So hypercompetence is coming back. The bad news is that 2016, the last full year in which this hypercompetent team was in power, was a bit of a nightmare, particularly in the Middle East. The Obama administration had learned the lesson of Iraq, where regime change and nation building had failed. Instead it tried supporting Libyan rebels with weapons but not nation building, and supporting Syrian rebels with neither weapons nor nation building. Both countries devolved into apocalyptic messes. I seem to remember a group called ISIS that would slaughter dozens of innocent civilians at a time, not only in Iraq and Syria but also in places such as Paris and Orlando. Central Europe had to digest a massive refugee flow from Syria and Afghanistan, and the resulting borborygmus upended European politics and enabled a populist wave that has yet to crest.
Blinken and Sullivan negotiated the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran deal. In theory, the Iran deal froze the Iranian nuclear program, in exchange for sanctions relief, cash, and other goodies for Tehran. Stopping Iranian nuclear development is a proper goal, but even the deal’s defenders acknowledged that it guaranteed the survival of an odious regime and did little to constrain its nonnuclear misbehavior across the region. Maybe the deal was worth cutting; nuclear nonproliferation is worth a concession or two. Even if it was, it should have made you wince, and prepare for a tumultuous future of proxy wars. None of the hard-won negotiations with Iran yielded a result as concrete as the diplomatic normalization between Israel and three Arab states, a Trump achievement that Obama wouldn’t have managed in a third term, or possibly even a fourth.