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Amateur Hour at the White House

Author: Leslie H. Gelb, President Emeritus and Board Senior Fellow
November 23, 2009
The Daily Beast


President Obama's nine-day trip to Asia is worth a look back to fix two potent problems, past and future. First, the trip's limited value per day of presidential effort suggests a disturbing amateurishness in managing America's power. On top of the inexcusably clumsy review of Afghan policy and the fumbling of Mideast negotiations, the message for Mr. Obama should be clear: He should stare hard at the skills of his foreign-policy team and, more so, at his own dominant role in decision-making. Something is awry somewhere, and he's got to fix it.

Secondly, the Asia trip presented an important opportunity to carve out a new American leadership role in the world's most dynamic economic region, and Mr. Obama missed it. He only scratched the surface in his calls for multilateralism and mutual understanding. He needs to paint pictures of how Washington will help solve regional security and trade problems. Otherwise, most Asian nations will continue their unwanted drift toward China and away from the United States.

A meditation on his journey should start by forgetting half of the last week's commentary. Unbelievably, some criticized Obama for not getting China to "throw its weight around." What Asian leaders want that? None that I know of. Others lamented that Obama couldn't make "demands" on China anymore. The presumption here is that China is now king, and that Washington can no longer have its way with Beijing.


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