Obama’s Foreign Policy Shake-Up

Jun 6 2013 @ 2:32pm

The above comments will mean the usual brutal attacks on Power from the usual sources. But I have written similar things, and believe passionately that acquiescence to Israel’s continued settlement policy – designed to create a permanent Greater Israel – must be challenged by the United States. The constantly expanding occupation is against our values and against our interests. We should be using all our leverage to stop it, rather than funding it, as we continue to do. But Larison argues it’s the realists rather than the neocons who should be upset:

The one major issue that distinguished Rice and Power in the first term was their support for the Libyan war, and in spite of backing that misguided intervention both of them are being promoted. That tells current and future officials that there is no penalty in supporting unwise military action, and indicates that ambitious officials should push for more aggressive policies whether they are in the national interest or not. I don’t understand the selection of Power for the U.N. unless it is simply a reward to a long-time Obama loyalist. I suppose that the position has sometimes been filled in the past to make a political or ideological statement (see Bolton, John), and appointing Power to this post might be an exercise in placating liberal hawks disaffected with Obama’s recent foreign policy record. If so, I doubt it will work, since it will just make Obama’s liberal hawkish detractors more vocal in their demands that the U.S. intervene in Syria.

I suspect it won’t. Both Rice and Power have taken an anti-interventionist position on Syria, for the usual sane reasons (even if we could do something, what would that something possibly be? Arming branches of al Qaeda?). Besides, foreign policy under this president is made in the Oval Office. I’d say the reason behind these appointments is, as my shrink will often say, multi-determined. Rice and Power have extraordinary minds, moral clarity and the kind of self-discipline that Obama rewards. (Samantha’s campaign outburst against Hillary was, I like to think, the Irish in her temporarily escaping.)

I also think their gender matters. With Kerry replacing Clinton, the need for female prominence in foreign policy is all the more politically astute. While Erick Erickson is opining that women should naturally submit to their husbands as a matter of science, and the GOP wanders off into la-la land on abortion and contraception, Obama is shrewd to balance John Kerry at State with Rice and Power at the NSA and UN. (Full disclosure: I’ve known and admired Samantha ever since I turned her down for an internship at TNR way back when, but am not that close. And yes, that was a dumb mistake in retrospect.)

And if you were a president with a conscience but also a very cold, realist approach to foreign policy, wouldn’t you do exactly what he’s done? Find those most likely to argue for liberal intervention and bring them closer into the tent rather than risk them smoldering from a distance? They act as liberal buffers to an inherently conservative foreign policy (by which I mean the antithesis of neoconservative.)

Max Fisher sees the point:

[E]ven if Power and Rice did disagree with Obama on Syria, he’s already overruled more senior and experienced officials who wanted to upgrade U.S. involvement. He shot down a 2012 plan, backed by Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, CIA chief David H. Petraeus and Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to directly arm the Syrian rebels. Even if they wanted to, it’s not clear that Power and Rice would be better positioned to change U.S. policy.

Ali Gharib expects Power to be attacked, once again, over her comments about Israel (some of the most controversial seen above):

Will re-hashing these 2008 attacks squash Power’s nomination? Probably not. But will those segments of the pro-Israel right that attacked her in 2008 have at it again in 2013? Most definitely. And if the first salvos are any indication, they’ll use the exact same playbook they did five years ago. Like Chuck Hagel’s embattled nomination as Defense Secretary, Power will survive. But she’ll take some shots and come out hesitant to say ‘boo” about Israel.

Fisher puts Power’s old comments in context:

It appears that Kreisler asked Power how she, if she were a presidential adviser and human rights atrocities broke out in Israel-Palestine, would advise the president to “put a structure in place to monitor that situation [where] at least one party or another [may] be looking like they might be moving toward genocide.”

That last part is important: the hypothetical she’s addressing is about what to do if genocide appears imminent. He’s not asking Power, hey, do you think we should invade Israel to impose a two-state solution? Still, even remembering that she was being prompted with an extreme and unlikely worst-case hypothetical, Power’s answer was not ideal.

And James Gibney previews Power’s confirmation hearings:

Even if this doesn’t end up putting U.S. boots on the ground in Syria, Power’s confirmation hearings will showcase cognitive dissonance on both sides of the bench: Power as she bobs and weaves to avoid criticizing the administration’s relative inaction to stop the slaughter in Syria, and Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham as they hammer away at a nominee whose more robust views on intervention they doubtless have great sympathy for.

Samantha can take it. As long as she doesn’t get her Irish up.

I have to say on a personal note that I’m also moved by this Irish immigrant with such brilliance and passion representing the United States. In some ways, we actual immigrants, born abroad, represent a quintessentially and uniquely American experience: we chose this country because we love it and wanted to start our lives over. And it rewards us by treating us (if not in my case for a long time because of HIV) as if we belong here. That’s uniquely American.

(Thumbnail photo by Eric Bridiers, United States Mission Geneva)