America’s profoundly un-serious foreign policy: Send In The Clowns

I’m too young to remember the Cuban missile crisis.  I do know, though, that for several days Americans thought that the stare-down between Kennedy and Khrushchev would end in nuclear war.  Those were very scary times.  In the end, Khrushchev blinked.  Subsequent revelations about the Kennedy White House have revealed that Kennedy had engaged in an even more dangerous gamble than people realized, whether from arrogance, incompetence, or carelessness.  Regardless of motives, at least Kennedy never broke his public persona:  He was a single-minded, focused hawk protecting America’s interests from Soviet weapons incursions in our neck of the hemisphere.  His ghostwritten book made it clear that when Kennedy said “this means war,” he knew what war meant.


One wonders if Barack Obama had Kennedy in mind, first when he threw out his fatuous “red line” statement last year and then again last week when he announced his unilateral intent to engage in a punitive attack against Syria.  Of course, this being Obama, it wasn’t actually war, although it would take out military objects, because he announced that at some future time he would announce the date, time, and locations in advance.  Since one never does that in a serious war, Obama’s little proposal clearly wasn’t serious.

It was bad enough having our president bluster about a profoundly un-serious “strike,” one so un-serious that it was quickly impossible to distinguish pathetic fact from clever satire.  What made it even worse was when our president suddenly realized you might have a problem if the only groups that approve of you are France and Al Qaeda.  (Oh, wait! I must have blinked.  France doesn’t approve anymore either.)

Obama then added to the un-serious factor by making a volte face and announcing that Congress, which he had previously assured everyone was unnecessary in any war calculations, was necessary, and that, in the face of this urgent situation, he would sit back and wait more than a week until Congress convened, so that he could talk the whole thing over with Congress at his leisure.  Some see this as a sign that Obama is recognizing that, on such an important decision, Congress should have a say.  Those of us who watch the president with a more jaundiced eye believe he’s hoping that Congress will provide him with cover for his own craven retreat from a poorly-thought-out stand.

Wiser minds than mine have diagnosed Obama with Hamlet syndrome.  Neo-Neocon even coined a neologism — Obamlet — and offering readers a clever reworking of Hamlet’s famous “to be or not to be” soliloquy.  If you substitute the  “fatuous ‘to be or not to be’ soliloquy” for the phrase “famous ‘to be or not to be’ soliloquy,” you’ve got Obama in a nutshell.

John Podhoretz also weighed in on Obama’s relationship to the famously indecisive Danish prince.  After giving a quick rundown of Obama’s inability to stick with one plan regarding Syria for anything longer than a day or two, Podhoretz notes that Obama is like Hamlet, except that he’s worse than Hamlet, who had the excuse of youth and inexperience:

In his voice-over prologue to his 1948 film version of “Hamlet,” Laurence Olivier says, “This is the tragedy of a man who could not make up his mind.”

It’s by no means shameful to be likened to Hamlet; after all, Hamlet spoke the greatest poetry ever written in the English language, and his existential torments speak to the deepest truths of human nature. But Hamlet is 20 years old, a college student in shock from his father’s sudden death and his mother’s marriage to his uncle.

He is not a 52-year-old president of the United States, twice elected to that office to lead the nation. And Hamlet didn’t choose to be the vessel of his father’s vengeance; that task was thrust upon him.

Podhortez makes another important point, which is that, unlike Hamlet, who was wracked by moral confusion, Obama’s indecision derives from a different cause. I’d like to build on that.

To begin with, unlike Hamlet, Obama is not suffering from a moral crisis.  He is suffering from an ideological crisis.  In that regard, I cannot recommend highly enough Elliott Abrams’ article at Commentary Magazine, “The Citizen of the World Presidency.

Abrams makes clear that Obama is tugged between two ideologies.  On the one hand, he is committed to achieving world peace and complete humanitarian aid for those who need it.  On the other hand, he thinks America is the last country that ought to be making those things possible.  Obama has one over-arching idea that reconciles these two ideologies (i.e., that the world needs what America has the ability to give, but America should never be allowed to give those things):  To Obama, America is so toxic that any help she gives is worse than no help.  Obama, moreover, is afraid not only of America, but of America’s allies, who might one day (God forbid!) advance America’s inherently dangerous and evil values.  Abrams doesn’t phrase it so crudely, of course, but that’s my takeaway from the article.

What we’ve been witnessing over the past week and a half is Obama trying to reconcile his purely academic goal of helping the hapless Syrian civilians, a goal that might be furthered using America’s military might, with his overriding fear that America, especially when she acts through her military, poisons everything she touch, so much so that Assad and his merry band, on the one hand, and al Qaeda, and its equally merry band, on the other hand, are the better alternative to anything America can offer.

Under this analysis, Obama is not backing away from intervention in Syria because of very serious, bipartisan questions about (a) whether a “muscular” yet delicate strike can accomplish anything, and (b) whether a strike leaves America in a position that is better than or at least equal to that which she finds herself in now, or if it makes the world an infinitely more dangerous place.

As to that second point, I cannot remember where I read it this morning, but someone very smart made a telling point about the difference between Libya, in which Obama was able to intervene without killing more than an ambassador and some other guys (Obama’s nonchalance, not mine), and the possible risks if he authorizes a Syrian strike.  Libya was a one-man show, with an already de-clawed Qaddafi in charge.  Syria is a well-organized, heavily-armed Chinese, Russian, and Iranian satellite that very likely has a large stockpile of the WMDs that vanished during the year that Bush took to create his coalition of the willing.  A few Popeye-esque twitches of America’s “muscle” will not put any fear whatsoever into Syria.

And that gets me to my second point about Obama being much worse than Hamlet.  Hamlet was serious.  His anguish was real and his moral dilemma (although I find it irritating and dull) was real too.  Obama is un-serious.  Unlike Kennedy, who actually appeared to believe in his stance and who successfully convinced the Soviets of his willingness to act, Obama convinces nobody.  Rather than engaging in war rhetoric with Obama, Syria is simply mocking him.  Even from his grave, Clausewitz is mocking him.

In this, the culmination of Obama’s presence on the world’s stage (until the next disaster provides the next culmination), Obama has gone from the world’s savior to the guy with the “kick me sign” on his back.  Heck, even liberals are mocking him.  They haven’t yet decided he’s the full George Bush, but they’re beginning to wonder.

If you need any further corroboration about Obama’s fundamental un-seriousness, look at his cabinet.  Someone else added the Bush poster in the back, but it was Obama who assembled around him such clowns as Kerry (who has never been right about any American foreign policy); Brennan (reputed to be a Muslim, and known to be a Muslim-sympathizer); Holder (criminally incompetent, by which I mean both criminal and incompetent); Rice (the stooge who carried the bag for the administration’s Benghazi lies); and Hagel (a buffoon, just a buffoon).

Speaking of Hagel, let me assure you that I had nothing to do with the white jacket and hot pink shirt he chose to wear at a serious cabinet meeting that might determine the fate of the world for many years to come:

Obama's scary unserious cabinet

The great irony here is that, even as we castigate Obama for the serious fall-out from his manifest and un-serious indecision, he’s just as bad when’s he decisive.  Rather than start a new post about the things that Obama pursues with single-minded, and amazingly damaging, focus (ObamaCare, illegal immigration), etc., I’ll leave you with a funny look at how dangerous it can be to make up ones mind about the wrong things:

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  • Ymarsakar

    Hagel reminds me one of those bureaucrats that get in on the bandwagon thinking it’s where the power will lead. As such, they tend to be one of the late supports of the Regime, but they’re more flexible ideologically.


    Bookworm, you thought of a musical and me…The Man Who Would be King.

  • Caped Crusader

    “I’m too young to remember the Cuban missile crisis.  I do know, though, that for several days Americans thought that the stare-down between Kennedy and Khrushchev would end in nuclear war.  Those were very scary times.”

    You can say that again! A definite stroll down memory lane for “Mr. Old Timer”.  I was on active duty, sitting in uniform, at a Tennessee-Ole Miss football game in Crump Stadium (no longer exists) on that October Saturday afternoon. There had been some jingoistic verbal jockeying, photos of likely Cuban bases on TV, and addresses to the nation on the seriousness of these developments up to that point. But at halftime over the PA system ALL reservists were ordered to report to their units at once and do not wait until the game is over. That is when I realized this is getting very serious and radioactive s**t may hit the fan. We lived on base and the exact sequence of days is unclear in my mind, but very soon afterward, one morning the gate was locked, and we were told nobody could leave, and we would probably be in Cuba by nightfall. It was that night or the previous one that Kennedy gave his famous climactic speech and most felt all out nuclear war was imminent. Very tense times!!!

  • Charles Martel

    I remember the day that the Russian ships were going to reach the blockade line that the U.S. Navy had drawn around Cuba. What happened there would determine whether the nukes would start flying.
    It was the end of Fifth Period at my high school; sometime around 1:45 p.m. As I left my chemistry class to go to my cross country class, I met my good friend Jimmy Sladeck on the stairway. We solemnly said goodbye to each other, and expressed our deep affection and gratitude that we had had several years of friendship. 
    The school’s plan was that if the air raid sirens went off, we were to collect by the rows of lockers that ran alongside the bungalows at our school (we were housed in temporary portables since the main building was being reconstructed). I knew that if the sirens sounded I would try to run home in the few minutes left to me to be with my family when the bombs dropped. Standing with a bunch of other frightened people waiting to be fused into the molten metal of our superheated school lockers was not the end I had in mind.
    I cannot express how despicable I find this self-absorbed child-man, or the shame that I feel for my once great country. Is there nobody left in Washington who will sound the fire bell?

  • jj

    Oddly, perhaps, I never took it seriously at all.  I was aware that Kennedy, with all his experience in foreign affairs (that would be zero, in political as opposed to sexual affairs), suffered from an overpowering need not to look like a twerp, so was inclined to snort and paw the ground a bit, rattle whatever sabre he could get his hands, but never supposed it would amount to anything.  There were a couple of adults in the room – one of them was Khrushchev – and the probability was that despite Kennedy’s witless brinkmanship and diplomatic on-the-job training, nobody’d be pushing any buttons.  I’m amazed how many other people seem to have truly thought  it was an inch from all over.  I don’t honestly think I gave it ten minutes of thought.
    And on an altogether different point – I ran cross-country a couple of youthful autumns in the sweet bye-and-bye, but I gotta say I never took a class in it!  “Cross country” class, Martel?  What in hell was that?  You got credit for this?

  • David Foster

    Boris Chertok, a Soviet rocket designer, wrote an interesting description of the Cuban Missile Crisis as viewed from the launch facility he was then working at. I excerpted it here:
    The Cuban Missile Crisis, as Viewed from a Soviet Launch Facility

  • Caped Crusader

    About 20 years ago, when Chris Matthews was still sane and I was a listener, I remember him relating the story that the confession line at Holy Cross, where he was a student, was so long he had trouble finding the end of the line. They were definitely scared!

  • Mike Devx

    Book, your words are music to my ears.  I read them aloud and every word about Obama rings true.
    Martel, as usual, offers the perfect coda:
    I cannot express how despicable I find this self-absorbed child-man, or the shame that I feel for my once great country. Is there nobody left in Washington who will sound the fire bell?
    You get the leader your country deserves.  What does that say about how far we have fallen as a People?  
    And speaking of how far the American People have fallen, are falling, and will continue to fall, I’m really getting pissed off about the Miley Cyrus performance.  What is pissing me off?  How when she emerged from that large Teddy Bear to start her sexual cavorting, she was dressed like a child, and had her hair cut and tied up in little ponytails like a very small girl, a *child* – yet she was cavorting like a porn star, tongue hanging out all over the place and strutting her stuff.  Not only did she emerge from a huge teddy bear prop, she was surrounded by more adult-sized teddy bears.  Her entire image, and everything was surrounded by, was child-like, but her actions were extraordinarily sexualized.  I find all of this child-sex imagery deeply, deeply disturbing.  It’s really pissing me off.

  • Bookworm

    Mike, I couldn’t agree more.  I went ballistic when one of my children had to read an essay in school that had a man write about the way his cruel parents, not to mention heterosexual hegemony, forced him to abandon his pure love for another boy — when they were both five years old!

  • Earl

    BW:  This is really kind of OT…..but I thought about Hamlet much as you did for a long time.
    Until Branagh’s Hamlet.  I’d never really figured out what the attraction was until that one.  Gail and I drove from Angwin to the movie theater across 101 from the Light and Magic campus to see the movie.  We drove down the next two weeks to see it again…..and again.
    Don’t give up on Hamlet until you’ve seen Branagh’s movie….preferably on the big screen – I don’t know how it would hold up on a TV.  But give it a try……

  • Bookworm

    Will do, Earl.  I’ve read the play at least twice, and seen Oliver’s overwrought version, but I’m willing to give Branagh a try.

  • beefrank

    I remember the frequent air raid drills in my Marin County school’s 5th grade class when at the sound of the alarm we sought cover under our desks as protection from a nuclear blast. Aah, those innocent youthful years.   I was not aware until reading about the crisis later in life that it was setup by the Bay of Pigs debacle for which Kennedy apologized and assumed responsibility in a televised address weakening his and America’s stature in the Soviet and Fidel’s perceptions.  What are their perceptions now under Obama’s apologetic Administration for all of America’s ills?  I heard a poem this morning as an analysis of current Soviet-US relations.
    The Grizzly Bear is huge and wild
    It has devoured the little child.
    The little child is unaware
    It has been eaten by the bear.

    Alfred Edward Housman

  • Caped Crusader

    You hit one of my buttons when you mention Poet Laureate A. E. Houseman, my very favorite poet! One of the first gifts my wife gave me, 53 years ago, is a book of all his poems, which I still treasure. My favorite is “To an Athlete Dying Young“, which I red at the funerals of two of my friends who were fellow team mates when I was young; so fitting in such a circumstance. One of the most tragic sights in life is to see some old codger who was really somebody become a total non entity as they completely loose it mentally.

    To an Athlete Dying Young

    By A. E. Housman 1859–1936

    The time you won your town the race
    We chaired you through the market-place;
    Man and boy stood cheering by,
    And home we brought you shoulder-high.

    Today, the road all runners come,
    Shoulder-high we bring you home,
    And set you at your threshold down,
    Townsman of a stiller town.

    Smart lad, to slip betimes away
    From fields where glory does not stay,
    And early though the laurel grows
    It withers quicker than the rose.

    Eyes the shady night has shut
    Cannot see the record cut,
    And silence sounds no worse than cheers
    After earth has stopped the ears.

    Now you will not swell the rout
    Of lads that wore their honours out,
    Runners whom renown outran
    And the name died before the man.

    So set, before its echoes fade,
    The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
    And hold to the low lintel up
    The still-defended challenge-cup.

    And round that early-laurelled head
    Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
    And find unwithered on its curls
    The garland briefer than a girl’s.

    Share this text …?


    Source: The Norton Anthology of Poetry Third Edition (1983)

  • Charles Martel

    jj, like you I ran for the sheer joy of it. But 6th Period was officially designated “Physical Education,” for which I received 5 credits toward the 180 I needed to graduate. Get credit for doing something I loved? What was not to like?

  • Charles Martel

    What Mike says about Miley Cyrus makes me realize that there is an intent to slowly break the barriers to sex with children as young as 11 or 12. The cleverness of the gradual Polanski-ization of America is in having a 20-year-old dimwit do two things: 1.) Start a “discussion” where we can have an “honest dialogue” about children and sex; and 2.) by having a putatively “legal” girl who looks like Honey Boo Boo twerk and gyrate, we can slip in some instruction to impressionable 8, 9, and 10-year-old girls on how much fun it is to be a skank.
    In the first instance, we’ll be inundated with the rationalization that because U.S. society has become drenched in porn, it means there’s really nothing to protect children from. If they’re already going to know and be curious about sex by age 7 or 8, why not “equip” them with basic knowledge so that they can be “safe” and know how to “negotiate limits” with whomever is trying to bed them (such as their 8th grade math teacher)?
    In the second instance, we’re dealing with Grrrrlll Power, the right of every liberated and autonomous female of any age to shake her pudenda in public and screw whomever she wants whenever she wants. The beauty of the current regime is that the state will provide her with contraceptives and, Heaven forbid, if sperm parties with egg, abortion. The thought that a generation of ditzy tweenie sluts is being groomed on a massive scale must have the Peter Yarrows of the world shaking in their Speedos.

  • Spartacus

    “… The operation was organized and financed by the CIA.  Kennedy was so determined to keep the plan secret it was not revealed to the JCS [Joint Chiefs of Staff].  He chose to dispense with expert military advice.
    It was no secret from the Russians, though.  Two weeks before the invasion, in April 1961, Khrushchev discussed it with the well-known American journalist and friend of presidents Walter Lippmann.  There was going to be an invasion of Cuba, said Khrushchev, and it would fail.  And fail it did.  There were American ships and planes within range of the invasion beaches in the Bay of Pigs, but Kennedy, still hoping to deny American involvement, refused to let them intervene.
    Nearly all of the Cubans involved were killed, wounded or captured.  The 1,600 survivors were later ransomed for $62 million in spare parts and medical supplies.  Kennedy had been forced to abandon the pretense of no American involvement, but he blamed it on the JCS, who had not learned of the plan until they had figured out that something was going on and demanded to know what it was, on the eve of the invasion.”
    — Geoffrey Perret, A Country Made by War, p. 486
    Where… do… we… keep… finding… these… CLOWNS???

  • Charles Martel

    You can blame Hollywood in part for the low-info American love affair with charisma and good looks. In the Kennedy-Nixon debates of 1960, radio listeners thought that Nixon outperformed JFK. But TV viewers, seeing Jack the Zipper’s tousled good lucks, thought he did the better job.
    LBJ was as ugly as a fireplug compared to Goldwater, but he had the coattails of a murdered president to ride on, and ride them he did.But Vietnam tripped him up, and Nixon was able to use busing and the New Left’s betrayal of Hubert Humphrey as tools to carve out a winning margin. It did not help Humphrey that he looked like the head of the Wizard of Oz, only without the flames, the thunderous sound effects, the echo chamber, and the commanding voice.
    Carter looked like an Alice in Wonderland character, but I think Americans were fed up with GOP presidents in 1976 and decided to go with an unknown (sounds familiar, no?).
    We were still not yet an idiocracy in 1980 when RR beat The Wimp. Even at 70 years old, Reagan was a good looking man juxtaposed with the Georgia Weasel. Score one in good looks for the GOP. In 1984, Mondale looked and sounded like a basset hound.
    Clinton was our second indication that a priapist (JFK was the first) could excite lust among the low-info crowd. He certainly was better looking than poor old 41, and parsecs ahead of Ross Perot in that department. Bob Dole looked like a composite of the guys in the Pep Boys commercials.
    Dubyah and Gore was a contest between two equally good looking men. But Dubyah was much more of a charmer, the kind of guy you’d watch a game with. Gore also had an unshakeable aura of creepiness about him, which especially cost him among the people who knew him best—his own home staters.
    Kerry was even creepier than Gore. That long “I’m looking down at all of you” nose, along with his hilarious “Jane-juzz Khan” pronunciation of a famous mass murderer’s name did not go over well.
    The we come to Obama and Old Man McCain. Obama’s appeal consisted of moderate good looks, a lithe, healthy looking physique, a string of fake credentials that nobody would vet, a superb aptitude with a teleprompter, and best of all, a dusky pelt that was catnip to almost every black and guilty white voter.
    So, there’s a pattern—voters generally go for good looks. But what would happen if a Democratic candidate were a thick-legged bisexual with no discernible talents or accomplishments? Especially if she were to go up against, say, an articulate young Latino? Would there be enough lying reporters, corrupt unions, welfare recipients, skanks, dead people, and felonious voter registrars to pull one out for her?

  • Spartacus

    “Clinton was our second indication that a priapist (JFK was the first) could excite lust among the low-info crowd.”
    Well, they certainly have their loyal band of followers, although I honestly had no idea they’d been around so long.  I was fairly disdainful until my folks told me they’d gotten a Fusion, Ford’s answer to Toyota’s challenge.  I mean, family, for crying out loud!  Driving an eco-weenie car!  The shame!  Then one day, with no one else around, they let me drive it.  It was… I mean, I’m not going to go out and get one myself, but… the engineering was very solid, so I’ve tried to maintain my disdain, but… to each his own, you know?  But I’d never vote for or against someone just because of that.

  • Ymarsakar

    A country really only gets the leaders that are left. After all, they got all the good ones killed in a war, got rid of them in elections, and exiled them to the far reaches of the earth. That’s what democracies do. Read up on the bio of Themistocles and Socrates, both of Athens. Research and think, not be told, what happened with Sarah Palin from Demoncrats and GOP alike.
    A country doesn’t necessarily run out of good, virtuous, competent leaders. It just kills all of them that pokes their head up and you get what’s left over.