First of all, I am not a friend of President Obama. I just have a realistic view of the limited power of the presidency, along with the limited possible decision-making capabilities of presidents. Even the most beloved modern presidents in history delegate the majority of their authority and awareness to their subordinates. The average president has less executive authority than a typical CEO has over their company, even in public companies with structures and ownership splits that favor boards and major investors.
A recent article by Bret Stephens in Commentary Magazine collects a series of whines by bureaucrats about the president’s supposed policy failures.
The problem is not in the president. The problem is in the structure of the American government, the low quality of our governing institutions, and the collapse of our intellectual institutions. The problem is not in the leadership quality, but in the structure that selects for destructive leftists. To be fair to Stephens, he points out that progressivism is the problem, but dates it too recently and assigns too much weight to the civics-class analysis of the American governing structure.
It’s strange to suggest that the progressive movement is so young and so confined to a single political party. But perhaps that is what the flagship magazine of neoconservatism actually believes, which would be shameful.
Perhaps it makes sense, given that the American Jewish Committee only founded Commentary itself in 1945, as it worked tirelessly (and successfully) to shift American and legislative opinion sufficiently to make room in America for European Jews displaced after World War II. For the neocons, American history before 1945 just isn’t all that real, because their antecedents weren’t actually here in numbers until after the war. We should look at the neocons as they are, within their historical context, as a religious-ethnic advocacy group, which from my perspective is not itself a terrible thing.
The failure of Jewish influence during the Obama administration is the most significant setback for the American Jewish community since its failure during World War II to alter immigration quotas and stop allied blockades of refugee boats headed to Palestine. I fully understand why Commentary’s authorship and readership might be feeling skittish about this. They should probably be feeling more skittish than they are.
It flatters officials at the State Department to blame the executive for their own intellectual failures, and the failures of the institutions that educate them. They are backstabbing their own man for faithfully following their own doctrines. When they are upset by the consequences of their doctrines, they imagine laziness and perfidy by the minions vetted and trained by their own prestigious institutions.
This comes on the heels of an open letter written by students at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government condemning Israel. For those of you who don’t know, those students are among the future leadership class of both the US and of US-aligned countries.
To go back to the title, President Obama’s weakness as a human being is not to blame for the collapse of American foreign policy. The progressive universalism of the post-war order was never sane or tenable. The democratic character of the American governing structure makes it especially unable to manage an effective empire, which Stephens even alludes to.
It failed because it could never have succeeded in the first place, much like Obamacare. Criticizing the poor execution of an impossible plan is neurotic.
The way forward is to accept the ‘anarchic nightmare of the new Dark Age’ without fretting, to face its challenges like men, without mourning the loss of a future that could never have been.