Obama, the Hesitant ‘Realist’

President Obama has come partially out of the closet as a foreign policy “realist,” but he hesitates in the face of Official Washington’s neocon establishment, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar explains.

By Paul R. Pillar

Jeffrey Goldberg’s long article in the Atlantic about Barack Obama’s thinking on America’s foreign relations, an article derived from a series of interviews that Goldberg had with the President, ought to be required reading for this year’s presidential candidates and those who wish to advise the next president on foreign policy.

It ought to be so because it lays out some splendidly clear and well-grounded realist principles, expressed by Mr. Obama more directly and in more complete form than we customarily hear or read, and that would form the core of sound foreign policy for the United States to the extent that the U.S. political milieu would permit them to be put into practice.

President Barack Obama meets with his national security advisors in the Situation Room of the White House, Aug. 7, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama meets with his national security advisors in the Situation Room of the White House, Aug. 7, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Also emerging from the interviews, besides the realist approach, is deep substantive insight by Mr. Obama into the nature of some of the principal security problems of the day and a disciplined and unemotional approach toward analyzing those problems, both of which also are critical ingredients to the formulation of sound foreign policy.

The article is not a puff piece written in return for extraordinary access given to the journalist, and Goldberg does not write such puff pieces anyway. Some of what Goldberg writes in this piece exhibits aspects of common Washington thinking that President Obama has been trying to get away from. But Goldberg deserves credit for letting the President’s thinking come through fully, mostly in the President’s own words, and for assembling in one place a portrait of a presidential outlook of which we usually only get fragments in press conferences.

The overall realist direction of that outlook is reflected in Mr. Obama’s professed admiration for the approach toward foreign policy of George H.W. Bush and Brent Scowcroft. Goldberg tells of how when then-Senator Obama was writing the book that would become a campaign manifesto, his adviser Susan Rice had to urge him to include some complimentary words about Bill Clinton’s foreign policy to balance the praise for Bush and Scowcroft. The principal tenets that can be described as realist principles and that come across most clearly in the interviews with Goldberg are the following.

Deal with the world as it is, not as we wish it were. The first step to being a realist is to be realistic. In the discussion of current front-burner issues that dominate the interviews with Goldberg, this principle certainly applies to the wishful and what-if thinking that is all too common regarding the civil war in Syria, and specifically to the myth that only if the United States had done something more earlier, Syria wouldn’t be such a mess.

The President points out that this war pitted from the beginning a professional army that was well armed and supported by two outside allies against a fractured and ragtag rebellion. He correctly observes, “The notion that we could have — in a clear way that didn’t commit U.S. military forces — changed the equation on the ground there was never true.”

Address specific problems and avoid specific mistakes, rather than subordinating everything under general labels. The strong urge among the commentariat and foreign policy cognoscenti in Washington to talk about foreign policies in terms of a “doctrine” attached to the name of a particular leader or a single “organizing principle” is an unhelpful oversimplification.

Even what is usually called grand strategy, although it has its role, tends to get used and overused in unhelpful ways. Goldberg’s article itself reflects the labeling urge by being misleadingly titled “The Obama Doctrine.” The world is complicated, and any foreign policy approach that can be simplified to a label or even to a strategy expressed in a single sentence is an oversimplification. Not doing stupid stuff is one (but not the only one) important thing to remember in making foreign policy, bearing in mind how severely U.S. interests have been damaged in the past because stupid stuff was done.

The preceding two concepts are related to a third: adapt to the differences in different situations. Not every troublesome dictator is a Hitler, and not every conflict in which civilians die is a Rwandan genocide. The tendency that has to be countered here is perhaps best represented within the Obama administration by Samantha Power, who sometimes does seem to think that every conflict with civilian casualties is another Rwanda and was one of those who argued especially hard for the mistaken intervention in Libya. (Goldberg writes of how during one meeting in which Power was pushing her theme the President had to shush her, saying “I’ve read your book, Samantha.”)

In his comments to Goldberg, the President accurately contrasted Rwanda, where he said “it’s probably easier to make an argument that a relatively small force inserted quickly would have resulted in averting genocide,” with Syria, where “the degree to which the various groups are armed and hardened fighters and are supported by a whole host of external actors with a lot of resources requires a much larger commitment of forces.”

Pay heed to geopolitics. This is closely related to the specific need to take full account of how other states view their interests and the relative priority they place on those interests — and thus to what extent those states are or are not amenable to changing their policies.

As basic a variable as geographic distance has a lot to do with how interests are defined. This applies to Mr. Obama’s analysis of Middle Eastern problems, in which Middle Easterners themselves have a bigger stake than anyone else. It also applies to his perspective on Ukraine; he understands that Ukraine involves core Russian interests but not core American ones, and therefore Russia will always have escalatory dominance there.

Recognizing a problem is not the same as being able to solve it. The all-too-common notion that must be resisted here is one that flows from overoptimistic American exceptionalism. It is a notion that often leads to assumptions that if a situation is identified as a problem then that means it must be “the policy” of the United States to eliminate it somehow.

It is the notion that, in President Obama’s words, “if we use our moral authority to say ‘This is a brutal regime, and this is not how a leader should treat his people,’ once you’ve said that, once you do that, you are obliged to invade the country and install a government you prefer.” As the President correctly observes, “There are going to be times where we can do something about innocent people being killed, but there are going to be times where we can’t.”

Solving a problem does not necessarily mean it is the United States that should do most of the work in solving it. This is another tendency rooted in American exceptionalism. It is a tendency that causes free-rider problems, which Mr. Obama explicitly wants to avoid. It does not serve U.S. interests for, as he says, the Europeans and Arab states to be “holding our coats” while the United States does “all the fighting.”

Trade-offs and hard choices are unavoidable. Not all good things go together, not all important U.S. interests will be well-served by any one policy option, and not all problems can be solved with the same resources. In defining himself as a realist the President said, “we have to choose where we can make a real impact.”

States have no permanent friends or allies, only permanent interests. Lord Palmerston’s dictum applies just as much to the United States of today as it did to the Britain of his day. President Obama rightly looks beyond the usual ways, sustained by habit and political lobbies, of categorizing other states as allies or adversaries and considers what each state is actually doing for or against U.S. interests, while recognizing that each state is likely to present a mixture of both.

Not being stuck in the usual habit means not needlessly taking sides in other people’s quarrels. He says, for example, that the Saudis need to “share” the Middle East with their Iranian rivals. As he explains, “An approach that said to our friends ‘You are right, Iran is the source of all problems, and we will support you in dealing with Iran’ would essentially mean that as these sectarian conflicts continue to rage and our Gulf partners, our traditional friends, do not have the ability to put out the flames on their own or decisively win on their own, and would mean that we have to start coming in and using our military to settle scores. And that would be in the interest neither of the United States nor of the Middle East.”

Besides realist principles for addressing any set of problems, the President’s interviews with Goldberg demonstrate a sound substantive understanding of leading current problems. This is partly a matter of accurately perceiving relative importance — that “ISIS is not an existential threat to the United States,” for example, while “climate change is a potential existential threat to the entire world if we don’t do something about it.”

It also is a matter of insight into the underpinnings of any one problem. When Goldberg asked the President a question, having to do with ISIS and insecurity in the Middle East, that made reference to Thomas Hobbes, Goldberg acknowledged that he probably would get laughed out of the room by his fourth estate colleagues if he were to ask the same question at a presidential press conference, where the more accepted way to address such subjects would be — to quote a question actually asked at one such recent press conference — “Why can’t we get the bastards?”

Mr. Obama responded fully to Goldberg’s version of the question with a reply that touched among other things on trends in social order, what causes order to break down, the influence of tribal affiliations, the stresses associated with globalization, and how extremist groups take advantage of such stresses. It was an answer that indicated profound understanding of the roots of much of what constitutes security problems in the Middle East today.

The interviews with Goldberg also indicate a commitment to careful, rigorous analysis of policy decisions — also essential to sound foreign policy — and a rejection of more emotional approaches. What this means, in the President’s words, “is that you care so much that you want to get it right and you’re not going to indulge in either impetuous or, in some cases, manufactured responses that make good sound bites but don’t produce results. The stakes are too high to play those games.”

Goldberg writes that part of what he wanted to find out in his interviews with the President was stimulated by an early speech by Mr. Obama opposing the Iraq War. “I wanted to learn,” says Goldberg, “how an Illinois state senator, a part-time law professor who spent his days traveling between Chicago and Springfield, had come to a more prescient understanding of the coming quagmire than the most experienced foreign- policy thinkers of his party … not to mention, of course, most Republicans and many foreign-policy analysts and writers, including me.”

The workings of the mind revealed in these interviews — a dispassionate, well-informed, realist mind — are enough to provide the explanation Goldberg was seeking.

Impressive though that mind is, we are quickly led to seek explanations for the connection, or what some may consider a disconnect, between the mental processes in the presidential head and foreign policies over the past seven years that have been subject to so much criticism.

Criticism has come not only from the purveyors of attitudes and habits that Mr. Obama explicitly and with good reason rejects, but also from some who would not necessarily disagree with what he is saying but would argue that many of his policies do not reflect what he is saying.

One obvious explanation is that the United States is not a presidential dictatorship. The most glaring current limitation on Mr. Obama’s ability to implement policies as prudent as he would like them to be is control of Congress by a political opposition determined to oppose virtually his every move. Even in the instances where he somehow is able to overcome that opposition, such as with the survival (so far) of the agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear program, the President has to expend much political capital and to offer “compensation” that goes directly against some of what his realist perspective would say is an unwise way of handling “allies” in the region.

The resistance comes from more than just the reflexive obstructionists. The realist perspective Mr. Obama holds is contrary to a conventional wisdom that is more widely and deeply held, across both parties, in the Washington foreign-policy establishment. The President describes this conventional wisdom in his interviews with Goldberg as a “playbook in Washington that presidents are supposed to follow.”

The playbook “prescribes responses to different events, and these responses tend to be militarized responses.” The effects of the playbook have been felt within Mr. Obama’s administration and among his own advisers, most noticeably in the influence that some advisers had in leading to the intervention in Libya.

Going beyond the establishment and to the general American public, most of that public simply does not subscribe to the realist perspective. Most of the American public oversimplifies foreign policy problems, has an exceptionalist faith in the American ability to solve the world’s problems, sticks to traditional views of friends and foes, and does not delve into the intricacies of geopolitics.

Most Americans also think much more in terms of why we can’t get certain sets of bastards than in terms of Hobbesian interpretations of social order, and would quickly tune out any explanation that sounds like the latter. And most Americans are swayed more by emotion-rousing rhetoric than by careful, cool-headed analysis.

Given these attributes of the public mindset, there always will be opposition politicians eager and able to exploit that mindset to score political points and gain political office, and to frustrate the efforts of those who think differently. That is a political reality that even the most diligent and cool-headed realist must contend with.

Any president, even in a second term, must constantly worry about how what he or she does on any one issue will affect the president’s influence and ability to get things done on other issues. This means compromises inevitably are made. It also means the president must pick which battles to fight and which not to fight. In that respect a realist president’s perspective in dealing with conflict in Washington must parallel the perspective applied to conflicts abroad.

The president does, of course, have the ability to use the prominence and prestige of the office to try to educate the public and to change the public mindset. One is entitled to ask why, as we read the wisdom that President Obama dispenses in his conversations with Goldberg, we haven’t been receiving more of a steady diet of such wisdom, featuring as much candor and directness, in a series of presidential statements from Mr. Obama’s first days in office.

Part of the answer lies with this particular president’s strengths and weaknesses and comfort levels; he acknowledged to Goldberg that “there are times when I have not been attentive enough to feelings and emotions and politics in communicating what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.” Part of the answer concerns the political necessity of doing the sail-trimming, compromising, and battle-picking to cope with conflict in Washington.

Also pertinent is that the persuasive potential of even a communication-skilled president is less than sometimes assumed to be, and probably less today than it has been in the past. Particularly given the reach and variety of modern mass media, today’s president has a harder time commanding attention than Theodore Roosevelt with his bully pulpit or Franklin Roosevelt with his fireside chats.

For FDR’s listeners, huddled around the radio in the parlor or the kitchen, the President’s words were apt to have been about the only thing relevant to public affairs that they heard that evening, despite some competition at other times from communicators with a following such as Father Coughlin. For many listeners and viewers today, a presidential speech may not claim much more of their consciousness than a commentator on Fox News.

The Goldberg interviews reveal a president who, certainly for anyone with a realist perspective, is a wise steward of U.S. foreign policy — wiser than the American political system and political milieu will ever allow him to get credit for.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

16 comments for “Obama, the Hesitant ‘Realist’

  1. March 14, 2016 at 18:51

    Seven years ago, President Barack Obama ditched the coalition of working-class, anti-war voters who had elected him, stuffed his administration with neoconservative ideologues from the previous Clinton and Bush administrations, and started playing golf with the Wall Street plutocrats who had wrecked the U.S. economy and mired the United States in several middle-eastern imperial quagmires. In his own solipsistic mind this may have made him a “realist,” but hesitating to do stupid stuff before doing it anyway doesn’t make that self-serving supposition a discoverable fact of life. What I wrote about this vain pretender seven years ago holds just as true today and will hold true for his successor as well. America’s puppet presidents have so little of value to offer their own counry and the world. Just another tedious, ceremonial rendition of:

    Changing Commanders in Brief

    The last guy-in-charge said, “Go shopping.”
    This war, he said, wouldn’t last long;
    Our victims, he swore, would repay us
    For plundering them for a song.

    In six months, at most, we’d be winners;
    The enemy vanquished and fled;
    And then, with our mission accomplished,
    We’d leave them to count up their dead.

    Our generals trained for the last war,
    Their learning-curve zero or less.
    In six years they’ll figure out something;
    Just what, will be anyone’s guess.

    They had them a “surge” in their payments
    To “enemies” placed on the dole
    So they wouldn’t shoot us so often
    Because of their land that we stole.

    The new guy took over, saluting,
    A race that had already run
    Its course, ‘cause the bungler before him
    Had exploited all of the fun.

    The new guy got rolled up like sushi.
    He blew his chance early to leave.
    More “surging” has just raised the death count.
    What next does he have up his sleeve?

    It sounded so good while campaigning:
    One little “good” war for one bad;
    Except that the Afghans hate bombings
    As much as Vietnamese had.

    Our generals, though, won’t admit it:
    They’ve taken eight years to do what?
    Yet somehow they think we’ll applaud them
    For not knowing doodley-squat.

    They say they need more stuff and faster
    Yet won’t explain what they would do
    Except to extend their disaster
    By breeding more pooches to screw.

    In common-sense language, the answer
    Replies to their “more, more, more” rant:
    “You would have, of course, if you could have;
    You didn’t, therefore, so you can’t.”

    The new guy Obama, like Dubya,
    Thinks playing Commander-in-Brief
    Means mission-creep “more” and saluting
    The Pentagram treasury thief.

    “A trillion a year?” Oh, who’s counting?
    “And all for what?” Don’t be a bore.
    “And who will pay?” No one, we promise.
    It’s what we call slush-funded “war.”

    Obama won’t ask the right question,
    To wit: “What on earth have we ‘won’?”
    Like Pharaoh, he thinks he can dictate:
    “So let it be written, then done.”

    He cried: “Yes, we can!” while campaigning,
    This slogan he sold and we bought.
    In office, however, he’s changed things:
    Himself. Now he says, “We cannot.”

    Our Wealth Care rules out Single Payer
    Our troops must remain on patrol.
    The votes don’t exist in the Congress
    That Democrats cannot control.

    We gave him majorities, plenty,
    Yet these he seems ready to blow.
    Now Wealth Care and Quagmire have named him:
    Commander of Old Status Quo.

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2009

  2. Willy2
    March 14, 2016 at 11:52

    Gareth Porter:

    – Obama knows that Qatar & Saudi Arabia are responsible for funding the opposition in Syria but he doesn’t want to retalite against both countries. Qatar has a large US military base. If Obama would protest/punish/retaliate against Qatar then Qatar could close that military base. That wouldn’t go down too well with the socalled “US security bureaucracy” and make the US military (much) more hostile towards The White House.

  3. Bubba
    March 14, 2016 at 11:18

    I find the article a lost opportunity.
    Consortium News has published multiple articles (often critized by readers) in which Obama’s willing complicity in what actually happens is downplayed. I therefore find it a missed opportunity for Cons.News not to elaborate or convince critical readers of this earlier expressed believe by producing ample examples (big or small) in which the presidents past actions reflect these newly obtained ‘wisdoms’.

    Talk is cheap. There’s so much evidence this president is just part of the bunch who pushes the agenda of greater powers that opposing information would be very welcome.

    Unfortunately for Obama in the position of president it doesn’t matter what you want but what you accomplish. Willingly supportive would make him an evil man and unwillingly supportive makes him a coward, for prevailing his own carreer/life above his cause.

    The article downplays the reach the president has with speeches, but i believe it was the power of his speeches that brought him to office. Almost everybody remembers his ‘Yes I can’. So if he’s trully commited to change alot can happen.

    He never executed the incredible power of really bringing the truth to the people. He always operated elitair. Sure it’s dangerous for himself to include the common people but many current factors play in his favour. The end of term is in sight, current power structures are in heavy corrosion, the public is awakening and in the day and age of internet information travels faster then ever. During these unstable times elimination would nleash uncontrolable dynamics with unforeseeable consequences.
    For a nation thats always full of it’s own patriotisme, now would be a good time for it’s leader to put his peoples intrest above its own.

  4. James lake
    March 14, 2016 at 09:45

    Why is anyone reading what this clown has to say. The actions of the govt speak much loader.
    He was just a continuation of the neo – con agenda and has left the world in a mess.
    giving interviews won’t change the evidence we see before our eyes in Europe and Africa and the Middle east.
    The people of the later two are flooding Europe. But hey, the U.S. has the Atlantic between them and the problems they caused.

  5. a.z
    March 14, 2016 at 06:33

    When obama was fighting for the nomination for the democratic party i listened to one of his televised speeches and looked to my father and said this guy is gonna bury laden in his cave in the pakafghan border. (i was wrong-laden was killed in a house not in a cave and buried at sea). every foreign policy decision obama took was perfect except lybia (obama was the top guy so even if it was a clinton op the ultimate responsibility lies with obama).
    If someone looks at the Syria project undertake by the obama administration in a souless manner it will make perfect logical sence
    Obama with his approach brought entire latin America back under us control which bush the retard almost lost because of his actions.
    Even ukraine makes sense. usa influence would not have advanced so close to russia if they would have honored the oral agreement with gorbachev but obama let the on the ground operators do their thing until russia started its own counter and then just played the game perfectly by coloring russia as the bad guy and solidifying its presence in the other eastern european countries by showing the russian bogeyman while not involving itself in ukrain directly where geography and the demography and the reward considering the challenge of russia just does not makes it worthwhile to invest us resource directly.
    egypt project was also very successfully done. the early support for the protest was given so not to have the people identify the client state of mubarak with usa and something like iran does not happen and the entire state is washed away but remains intact and when the brotherhood took over obama administration stood by or was even involved with machinations with its other arab clients and the remnants of the regime while they undermined the democratically elected government and divided the revolutionaries leading to military takeover and everything was as it should by (well some odd bombing by isis is the aftereffect but can be accepted in the grand scheme of things).

    • Wait, what?
      March 14, 2016 at 14:01

      Yeah, sure, Obama has been a real genius… if you assume that the entire rest of the world is nothing but a resource there for the taking by American interests, irrespective of the desires or well-being of the natives being effected by our “control.” I wouldn’t consider anything you’ve described as beneficial to these other countries that we’ve managed to bully back into our sphere of influence. Cheap gasoline along the interstate does not justify the suffering we’ve caused around the world.

  6. Brad Owen
    March 14, 2016 at 04:41

    I can believe that the Prez was completely over-ruled by “something” on the first day of taking office. I can believe that the lesson of JFK/RFK/MLK is enough to make a Prez fall in line with the “Something” that is doing the over-ruling. I can believe this “Something” has completely gotten to Hillary, even before taking office. It would be more realistic for these analysts to discuss this “Something” in the shadows, with the citizens who gather here at this website. The policy-to-be-implemented is simple: Promote the General Welfare, Establish Justice, Provide for Defense of The Republic. Why is that never implemented? What is the “Something” that always derails the Prime Policy?

    • LJ
      March 15, 2016 at 14:38

      The Politics of Divide and Conquer and Class warfare. The role of Government in any society is to perpetuate the interests of the ruling class. How the Democrats could be the Party of Free Trade Pacts says it all. They abandoned their core constituency, Labor for Finance long ago and the only soul that the Party has left has a For Sale sign on it. . This is the lesson of the Sanders phenomenon. Free Tuition? How. Let’s feel good about being poor. But it’s never enough.

  7. Joe Tedesky
    March 14, 2016 at 01:01

    I’ve said this before, when President Obama retires from office, I would only look forward to his version of what so maddening went wrong with that Hope & Change thing. Why, did you let Sarah have this last laugh, we had to win that one just to say with pride how we voted for you….we always believed. To continue Obama should tell us why he picked that god awful screwy cabinet. Rahman Emanuel, Hillary Clinton, Geithner, Gates, and then he let Van Jones go….because Beck said he was a 9/11 truther. Obama should tell is now how much of his soul he had to sell to assemble such a business as usual Team of Rivals. Seriouosly Larry Summers, really????
    Leaving Honduras and Libya to Hillary was nothing short of a war crime. Let’s hope he has a good explanation for some of this stuff. I would hope that Retired President Obama would tell us what kept him away from firing (Maidon Cooky Lady) Victoria Nuland. Among many other things I would like to read of his beholding to Wall Street interest so much so that when it came to the Corporate Welfare Bailouts, and to his constant urge to push these so called competitive trade deals like TTP & TTIP, that’s when I saw Obama at his strangest. Will he pull the curtain back enough to see that it’s not all about being a decision maker, as much as it is about being a darn good orator, a good company man, with a friendly handsome smile. The Goldberg interview sounds like the launching of Obama 3.0. Let’s hope once he’s out of office that he will write on Internet comment boards, and let’s hope that he visits this site, for sure. We could all gang up together and deNeocon him!

  8. Wait, what?
    March 14, 2016 at 00:52

    He admired H.W.’s foreign policy? Assisting both Iran and Iraq to nearly annihilate one another was admirable? Suckering Saddam into Kuwait with the April Glaspie declaration, so that it could later be decimated by America’s war machine, was admirable? One debacle by the father that set up a following debacle by the son eight years later was admirable? No wonder Obama has been such a war monger.

    Moreover, If Obama thinks “that Ukraine involves core Russian interests but not core American ones, and therefore Russia will always have escalatory dominance there,” why has he repeatedly gone to the mat trying to force Russia to capitulate to American Will by instituting economic sanctions, repeatedly escalating them, arming Ukraine, training their military, encouraging armed conflict in the Donbass, obstructing the implementation of the Minsk 2 Accords by micromanipulating Poroshenko in a thousand different ways, recruiting numerous foreigners to key positions in Poroshenko’s government (as though competent Ukrainians simply do not exist), quadrupling NATO troop strength all along the Russian frontier, conducting NATO war games throughout Eastern Europe, and commissioning his mouthpieces including General Breedlove, John Kerry, Joe Biden, Victoria Nuland and John McCain to sound alarms throughout the world that Russia is poised to invade Poland, the Baltics and probably Picadilly Circus the day after tomorrow? Sorry, I don’t buy the notion that Russia gets more latitude because it has a bigger stake in Ukraine than does America as a vision held by Obama. More likely in Obama’s mind Russia has no prerogatives whatsoever, anywhere. Not in Ukraine, not in Syria, probably not even in Russia.

    • Joe Tedesky
      March 14, 2016 at 01:50

      Could it be no accident that when it comes to foreign policy that both Clinton & especially Obama mirror the Bush geopolitical map of expense and conquest? This by some people’s name calling standards would be referred to as a Puppet. The CFR and it’s think tanks really do know it’s more about what face it takes to sell any or all of their devilish short gain profit policies to go out and conquer the world with their heavy boot. That’s why Ronny was such a great find. He just was, they now name airports and things after him. Slick Willie could talk about anything, and he would still be entertaining enough to sit in on one Obam’s press conferences. I mean how often does that happen? Obama on a bad day is better than most among his political station on a good day, as even Hillary once admitted, ‘he’s a good talker’. What I would like to know in realtime is who owns these people…now, that is the question. Nice post Wait, what.

  9. March 13, 2016 at 20:13

    From “Hope” and “Change” to despair and the status quo. And with a Nobel Peace Prize for Endless War, too. What some see as “wisdom” — meaning “hesitating to do stupid stuff before doing it anyway” — this Vietnam veteran has always seen as:

    Congenital Stockholm Syndrome

    He started by giving up quickly,
    Surrendering early his case.
    He offered to kiss their asses.
    Replying, they pissed in his face.

    Their urine, he thought, tasted strangely;
    Yet not at all bad to his taste.
    He’d gotten so used to it, plainly.
    Why let such a drink go to waste?

    The people who voted in favor
    Of him and his promise of “change”
    Now see in his many betrayals
    A poodle afflicted with mange.

    Each time that the surly and crazy
    Republicans out for his skin
    Condemn him for living and breathing,
    He graciously helps them to win.

    He’ll turn on his base in an instant
    With threats and disdain and neglect
    While bombing some Muslims so Cheney
    Might thrill to the lives that he’s wrecked.

    A black man in love with apartheid
    He offers his stalwart support
    To Zionists and their extortion
    With “More, please!” his only retort.

    A masochist begging for beatings
    Obama takes joy in abuse
    Receiving just what he has asked for
    Which makes him of no earthly use

    The little brown men that he’s murdered
    In homes far away from our land
    Bring profits obscene to his backers
    Who give him the back of their hand.

    Obama seeks praise from the vicious
    Republicans, no matter what.
    He suffers, apparently, nothing
    So much as his need to kiss butt.

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2011

  10. Bob Van Noy
    March 13, 2016 at 18:01

    “The Goldberg interviews reveal a president who, certainly for anyone with a realist perspective, is a wise steward of U.S. foreign policy — wiser than the American political system and political milieu will ever allow him to get credit for.” Paul R. Pillar

    I agree with the above statement Paul Pillar, and when I read the link to the Atlantic article provided by Robert Parry I noted this from the President:

    “I’m very proud of this moment,” he told me. “The overwhelming weight of conventional wisdom and the machinery of our national-security apparatus had gone fairly far. The perception was that my credibility was at stake, that America’s credibility was at stake. And so for me to press the pause button at that moment, I knew, would cost me politically. And the fact that I was able to pull back from the immediate pressures and think through in my own mind what was in America’s interest, not only with respect to Syria but also with respect to our democracy, was as tough a decision as I’ve made—and I believe ultimately it was the right decision to make.”

    Impressive, I thought, and then I thought, where has that mind been until now, and it doesn’ sound to me like the kind of thinking behind United States foreign policy during the President’s term up to this point, or as you say: “why, as we read the wisdom that President Obama dispenses in his conversations with Goldberg, we haven’t been receiving more of a steady diet of such wisdom, featuring as much candor and directness, in a series of presidential statements from Mr. Obama’s first days in office.” Wow,that is the question, isn’t it…

  11. Tristan
    March 13, 2016 at 17:48

    “…in the President’s words, “is that you care so much that you want to get it right and you’re not going to indulge in either impetuous or, in some cases, manufactured responses that make good sound bites but don’t produce results. The stakes are too high to play those games.””

    Really? Could we be such fools as to think that President Obama will act in accordance with his words? Consistently Pres. Obama has expressed certain high standards, ideals, which in his speeches and other communications are most often consigned to something to be aspired to. Here too it is the case. Should one, in the context of this interview, even begin to think that the Obama regime would alter its aggressive and militaristic approach to foreign policy? A policy which by clear example is not guided by the quote above. The answer has to be a resounding no.

    I can’t and won’t drink from the kool-ade.

  12. LJ
    March 13, 2016 at 17:16

    The guy is drunk on his own ego and power. His Presidency has been ineffectual domestically and consistently aggressive and outside of International Law . He restarted the Cold War for God’s sake. What more need be said? Realist my ass. That picture with him and Putin when this whole thing went viral sitting on their chairs like little schoolboys “thinking” should be his Presidential portrait. paint on his smile and the big teeth post facto.. Someday, ‘Failure with lasting malignant presence’ should be his epitaph

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