US President Barack Obama walks from Marine One to Air Force One, April 29, 2014.
Photo by Jay Directo/Getty

A ‘teenage temperament’?

Updated
When it comes to public affairs, I’ve always thought President Obama and his team conducted themselves with a fair amount of dignity and grace, but writing in the Wall Street Journal today, Eliot Cohen, a former Bush/Cheney administration official, thinks that’s backwards – he sees a “long string of failures” resulting from, of all things, a “teenage temperament.”
Clues may be found in the president’s selfie with the attractive Danish prime minister at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela in December; in State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki in March cheerily holding up a sign with the Twitter TWTR hashtag #UnitedForUkraine while giving a thumbs up; or Michelle Obama looking glum last week, holding up another Twitter sign: #BringBackOurGirls. […]
 
Often, members of the Obama administration speak and, worse, think and act, like a bunch of teenagers. When officials roll their eyes at Vladimir Putin’s seizure of Crimea with the line that this is “19th-century behavior,” the tone is not that different from a disdainful remark about a hairstyle being “so 1980s.”
In case his point was too subtle, Cohen added that members of the Obama administration will “throw a few taunts … as teenagers will,” act like “self-obsessed teenagers,” and have a “teenage temperament.” (In all, Cohen referenced “teenagers” six times in a nine-paragraph piece. The right’s preoccupation with infantilizing the president, alas, continues.)
 
Just as a general rule, it’s amusing on its face when veterans of the Bush/Cheney administration choose – on purpose and in public – to talk about others’ foreign-policy “failures,” but it’s especially interesting when a member of Team Bush is concerned about presidents and maturity.
 
To be sure, we didn’t see presidential selfies or hashtag activism during the previous administration. Then again, smart phones and Twitter hadn’t yet reached ubiquity until fairly recently, so that’s not much of a standard.
 
What’s more, Cohen seems to believe references Putin and “19th-century behavior” are necessarily teenager-like, for reasons I cannot explain.
 
Cohen prefers “old, adult virtues.” Hmm.
 
I seem to recall a president who interrupted a meeting between three senators and the National Security Advisor to declare, “F**k Saddam. We’re taking him out.” I also remember a president who would give unsolicited backrubs to foreign heads of state. It wasn’t too long ago that Americans had a president who, even during a time of war, relied on schoolyard taunts as a standard form of communication regarding international affairs.
 
And now former members of his team are comfortable whining about President Obama’s maturity? It’s a bit much.
 
The fact remains that international respect for the United States improved once Eliot Cohen’s former boss handed the reins to his Democratic successor. It’s not because the world sees Obama as a self-obsessed teen. In fact, it’s largely the opposite – many on the global stage seem quite relieved the United States has placed power in the hands of a responsible adult with a steady hand.
 
As for the notion that Obama has been plagued with a long string of foreign policy “failures,” I couldn’t help but notice that Cohen’s column seemed a little thin when it came to specifics. It’s a familiar problem for the president’s detractors.
…I still wonder what all these critics want. I don’t mean the Bill Kristols and John McCains of the world. I know what they want: maximum confrontation, maximum bluster, and maximum military intervention. But what about the others? Like Zakaria, they sort of grudgingly recognize that Obama’s actual foreign policy actions have been about as good as they could have been, and yet they’re still unhappy. They want inspiration, dammit! They want the rest of the world to fall immediately into line. They want victory! That’s how it happens in the movies, after all. The president gives a big speech, and everyone swoons.
 
wonder: Has any president in history been so widely criticized for doing everything right but not crowing loudly enough about it?
 

Barack Obama and Foreign Policy

A 'teenage temperament'?

Updated