Jeffrey Goldberg has conducted the most extensive autopsy of President Obama’s foreign policy—and revealed that it is based on the doctrine that the best leader is the one who leads the least, and contemplates and talks the most.
Obama is an impressive wordsmith. The most important milestones in his political career, before and after he became president, have been well-crafted speeches. He has lived by words—eloquent, searing, soaring, contemplative words—to the point where he might equate words and concepts with what the ancient Greeks called praxis, or practical action. In Obama’s world, sharp words can be almost as effective as sharp swords.
Goldberg’s article delves into some of these pivotal speeches: the Cairo speech, the speeches on the Arab uprisings, addresses on combatting terrorism and the agony of Syria. Most of the pledges contained in these speeches ring hollow now; instead of ushering in a “new beginning” with the Muslim world, Obama’s relations with Pakistan, Turkey, and the Arab states are strained and characterized by mutual contempt. Obama told those Arabs struggling non-violently for basic rights such as free speech, gender equality, the freedom of peaceful assembly, and the right to choose their leaders that “our support for these principles is not a secondary interest.” But as I have written, when Obama “looked at the enormity of the challenges posed by the Arab uprisings, particularly when they became more violent, he simply flinched.” Obama did inherit a dysfunctional Arab state system and fraying civil societies, yet his own ill-conceived actions and inactions have contributed significantly to the great unraveling of the Middle East.