In a piece from this week’s Newsweek, Niall Ferguson, the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University and William Ziegler Professor at Harvard Business School, totally destroys the fallacy on going that the Obama Administration’s policy toward Egypt during this recent crisis was purely successful. He writes:
This failure was not the result of bad luck. It was the predictable consequence of the Obama administration’s lack of any kind of coherent grand strategy, a deficit about which more than a few veterans of U.S. foreign policy making have long worried. The president himself is not wholly to blame. Although cosmopolitan by both birth and upbringing, Obama was an unusually parochial politician prior to his election, judging by his scant public pronouncements on foreign-policy issues.
Yet no president can be expected to be omniscient. That is what advisers are for. The real responsibility for the current strategic vacuum lies not with Obama himself, but with the National Security Council, and in particular with the man who ran it until last October: retired Gen. James L. Jones. I suspected at the time of his appointment that General Jones was a poor choice. A big, bluff Marine, he once astonished me by recommending that Turkish troops might lend the United States support in Iraq. He seemed mildly surprised when I suggested the Iraqis might resent such a reminder of centuries of Ottoman Turkish rule.
You want to see Ferguson destroy Obama’s world vision, in Egypt as well as elsewhere? Watch his piece on Morning Joe on Monday morning [Video now embedded below]. He systematically annihilates the media argument that Obama handled this well on any level. Ferguson, who was no fan of George W. Bush either, made the almost criminal accusation that Obama’s foreign policy could end up worse than his predecessor.
Maybe the most insightful part of the piece is the view of foreign leaders regarding Obama’s handling of the matter. If you read here and elsewhere, what you see is that among both allies and enemies, the universal thought around the globe is that the Obama Administration’s handling of the situation was more luck than skill, and their overall strategy was amateurish at best, and incompetent at worst.
Ferguson leaves us with a couple thoughts, that echo some of my earlier comments. First, we are left with a military junta in Egypt, which one hopes will keep their promises of democratic reform.
Second, Ferguson shows us that Obama’s stance of today is simply not realistic. He pulls a quote from Obama’s Cairo speech of 2009: “America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles—principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.” Ferguson points out that if Obama is going to depend on the principles of slamic justice and progress, we may be in serious trouble, in Egypt and elsewhere.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, the history of such revolutions is that violence does erupt, in one manner or another; so although last week was a net positive, this will be a multi-year process, and only at the end of it will we know if this was truly a success. Obama’s ability to focus on a ‘Grand Strategy’, as Ferguson puts it, may ultimately help decide which fate is in store for us.