Rather than turn around a feeble performance as commander in chief and rectify a foreign policy that is drawing threats to America ever nearer, President Obama has signaled matters will get even worse as his term lurches into its second half. This is the safe conclusion to draw from the appointment of Tom Donilon as national security advisor.
The recently published book by Bob Woodward, Obama's Wars, paints a revealing portrait of Donilon and the state of mind of the president. Donilon shares not only President Obama's sharp partisanship but also his lack of depth and experience on national security issues.
Many of the most unwise actions from the White House in the last two years bear Donilon's fingerprints. In the debate over Afghanistan war policy, Donilon, like Obama, perceived he was wiser than the professional military on matters large and small, and was deeply suspicious not only of the uniformed military but of Defense Secretary Gates and chief diplomat Hillary Clinton.
In a telling example of incompetence masquerading as high-mindedness, Donilon led the charge in challenging whether it was possible to work with Hamid Karzai. He promoted the insane plan of antagonizing Karzai publicly before he was resoundingly reelected as Afghan President. The move nearly sabotaged the partnership and made the job of improving Afghanistan's governance harder. Despite their self-perceived genius, neither Donilon nor Obama appear to have appreciated that alternatives to Karzai might be worse or unavailable, and that the U.S. seldom has perfect choices in wartime allies.
The Woodward book shows Donilon second guessing whether the military knew what it was doing, whether it knew what it was recommending to the President, and whether it was giving Obama the options he wanted to hear. After a lengthy period of White House dithering on Afghanistan that included taking more than three months to respond to an urgent request for modest additional forces by our field commander, Donilon's grand conclusion was to ponder aloud what the mistrusted national security team had just gotten Obama into.
Throughout the process, he poisoned relations between the White House and the civilian and military leadership at the Pentagon. Relations with field commanders were worse still. Our then-commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, famously made his low impression of Obama and his White House known in a Rolling Stone article that ended his career. We now know he was not alone. According to Woodward, Secretary Gates said that it would be a "disaster" to elevate Donilon to national security advisor. Hold on America.
The result of the Obama-Donilon approach to Afghanistan has been a policy of managed failure resulting from the President's announcement of "off-ramps" for the U.S. commitment, telegraphing the day and date of departure to the enemy. The U.S. is now destined for a showdown next year between the White House and General Petraeus over whether or not to allow the new counterinsurgency strategy time to win. It should be no wonder that Karzai, and other leaders like him in rough neighborhoods, are dusting off contingency plans to cut deals with our enemies if necessary.
Elsewhere matters are worse. Our enemies and adversaries are emboldened by a weak president entranced by the siren of his own voice and inclined still to be apologetic for America and American power. Thus Pakistan can pocket a record amount of U.S. taxpayer largesse and then close its borders to NATO supply conveys heading into Afghanistan, while elements of its intelligence service egg on terrorists against Americans. China's military expansion continues unchecked and Beijing is assiduously expanding what it considers its exclusive provinces of operation in the Pacific.
The President's Iran policy is a complete failure, with no one seriously claiming that there is a plan in place to prevent the regime from going nuclear. At Obama's direction, Iraq has been ignored and is now in its seventh month of a political impasse. Meanwhile, Islamism remains unchecked by a White House that imagines that political correctness and heartfelt apologies for purported American sins will somehow stop the ideological building blocks that lead to terrorism.
Donilon's appointment signals that the bad White House instincts, processes and conceit that led to these disastrous policies will only be indulged further. Rather than being chastened by the number of near-disasters and worsening problems, the President appears to be retreating further into an insular world of his own making. And divisions within his national security team grow wider as perceptions of the President's ability to command diminish.
On Obama's watch, a dangerous world keeps getting more dangerous for America.
Mr. Yates was deputy national security adviser to the U.S. vice president from 2001 to 2005. Mr. Whiton was a State Department official from 2003 to 2009 and served as a deputy special envoy. They are respectively the president and principal of D.C. International Advisory LLC.