Do you believe in omens? Back in the day, 1985 to be more precise, the Sovs were in political, social and economic crisis. A procession of decrepit old men tottered on the scene only to wheeze, cough and expire in rapid order, from Brezhnev, Andropov to the sublimely pathetic Chernenko.
So the scared old men gathered once again to select another Red Tsar. This time, Andrei Gromyko, Foreign Minister and like Mikhail Suslov, a connection to the ‘good old days’ of Stalinist ‘order and discipline’ nominated the objectively very young and inexperienced Mikhail Gorbachev. We know today much of what transpired at these Politburo sessions. Gromkyo told the gerontocracy ‘This man [Gorbachev] has teeth of steel !’. Six years later that man destroyed the Soviet Empire in a series of purposeful, accidental, random, intended and blind stumbling policies.
So today Joltin’ Joe promises us that of course the world sees what we do in the Boy King: a callow and inexperienced
punk youth. But ala Gromyko, Joltin’ Joe tosses off blandishments — the Boy King has ‘a spine of steel’ doncha know.
Lord knows he showed it post Denver. It must take titanium vertebrae to be so passive in the face of unprecedented opportunity. Had the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac/Lehman debacle waited until February 2009 frankly Sarah Palin’s odds of moving into the Old Naval Observatory would be pretty good. It’s actually astounding that it took a financial collapse psychologically akin to 1929 (if not objectively the same) to vault the Democrats into the lead.
As a thought experiment, let’s imagine the “Boy King With Backbone Of Steel” deigns to be carried by events into the Oval Office. Now let’s think about General Jello and the ‘Liberation of Paris’ euphoria over his endorsement within the so-called ‘Foreign Policy Establishment.’
Jello and the Benchpresser lost 2001-2004 for one primary reason they still don’t understand. They have no philosophy of their own other than pragmatism and ‘crisis management’ — think Graham Allison’s almost pornographic worship of the Kennedy Administration’s process during the Cuban Missile Crisis stretched into a bureaucratic, cultural and world view routine. Ad hoc pragmatism always in the end will be vulnerable to a coherent ideology or philosophy simply because one side has a clearly defined agenda, end game and the ability to tack to get there.
Zbig was on Morning Joe with his daughter discussing General Jello and an Obama Administration. (We’ve talked with him about his daughter before — his genuine love and pride at first seem to erupt incongruously from his otherwise carefully cultivated stoicism. So to honor the moment, let’s skip the usual and justified snark about *that* show).
We must with regret disagree with him on the Boy King. There is zero evidence to us that he is in fact ‘made of steel’. Nor is there any evidence that we can see of a coherent, overarching world view and philosophy. No one disputes the Boy King is bright. (So is Sarah Palin. Laurence O’Donnell was thunderstruck this morning after standing with Palin on the SNL stage. He said the entire show was stunned by how sharp she is (and how much more charismatic she is in person)).
In fact, let’s delve into Zbig’s own moment in the sun to see what lessons there might be for today. The Peanut Farmer was bright. He also was untutored on foreign affairs. Many thought they could be the consigliere behind the throne. The Peanut Farmer resisted a dauphin presidency and played the factions off each other. The policy and geopolitical ramifications were disastrous.
Within 4 short years the U.S. lurched from one policy to another. First the Peanut Farmer embraced Warnke and Vance’s attempted (and failed) appeasement of the Soviets. Anyone remember Warnke’s ‘Apes on a Treadmill’? Vance’s disarmament mission to Moscow in 1977 remains an epic flameout in diplomatic annals. The Sovs did not appreciate the ad hoc, the unpredictable and above all disdained weakness.
So as the Sovs moved into Ethiopia, etc. Zbig got to drop his Top 40 Hit, ‘detente was buried in the sands of Ogaden’ The Peanut Farmer waivered and tacked back towards Zbig’s more hard line views. The U.S. hosted the ‘chain smoking Communist dwarf’ (ala Pat Buchanan) Deng Tsaio Ping in 1978. We started other collaboration with China that is still not in the public record. The next year? The Peanut Farmer waivered again, watches Samoza fall and only later the U.S. frantically crawls to its own puppet entity, the Organization of American States, to try and belatedly contain the Sandanistas. Sophomoric confusion and ineptitude.
Should we go on? How about the Shah calling the Peanut Farmer asking Carter what he should do. When the Peanut Farmer hems and haws, the Shah blurts out “It’s your world Mr. President !” You know the rest. There’s no point in even rehashing the whole “I learned more in 3 days than in 3 years” when the Sovs went into Kabul.
So that’s what can happen when a very bright, in control but untutored president *presides* over competing agendas and philosophies. Pragmatism/ad hoc crisis management is in a way its own null philosophy. You didn’t have to be a wing nut in 1980 to have been convinced that another 4 years of the ‘bright’, ‘change-bringing’ Peanut Farmer would have left America on her knees.
Joltin’ Joe’s spinal diagnosis of the Boy King aside, we won’t be holding our breath. Among the many Imperial City truisms to keep in mind? ‘Personnel *is* policy’.