Part of Vali Nasr’s critique of Obama’s foreign policy focuses on the diplomacy/defense dynamic–but also machinations inside the White House:
Richard Holbrooke had negotiated an end to the Bosnian war and was one of the most experienced, forceful diplomats of his generation. He was restless, often distracted, and self- centered—certainly not everyone’s cup of tea—but he could equally be engaged, brilliant, curious, and unconventional, the rare diplomat who aspired to turn geopolitical tides by force of will. Petraeus, however, referred to Holbrooke as his “wingman,” a transparent bit of condescension Obama allowed to stand, apparently because Holbrooke’s self-dramatizing irritated him. Obama lacked the conviction either to back Holbrooke’s diplomacy or to fire him—another half-measure. Therefore, the Pentagon’s commanders and paramilitaries at the CIA took over Obama’s Afghan strategy and squeezed Holbrooke’s team, or forced them into subordinated roles. “This imbalance at the heart of American foreign policy was Obama’s to fix,” Nasr writes. But the president did not.
And in another review, we are reminded of the need for humility:
Americans cannot seem accept that we cannot solve all the world’s problems, and that when we do try, the foreign policy apparatus of our messy, cacophonous democracy almost always turns up sub-optimal performances. Yet, we keep telling ourselves that if we just try a little bit harder for a little bit longer we can find the better war, or the better diplomatic intervention. The reality never seems to live up to the easy, compelling prose. America still wants to live by John F. Kennedy’s exhortation to “pay any price, bear any burden… in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” We have forgotten, though, that he changed his tone after less than a year as president: “We must face the fact that the United States is neither omnipotent or omniscient—that we are only 6 percent of the world’s population—that we cannot impose our will upon the other 94 percent of mankind—that we cannot right every wrong or reverse each adversity—and that therefore there cannot be an American solution to every world problem.”