The Declinists Win

If anyone still doubted that America's foreign policy is in crisis, the appointment Friday of Thomas Donilon to be our new national-security adviser should be final proof.

Set aside the fact that Donilon served as in-house counsel at Fannie Mae, the epicenter of the subprime-mortgage mess and subsequent financial meltdown--something any other administration would see as evidence of less than stellar judgment. Set aside the reports that Defense Secretary Robert Gates had said Donilon's appointment would be a "disaster" or that Donilon fought hard against our military's strategy for winning in Afghanistan--although that seems precisely why Obama now wants him in the White House.

Even set aside the fact that Donilon's mentor is our buffoon-in-chief, Vice President Joe Biden.

The modern role of national-security adviser was created by and for one man, Henry Kissinger.

The fact that such a lightweight now occupies the single most important job for shaping the future of American power, short of the presidency itself, shows that the administration sees national security as a relatively minor priority compared to, say, currying favor with the Muslim world or running down allies like Britain and Israel.

Some background is in order.

The modern role of national-security adviser was created by and for one man, Henry Kissinger. With the blessing of President Richard Nixon, Kissinger used it to circumvent the Pentagon and State Department on the twin impasses that were undermining America's position in the world, Vietnam and China.

Kissinger had the ruthless will but also the superb vision to make it work, first creating the opening to China, which changed the face of Asia but also ensured the Soviet Union's eventual defeat in the Cold War, and then extricating America from Vietnam after securing South Vietnam's military security (a success that an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress, elected in the wake of the Watergate scandal, then undercut and destroyed).

Kissinger crafted a position that requires a person of similar skill and vision and presidential trust. Although even his best successors like Brent Scowcroft and Stephen Hadley never quite measured up to the Kissinger standard, they never forgot that their primary job was to make sure that petty rivalries or small-minded group-think at the Pentagon, State or CIA never be allowed to threaten America's preeminent global position.

In short, the National Security Agency has to be a Gulliver who pulls the president free from the strings and red tape that Lilliputian bureaucrats, ambitious politicians and assorted self-interested policy wonks try to throw over him.

Now, the men from Lilliput have won.

Donilon is the anti-Kissinger, the bureaucrat's bureaucrat. By every account, he measures success by the number of position papers he has read and sees process as important as substance in foreign policy.

He learned this working as chief of staff for the most colorless and ineffectual 20th century secretary of state, Warren Christopher. Formerly No. 2 at State in the Jimmy Carter years, Christopher embodied the Carter mindset of seeing America as an arrogant problem child that needs to be spanked and grounded if the world is to have any peace.

That mindset now rules the Obama White House.

It's why Obama is comfortable with America's steady decline both economically and strategically, why he's pushing for more defense cuts and why he clearly resents having been talked into backing the surge strategy in Afghanistan--a problem he wishes would simply go away.

It's also why he's prepared to hand over deadly challenges like Iran and the War on Terror to a barrage of UN resolutions and Predator drone strikes, while farming out important foreign-policy initiatives to mediocrities like Biden and Sen. John Kerry. Their abject incompetence and incoherence (Biden pushing for partition of Iraq back when the war was going badly, and then denying he ever did; Kerry the former anti-war activist sent to tell the Pakistanis to kill more terrorists or else) only serves to promote Obama's larger agenda of creating a world in which America's interests take a back seat--even as he squanders the power and prestige America has built up since the Reagan years to do it.

Donilon now can facilitate that process. It's a shame. Far better that the position of national-security adviser be left vacant than it pass to the man from Lilliput.

Arthur Herman is a visiting scholar at AEI.

Photo Credit: vgm8383/Flickr/Creative Commons

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Arthur
Herman

What's new on AEI

To secure southern border, US must lead international effort to stabilize Central America
image The Ryan pro-work, anti-poverty plan: Thomas Aquinas 1, Ayn Rand 0
image Does SNAP support work? Yes and no
image Obama Democrats lose their big bet on health exchanges
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 21
    MON
  • 22
    TUE
  • 23
    WED
  • 24
    THU
  • 25
    FRI
Monday, July 21, 2014 | 9:15 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
Closing the gaps in health outcomes: Alternative paths forward

Please join us for a broader exploration of targeted interventions that provide real promise for reducing health disparities, limiting or delaying the onset of chronic health conditions, and improving the performance of the US health care system.

Monday, July 21, 2014 | 4:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Comprehending comprehensive universities

Join us for a panel discussion that seeks to comprehend the comprehensives and to determine the role these schools play in the nation’s college completion agenda.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014 | 8:50 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Who governs the Internet? A conversation on securing the multistakeholder process

Please join AEI’s Center for Internet, Communications, and Technology Policy for a conference to address key steps we can take, as members of the global community, to maintain a free Internet.

Thursday, July 24, 2014 | 9:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.
Expanding opportunity in America: A conversation with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan

Please join us as House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) unveils a new set of policy reforms aimed at reducing poverty and increasing upward mobility throughout America.

Thursday, July 24, 2014 | 6:00 p.m. – 7:15 p.m.
Is it time to end the Export-Import Bank?

We welcome you to join us at AEI as POLITICO’s Ben White moderates a lively debate between Tim Carney, one of the bank’s fiercest critics, and Tony Fratto, one of the agency’s staunchest defenders.

Event Registration is Closed
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled today.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.