Les Gelb Asks If There is Substance Behind Obama’s Style


Council on Foreign Relations President Emeritus Leslie Gelb has an interesting article over at the Daily Beast that is highly critical of the Obama administration’s decision to accept Georgia’s offer to send 750 soldiers to Afghanistan.
Gelb makes a persuasive argument that this decision is unlikely to have any appreciable consequences for our war against the Taliban, but will surely anger Moscow and complicate our efforts to get relations on a better track. He says

It’s hard to predict how irksome this issue will become in Russian-American relations. It might derail serious conversation for a long stretch. At a minimum, it will delay critical cooperation on Iran. But what’s truly troubling about this story is what it reveals, once again, about President Obama’s misunderstanding of strategy and priorities, or at the very least, his lack of appreciation for exactly what it takes to accomplish big priorities. To reset relations with Russia requires a host of key decisions, and it’s not clear that all or most of them have been made. First of all, Obama has to have a new overall U.S. strategy. What exactly does Obama want from Moscow and what will he give in return? What’s the bargaining sequence, or does he want to try for an overall deal? Does he want to wait to push Tehran until he lines up Moscow, or go ahead this fall without the Russians? The whole process will take a lot of high-level meetings. Who will take the lead–the president himself, Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton? And of course, Obama has to set in motion a palatable explanation for how this approach will affect the security of Georgia and Ukraine.

More broadly, Gelb makes an implicit point about the dangerous consequences that the Afghan war might have for Obama’s presidency.
The Afghan war has the potential to distract the Obama administration from the larger strategic issues of the day in a way that is analogous to Bush’s war in Iraq. Just as Iraq opened doors for Iran and aggravated fissures with our European allies, the war in Afghanistan has the potential to raise serious questions about the NATO alliance while complicating our relationships with China, Russia, and Europe.
Those wondering why we are in Afghanistan and what our exit strategy is will not be heartened by Gilles Dorronsoro’s op-ed in today’s Financial Times.
— Ben Katcher


22 comments on “Les Gelb Asks If There is Substance Behind Obama’s Style

  1. arthurdecco says:

    I’m in southern Ontario, near Toronto, Kathleen, but have been known to travel. (wink) just not to the United States of America any longer.
    I hafta say – I miss the people and the landscape immensely.


  2. Kathleen Grasso Andersen says:

    arthurdeccoooo. where in Canada are you??? Teaparty time…it might have to be virtual…I agree about nuking not being humorous even though i know it was meant in thqat vein.


  3. arthurdecco says:

    To Kathleen: We have to do Tea! (I’ll bring my fascinating wife and a rare single malt.)
    Unfortunately, Tea will have to take place out of your country. lmao!
    To Outraged American: I pay attention to what you post whether I agree with you or not because you’re passionate, apparently well-informed and bright. But you need to lose the flippant, vacuous cracks about nuking Canada. Or anyone else. Now.
    Nuking people isn’t funny.
    …besides, nuking-as-humor entering the lexicon of America just now would be calamitous.


  4. Kathleen Grasso Andersen says:

    P.S.arthurdecoooo…this article is all about the style vs. substance debate…good piece except for the “mafia” reference..you know my sore spot on that one. http://www.alternet.org/healthwellness/142120/the_health_insurance_racket_is_manufacturing_entertainment_value_of_snuffing_out_grandma/?page=entire


  5. Kathleen Grasso Andersen says:

    arthurdeccoooo…you’re too hard on yourself…I always enjoy reading what you say. Thanks for the compliments…I did have an alternative school for a while and did teach kids how to write…very elementallly, though…first we had to overcome their entrenched belief that they couldn’t write, so I had them keep a dream journal and we read Jung’s Man and His Symbls together…they learned how to tell a story and express their feelings…it was more fun than work in the end.


  6. Outraged American says:

    OMG why are there so many denizens of Canuckistan posting on
    here? BAN THEM STEVE!!!
    The only people incapable of commenting on US foreign policy
    should be USAns themselves!
    I say we nuke Canada just for fun.
    The pure horror of Hiroshima


  7. arthurdecco says:

    What I should have posted instead of the incoherent, dim-witted gibberish I actually submitted earlier:
    The question was: “Les Gelb Asks If There is Substance Behind Obama’s Style”.
    After watching Obama wave his charming-lite way around the world in front of adoring audiences for the past 9 months while his administration has continued on the same battered, shattered, discredited corporatist/Zionist path forged by the previous village idiot’s, I’ve come to the conclusion that the answer to Les Gelb’s question is “No”.
    Emphatically NO!
    And Katherine, as usual you addressed the only real contribution I made in my original pile of poo with your usual aplomb and grace while ignoring the embarrassing idiocies that made up the bulk of my submission. You really should patent that technique you know, start a school and make yourself a few million bucks. (smile)


  8. Kathleen Grasso Andersen says:

    Arthurdeccooooo. thanks for putting the words out there…I had a little fun with them…I agree with your answer to Les Gelb’s question on the existence of substance in Asmerican politics/govt…NO…it’s all style…packaging, sloganeering, posing, pumping, humping and going through some market tested motions….
    SamuelBurke posted a link to a great John Pilger piece…The Manchurian Corporate Candidate…I love the title…it says it alll. Anyone here ever read Ralph Nader’s book Corporate Lawyer That was substance. He showed you right where the beef was.


  9. arthurdecco says:

    I am certainly not an advocate for John Edwards, Kathleen. How could I be? I’m not even an American. I threw his words out there to provoke some discussion about the subject under discussion.
    As an American, perhaps you can tell why $400 haircuts are still more newsworthy than Edwards’ statement, “All the big ideas in the world won’t make a difference if they have to go through this broken system that remains controlled by big business and their lobbyists.” I do remember it being said over and over again that George Bush was elected President because he was a regular guy you could be comfortable having a beer with…
    We Canadians can be as smug and self-satisfied in our views of ourselves as the next bunch, but geezzz!!! Gimmee a break with that kind of nonsense. We still elect our politicians in Canada because we think they can do the job, not because we want them to be our drinking buddy.
    The hed on this essay was: “Les Gelb Asks If There is Substance Behind Obama’s Style”
    The only point I was trying to make is that there are qualified Americans who have a much deeper appreciation of the difficulties your country finds itself facing than the Velveeta man who was selected to be your President by the powers-that-be who are continuing to devour it much like rapacious Komodo Dragons.
    And frankly, after watching Obama wave his charming-lite way around the world for the past 9 months while his administration has continued on the same battered, shattered, discredited corporatist/Zionist path forged by the previous village idiot’s, I’ve come to the conclusion that the answer to Les Gelb’s question is “No”.
    Emphatically and resoundingly NO!


  10. Kathleen Grasso Andersen says:

    arthurdeccooo..I don’t know…Edwards made a major bundle hedgefunding…that $400 haircut was killer…he should have gone to the “other America” and had a SuperCut…might have been a dorky look, but great publicity….Who advised Edwards to hire a videographer because after the designer doo. we had primping footage….
    Then baby made threeeee for Eddie and Meeeeee.
    He didn’t live at “C’ Street, so it’s not okay.


  11. arthurdecco says:

    “At least Obama is able to deliver some brilliant speeches from his prison cell.” Paul Norheim
    What’s wrong with the prose delivered by John Edwards in the excerpt I used above?!? John Edwards seems as capable of reading the speeches delivered by Barak Obama as effectively as anyone and with probably more honest conviction than President Obama.
    Have you forgotten John Edwards became a multimillionaire by winning complex LEGAL CASES against the very corporations now dismantling democracy throughout the western world, NOT by writing a book endlessly promoted by the entertainment business we mistakenly have labeled “NEWS” that will be forgotten by next year if it hasn’t been already? This is one smart cookie.
    I have a sneaking suspicion the presidency would not have remained a “prison cell” for Mr. Edwards for long.


  12. Paul Norheim says:

    Structurally, Edwards would still be a prisoner of
    the forces he mentioned. At least Obama is able to
    deliver some brilliant speeches from his prison


  13. arthurdecco says:

    “…it’s time for the American people to take responsibility for our government — for in our democracy it is truly ours. If we have come to mistrust and question it, it is because we were not vigilant against the forces that have taken it from us. That their game has played on for so long is the fault of each of us — ending the game and returning government of the people to the people is the responsibility of all of us.
    But cleaning up Washington isn’t enough. If we are going to meet the challenges we face and prevail over them, two principles must guide us — yes, we must end the Washington game, but we must also think as big as the challenges we face.
    Our ideas must be bold enough to succeed and our government must be free to enact them without compromising principle or sacrificing results.
    One without the other isn’t good enough.
    All the big ideas in the world won’t make a difference if they have to go through this broken system that remains controlled by big business and their lobbyists. And if we fix the system, but aren’t honest with the American people about the scope of our challenges and what’s required of each of us to meet them, then we’ll be left with the baby steps and incremental measures that are Washington’s poor excuse for progress.” John Edwards
    If John Edwards was your President today instead of Barak Obama, who is only the latest in a string of proverbial puppets to Finance, Pharma and Big Business that you’ve been saddled with, would things be any different I wonder?


  14. Dan Kervick says:

    Amazingly, Obama was just complaining yesterday about “a defense establishment that has yet to fully adapt to the post-Cold War world.”
    Yet, the effort to peel Georgia away from the Warsaw Pact continues apace.


  15. ... says:

    dan, bushastan was bushs idea but obamastylastan has continued on with basically the same agenda… sorostan doesn’t have a nice ring to it…


  16. Dan Kervick says:

    Maybe George Soros could just buy Afghanistan and fix it. The new nation of Sorostan would provide an excellent vantage point from which to continue the fight to liberate Hungary from the Soviets.


  17. ... says:

    military cartels don’t want to have “”great”” relations with other military cartels…


  18. Bart says:

    Katherine: Who will be the last trooper to die for this hideous Whack-a-Mole war?


  19. Ben Katcher says:

    Thanks for your comment.
    RE: “Serious Questions: – If we are still in Afghanistan in five, ten, fifteen years, it is likely that more and more of our NATO partners are going to bail on us. What happens next time that we tell NATO countries that they have to contribute troops and resources to the next conflict? It will be politically much more difficult for European countries to generate domestic support.
    As far as complications in our relations with Russia, China, and Europe: The case of Georgian troops is a perfect example. This is going to provide limited value to our effort in Afghanistan, but have negative consequences for the Russians. Therefore, by prioritizing the war in Afghanistan, we are making a serious error in our priorities.
    Hope this helps clarify. Thanks again for posting.


  20. jonst says:

    Katherine, how many American/Allied lives do you think it worth to keep what you call the Taliban out of power? And whatever your answer to that question do you automatically think that keeping allied units in country is the best way to keep what you call the Taliban out of power? Might it not be the way most likely to bring them back to power. No, I think you think that is so, rhetorical question really. It is not in the security interests of the US to keep the Taliban out, or in, power. It is in the interests of the US to see that Afghanistan is not used as a launching pad for assaults on US interests/lives. I think, while no way is full proof, there are much better ways of achieving that then putting American/allied troops on the ground. At this time, and in this place. And at this moment, domestically.
    But I think your point, and wig-wag’s way of more ground war, is the predominate view in DC. And, i suspect, the ONLY view the President is getting. There is no George Ball around, at present. That may change in none too distant future.


  21. WigWag says:

    I agree with Katherine ( Aug 18 2009, 12:35PM) in her comment about Afghanistan. But Les Gelb is precisely right about Obama’s policy towards Russia; so far it is incomprehensible.
    Will Georgian troops in Afghanistan make a difference? Did the Obama Administration even consider whether Russia would consider this provocative?
    Is the Obama Administration willing to sacrifice anything at all to secure Russian cooperation in the large number of areas where their cooperation could have a real impact?
    So far, it looks like the Obama Administration’s attitude towards Russia is very similar to the attitude the Bush Administration had. The only difference appears to be that Obama smiles and purrs while he hits the Russians over the head with a stick instead of scowling.
    Obama needs to make some hard choices. Which is more important, continuing to placate the Bosnian Muslims or getting Russian cooperation on Afghanistan? Continuing to placate the Kosovars or getting Russian cooperation on Iran? Continuing to place an ineffective missile system in central and Eastern Europe or securing Russian cooperation on North Korea?
    Support of the Ukrainians and the Georgians has a moral element as well as a strategic element. At some point Obama is going to need to figure out how to balance these competing agendas.
    It is beginning to look more and more like the critics of the Obama Administration are right. Rahm Emmanuel’s program of tackling everything at once (see the article about this in the New York Times this past Sunday) is resulting in just about everything being handled incompetently.
    It’s time for a reset. It may be time for Obama to develop a clear set of priorities, both foreign and domestic.


  22. Katherine says:

    Ben, to call Afghanistan Obama’s Iraq ignores the fact that Afghanistan IS a “large strategic issue of the day.” The Taliban and al Qaeda are regrouped on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. We have some 100,000 American soldiers on the ground there (some as part of the NATO mission). Obama has made Afghanistan his focal foreign policy endeavor.
    Just because the country doesn’t belong to the myriad of clubs that China, Russia, and Europe have created for themselves doesn’t mean we can chalk it up as a tactical distraction. It’s part of a larger strategic framework, and China, Russia, and Europe all have an interest in not having Taliban militants revitalized from the badlands of the border. Don’t you think?
    Furthermore, the difference in cost between the Afghan effort, which until recently has been underfunded in the extreme, and the war in Iraq is enormous. It really hasn’t cost that much, relatively, to beef up our efforts in Afghanistan, and NATO countries are making encouraging noises about sending more troops as well. So it’s not just a U.S. project, as the Iraq war was.
    Another thing, I’d like to see some more details behind posts like this than just “raise serious questions”–what serious questions? What kind of complications for our relationships with China, Russia, Europe? Looking forward to reading more on these things.


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