Former US Defense Secretary found top Obama national-security aides ‘dangerously naive’

Former US Defense Secretary found top Obama national-security aides ‘dangerously naive’–59eh., b26

A former US defense secretary who served under four presidents referred the young aides on US President Barack Obama’s national-security and foreign-policy teams as “dangerously naive” in an article published on Thursday in Politico magazine.

The article describes the disillusionment of many of Obama’s top advisers who feel that the president’s rhetoric has not matched up to his policies, especially in the Middle East.

“Many Obama supporters started out believing that the president had grand ambitions for replacing George W. Bush’s militaristic posture with a more enlightened and progressive approach to the world before coming to believe they had misread a president who was not the idealistic internationalist they had thought he was,” Michael Crowley wrote for the magazine.

He continued: “In hindsight, it seems clear that Obama came to office far more focused on showing the world that the Bush era was over than on any coherent strategy of his own for advancing human rights or democracy.”

The article portrays Obama’s younger staff members as idealistic foils to the older and more experienced foreign-policy hands like Gates and Hillary Clinton, who served as US secretary of state under Obama and is now the Democratic front-runner for president.

One of the most contentious issues of Obama’s presidency seems to have come over Egypt. After the Arab Spring protests broke out in 2010 and 2011, many of Obama’s younger staff members wanted the president to pull his support from then-President Hosni Mubarak — an “82-year-old dictator who ran a cruel police state,” as Politico described him.

Politico described the dilemma, revealing what appears to be a wide gulf between those described as Obama’s more idealistic advisers and his more pragmatic confidants on basic questions of how the administration should shape its foreign policy:

He was naturally inclined to side with young, Internet-savvy protesters against an 82-year-old dictator who ran a cruel police state. But Mubarak was also a longtime U.S. ally who opposed Islamic radicals, honored a peace treaty with Israel and gave the Pentagon vital access to the Suez Canal. Younger aides like [deputy national security adviser Ben] Rhodes, [current US ambassador to the United Nations Samantha] Power and Antony Blinken, then Vice President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, urged Obama to get ‘on the right side of history’ and give Mubarak a decisive push.

Gates recalled the way Jimmy Carter withdrew his support for the embattled Shah of Iran only to see the fanatical Ayatollah Khomeini hijack Iran’s 1979 revolution. Obama’s chief of staff, William Daley, would listen to Rhodes in White House meetings and wonder what he really knew about Egypt.

Power’s “hobbyhorse” was maintaining dignity in America’s relations with the world, and Rhodes “emerged early as an idealistic thinker who wanted to see American values advanced in peaceful ways,” according to Politico. Gates reportedly found these 30-something aides “dangerously naive.”

In the end, Obama ended up siding with Rhodes and called for Mubarak to step down. Obama staffers gathered for a party after Mubarak resigned, but not everyone was confident in their celebrations. Michael McFaul, the former US ambassador to Russia, told Politico that while it was a “euphoric night,” he was “nervous as hell” amid the reveling thinking of everything that could go wrong.

On a late July day this past summer, a roar filled the sky over Cairo. It was the sound of Barack Obama’s capitulation to a dictator.

Eight new American fighter jets, freshly delivered from Washington, swooped low over the city, F-16s flying in formation. As they banked hard over the city’s center, they trailed plumes of red, white and black smoke—the colors of the Egyptian flag.

For Egypt’s brutally repressive president, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the spectacle was a triumph, symbolizing not only his militaristic power at home, but also his victory over an American president who had tried to punish him before surrendering to the cold realities of geopolitics.

Obama was appalled. “We can’t return to business as usual,” he declared after the slaughter. “We have to be very careful about being seen as aiding and abetting actions that we think run contrary to our values and ideals.”

. Some of Obama’s top White House aides, including his deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, and the celebrated human rights champion Samantha Power, now U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, urged the president to link further military aid to clear progress by Sisi on human rights and democracy. But Secretary of State John Kerry, then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Hagel’s successor, Ash Carter, argued for restoring the aid. Trying to punish Sisi would have little effect on his behavior, they said, while alienating a bulwark against Islamic radicalism in an imploding Middle East. “Egypt was one of the most significant policy divides between the White House and the State Department and the Department of Defense,” says Matthew Spence, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Middle East policy.

In the end, Obama folded. This past March, he called Sisi once again, this time to explain that he would release the cash transfers and delayed hardware—including the F-16s—and end the administration’s threats to block the larger $1.3 billion annual aid package.

“We caved,” says a former senior administration official who participated in the debates.

“He’s never quite melded his rhetoric with his policies,” says Dennis Ross, who served as Obama’s top Middle East aide in his first term. Adds Robert Ford, who was Obama’s ambassador to Syria before resigning in frustration over the president’s policy there: “It seems like we are swinging back to the idea that we must make a choice between supporting dictators or being safe.”

Their views were echoed in many of more than two dozen recent interviews with current and former administration officials, members of Congress, experts and activists—interviews that revealed a striking degree of frustration and disillusionment. Many Obama supporters started out believing that the president had grand ambitions for replacing George W. Bush’s militaristic posture with a more enlightened and progressive approach to the world before coming to believe they had misread a president who was not the idealistic internationalist they had thought he was.

But it didn’t seem that way at the time: Obama’s aides entered the White House full of plans for “dignity promotion”—a favorite phrase of Power’s meant to signal a contrast with Bush’s post-9/11 talk of “democracy promotion” and his second-term “Freedom Agenda” that many came to equate not with Bush’s lofty goal of “ending tyranny in our world” but with imposing Western values on countries like Iraq and Afghanistan at gunpoint.

source–allen west, pamela engel, business insider, reuters, jonathan ernst, michael mcfaul, sisi, dennis ross,


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