“Strategic reticence” is how the Obama administration is characterizing their own approach to the turmoil in the Middle East, according to a background quotation from an administration official featured in David Ignatius’s column at the Washington Post on Sunday.

Ignatius goes on to write:

This is the president as global community organizer—a man who believes that change is inevitable and desirable, and that the United States must align itself with the new forces shaping the world.

Ignatius has nailed it. Obama’s political archetype, the community organizer, is an oxymoronic entity: a strategist without an objective. ‘Perpetual tactician’ might be more accurate: one whose fulfillment comes from maneuvering against the boundaries of the existing order, and who, when those boundaries are breached, waits for someone with more vision—for good or ill—to reset them.

Obama’s greatest service to America may be demonstrating for the people why we should repudiate this political model.

Having a positive concept of the national interest is what produces the element that’s missing from the Obama policy: national initiative. Indeed, President Obama has lacked initiative in the Middle East because he doesn’t perceive that the United States has interests that require exercising it. The media and the American people, conditioned for decades to expect a foreign policy based on initiative and the expression of national interests, have been looking for evidence of it with a growing sense of unease. Nothing has happened since George W. Bush left office to obviate the traditional elements of foreign policy. Our NATO allies in Europe, now flexing their atrophied national interest muscles over the Libya problem, are doing so because someone has to.

In this or any dynamic situation, having a positive objective of one’s own is the difference between reaction and initiative. America does have positive objectives in the tumultuous Middle East: fostering the emergence of genuinely consensual government—a process that requires material protection as well as perfunctory rhetorical endorsement; promoting the security of our allies in the Middle East and Europe; and keeping global tradeways open and secure. We have a preventive objective as well: discouraging the formation and empowerment of radical Islamist states. If Obama were navigating toward these objectives, we would see action and not reaction.

Jennifer E. Dyer retired from a career in Naval intelligence in 2004. She lives in Southern California and blogs at theoptimisticconservative.wordpress.com.

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