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The Penumbra of Obama’s Foreign Policy

This somewhat dated but still relevant article, “U.S. foreign policy:  Waiting on a Sun King,” by Edward Luce and Daniel Dombey published at FT.com in March 2010 sheds some disturbing light onto Obama’s approach to foreign policy, which is described as a highly centralized process in which “all roads lead to and from him.”

This White House-centric approach often leads to waiting (sometimes months) for final decisions on some of our most urgent matters. Further confounding the situation is the Obama administration’s lack of a strong national security adviser. Instead, major foreign policy issues are dealt with in countless lower-level meetings where no decisions are made, followed by high-level discussions involving members of Obama’s “inner circle” and National Security Council principals, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. After all the facts are presented to Obama, he makes the final decision.

The authors write:

When Nixon wanted foreign policy advice, everyone knew where he got it from: Henry Kissinger, variously his national security adviser and secretary of state.

In contrast, Mr Obama has no big foreign policy strategist. Even insiders give different answers when asked to whom he turns for advice on the big international questions. But almost all agree with the following observation. ‘The truth is that President Obama is his own Henry Kissinger – no one else plays that role,’ says a senior official. ‘Every administration reflects the personality of the president. This president wants all the trains routed through the Oval Office.’

This lone wolf approach to foreign policy isn’t necessarily bad until you consider Obama had virtually no experience in foreign policy matters prior to his election. Given that context, the approach seems so naive that it borders on downright dangerous.

The article  also alludes to an unusual alliance between Obama’s Secretary of Defense and State (Robert Gates and Hilary Clinton) who often find themselves at odds with Obama’s “inner circle.” The inner circle itself forms an odd penumbra around the “Sun King,” and it seems to have its hand on all matters foreign and domestic. Conspicuously, the inner circle does not include Secretary Clinton.

Who exactly is Obama’s inner circle? The same author, Edward Luce, previously wrote on the core four surrounding the president:  Robert Gibbs, his communications chief; Rahm Emanuel, chief of staff; and senior advisers, David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett. All, observes Luce, had some hand in the Obama campaign and, with the exception of Gibbs, all are Chicagoans.

With so many disturbing events on the international scene — the increasingly volatile state of Arab-Israeli relations heightened by the recent Gaza flotilla incident, the narrowly thwarted terrorist attacks in Times Square, the imminent nuclear armament of Iran and its alliance with Russia, the bankruptcy of Greece and demise of the European Union, just to name a few — I find Obama’s heavy reliance on Chicago friends and campaign managers to lead the free world frightening.

Perhaps sensing a novice in the White House, the forces of tyranny seem to be lurking closer these days, salivating at the prospect of a weaker, more vulnerable United States.

Fortunately for us, we have elections and term limits. And this Sun King isn’t running a monarchy.

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