The inside story of how the White House let diplomacy fail in Afghanistan
But my time in the Obama administration turned out to be a deeply disillusioning experience. The truth is that his administration made it extremely difficult for its own foreign-policy experts to be heard. Both Clinton and Holbrooke, two incredibly dedicated and talented people, had to fight to have their voices count on major foreign-policy initiatives.
Holbrooke never succeeded. Clinton did — but it was often a battle. It usually happened only when it finally became clear to a White House that jealously guarded all foreign policymaking — and then relied heavily on the military and intelligence agencies to guide its decisions — that these agencies’ solutions were no substitute for the type of patient, credible diplomacy that garners the respect and support of allies. Time and again, when things seemed to be falling apart, the administration finally turned to Clinton because it knew she was the only person who could save the situation.
One could argue that in most administrations, an inevitable imbalance exists between the military-intelligence complex, with its offerings of swift, dynamic, camera-ready action, and the foreign-policy establishment, with its seemingly ponderous, deliberative style. But this administration advertised itself as something different. On the campaign trail, Obama repeatedly stressed that he wanted to get things right in the broader Middle East, reversing the damage that had resulted from the previous administration’s reliance on faulty intelligence and its willingness to apply military solutions to problems it barely understood.
Not only did that not happen, but the president had a truly disturbing habit of funneling major foreign-policy decisions through a small cabal of relatively inexperienced White House advisors whose turf was strictly politics. Their primary concern was how any action in Afghanistan or the Middle East would play on the nightly news, or which talking point it would give the Republicans.