Thursday, August 14, 2014

Two "Must Read" Interviews...Read Them, Don't Just Read About Them (August 14, 2014)

Below are links to two recent articles that I believe are “must reads” with respect to U.S. foreign policy.  Both have received a great deal of attention…but I would bet far more people have read about them than have read the articles (both interviews) themselves.

The first is President Obama’s interview in the New York Times with Thomas Friedman, a wide-ranging discussion in which Obama lays out his thought process on the many complex challenges we face in a world teaming with disasters.

The second is the one that has received the most press, Hillary Clinton’s interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic.  Also wide-ranging, Clinton alternates between defending and praising Obama and yet distancing herself from his policies, often quite bluntly.

Both interviews are encouraging to the extent that both leaders exhibit tremendous depth of knowledge and detailed understanding of the various crises, and are ably to nimbly flit from one to the next with exceptional intelligence and nuance.  One could hardly imagine George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan doing nearly so well “off the cuff,” and their various handlers would never have allowed it.  (George H.W. Bush would have done quite well, however, in such a discussion, as well as every other modern president, with the possible exception of Gerald Ford.)

Clinton’s pointed criticisms of Obama have received the headlines.  Her supporters are correct in saying that the views she articulates are consistent with what she has previously expressed both private and publicly, notably her willingness to arm the Syrian opposition to Assad.  But her detractors feel that she was rather clumsy in her choice of language, and/or coldly calculating in the types of headlines the interview would generate, praise for Obama notwithstanding.

My view is that the interview was ill-timed, for many reasons.  First, Obama is in the midst of managing these many crises real-time, and for Hillary to go on the offensive now is simply wrong, in a manner vaguely similar to Mitt Romney’s post-Benghazi comments.  The fire is too hot and we should be rallying thoughtfully at this time.  Second, politically, criticizing Obama now simply gives fodder to GOP candidates for the mid-terms, who can now rightly say that it is not just FOX or McCain who think Obama is a wimp, it is his own former Secretary of State.  And finally, from her own timing standpoint, Hillary should be playing a very cautious game now as an unannounced candidate, and stirring the pot in this manner does not benefit her at all.  There is ample time for her to strike the right balance between defending the Obama record on issues in which she played a major role, while making clear that her worldview is different and a bit more hawkish.  Starting next spring, for instance, after the mid-terms, and after she announces.

The Obama interview:

The Clinton interview:

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