others (even in previous administrations) do all the real preparatory work, O wants to step out on stage in front of the cameras, flash that smile, and then play tennis match with his teleprompters feeding him easy shots.  For this, he expects to get all the praise and glory and love.  And then let others do whatever has to be done to clean up after him.  In the meantime, all the little peanuts in the cheerleader peanut gallery are screaming and waving, hoping their parents and friends will see them from the audience. 

  • swedishlady

    Obama is all theater, no substance,  absolutely. Or ” the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people”, as Mr Eastwood said.
    And Ron19, that´s O on the spot!

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    The way people use language about Obama, it is almost as if they don’t believe in evil and think it is an illusion. That way, if Obama has no substance, then there’s no evil to worry about.
    As if that would happen. 

  • Mike Devx

    Ron19: It’s like watching Tom Cruise play air guitar.
    swedishlady: Obama is all theater, no substance
    Yes, we all agree this administration is completely unserious in almost every way.   It’s “yesterday upon the stair, I met a man who wasn’t there” every day with this keystone kops admin.  The rot starts at the top.
    But I want to look at this from a different angle.  Sure, Obama *never* should have laid down his red line if he wasn’t going to back it up.  That is a terrible mistake.  However, I do think the key mistake was in laying down the red line.  
    My general principle is: If our national security is not at risk, I do not want us acting unilaterally and invading any country to set it right.  If the red line is appropriate – and the use of chemical weapons against civilians *is* a red line – the response should be from either a coalition of the willing, or the UN itself.  Shouldn’t the UN be up in arms, in crisis mode, over the use of chemical weapons against civilians?  If this isn’t an appropriate event for the UN to be relevant, and form a coalition involving every civilized country – I’m looking at you, Russia and China! – then when might the UN ever be relevant?
    We have no ally in this Syrian fight, and I don’t know which side is the lesser of the evils.  All I know is that world civilizations ought to be highly concerned about the use of nerve gas against civilians.  And I don’t want the USA to be the world’s policeman, the world’s sole responsible civilization.  

  • Spartacus

    “How can we attack another country unless it’s in self-defense and with no Security Council resolution?”
    The flip side of me wants to say, “Easy.  Call the Air Force.  They have a wonderful smorgasbord of options to choose from.”
    But really, this is a breathtakingly stupid and offensive comment on a very different level: the Constitution does not require the approval of the Chinese, Russians, Brits, and French for us to go to war; it does require the approval of Congress, a deliberative body noticeably not mentioned by this anonymous nitwit.  Sadly, I have no doubt this guy makes very good money providing the POTUS with idiotic drivel like this.
    (Abrams is spot-on, of course.)

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