The eunuchs of Washington

 

Chas Freeman, the man passed over as Obama's intelligence czar, shared his thoughts on the recent appointment of Tom Donilon to replace James Jones as Obama's National Security Advisor. Freeman quoted over at Mondoweiss:

. . . there's a broader issue with the appointment of Tom Donilon, a creature of Congress whose professional formation has taken place entirely within the Washington bubble. Nothing in his background as a lawyer or aide to elected officials and political appointees hints at any skill at strategic thinking, foreign policy formulation, or diplomatic maneuver that is directed at anyone other than domestic constituencies. He gives every sign of faithfully reflecting the political risk aversion, venal deference to campaign contributors, and constipated strategic imagination of the Washington establishment. We Americans have spawned our own version of the eunuchs of old, who flourished inside the walls of the Forbidden City or Topkapi/Dolmabah?e Palace. Their counterparts now practice the arts of the courtier within the Beltway at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. (It is said that Afghanistan has jirgas to make village-level decisions and loya jirgas to decide things at the national level, while Washington now makes decisions in circle jirgas.) Donilon is exhibit A of this archetypal Washington type; his presumed successor, Denis McDonough, is exhibit B.
Note that the principal argument for Donilon and McDonough is not their competence or mastery of the subject matter of national security affairs in its diplomatic, intelligence, and military dimensions, but the trust the president has in them. To me, this underscores that American politics has become entirely self-referential and solipsistic. We have evolved the world's most militarily powerful autistic government. The Obama Administration is practicing non-partisanship by carrying on the foreign policy of its predecessor. Mr. Magoo is still at the helm, as I discovered he was years back. See: "America in the World - Magoo at the Helm" -- , now a chapter in the book Just World Books just brought out, "America's Misadventures in the Middle East." )

Read the whole thing. For dissenting opinions, see Steve Clemons and Helena Cobban (update: also Peter Beinart. I know I'll be getting a copy of Freeman's book (click here to get it from Amazon and send Arabist some baksheesh).

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.