During the Bush years it was common to hear the neocons described as a “cabal” that sought to direct foreign policy–and often succeeded. Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post used the term, so did former R.I. Senator (and now Governor) Lincoln Chafee. And authors Jacob Heilbrunn and Stephen Sniegoski, too. (Documentation here.)
Well, now Roger Cohen of the New York Times has cited a “cabal” of advisers in the Obama White House that reportedly worked against the change-agent president’s early Israel confrontation strategy of 2009, out of domestic political fears:
“IT is not going too far to say that American foreign policy has become completely subservient to tactical domestic political considerations.”
This stern verdict comes from Vali Nasr, who spent two years working for the Obama administration before becoming dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. In a book called “The Dispensable Nation,” to be published in April, Nasr delivers a devastating portrait of a first-term foreign policy that shunned the tough choices of real diplomacy, often descended into pettiness, and was controlled “by a small cabal of relatively inexperienced White House advisers.”..
Just who is this cabal and what does it want? Here are the two references to those “domestic” political considerations in Cohen’s piece:
Serious negotiation with the Taliban and involving Iran in talks on Afghanistan’s future — bold steps that carried a domestic political price — were shunned….
On Israel-Palestine, as with Iran, Obama began with some fresh ideas only to retreat. He tried to stop Israeli settlement expansion. Then he gave up when the domestic price looked too high. The result has been drift.
“The Dispensable Nation” is a brave book.
I believe these are references (2 out of 3 anyway) to the Israel lobby; though I’m going to have to read Nasr’s book to pad out my theory that the Israel lobby has its advocates in high places. When Cohen and I discussed Obama policy in Doha, Qatar, 4 years ago, we had a difference over how frontal to be about the role of the Israel lobby. I was frontal, Cohen was diplomatic. But he’s also intellectually honest: and he seems to be taking on the pachyderm in the parlor.