Why are we surprised Kerry and Obama can’t handle foreign policy?

J. D. Gordon Former Pentagon Spokesman, George W. Bush Administration
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Imagine hiring PETA’s director to run the cattle industry. Or the EPA administrator placed in charge of oil and natural gas exploration. Would anybody be surprised when things don’t go well?

Yet that’s exactly what’s happened with President Obama, Secretary Kerry, and their top advisers leading the nation.

And why? As former war protesters and anti-war activists, they made careers out of running campaigns to end wars, not to start them. The use of military force to achieve desired outcomes is not something they’re prepared for, and through their many miscues and mixed messages on Syria, it shows.

They surround themselves with like-minded followers and those who are good at simply taking orders.

Though Team Obama hired roughly a dozen retired admirals and generals into the administration, they’ve also brought on an almost equal number of former top Al Qaeda lawyers, speaking volumes about Mr. Obama’s mindset and priorities.

Thus high profile gaffes, ad-libs, and misplaced priorities on enormously important national security issues should come as no surprise.

If Mr. Obama and Mr. Kerry were leading a student forum on a college campus, that would be one thing. But Syria is not an academic exercise, nor a video game. This is high stakes chess with our toughest adversaries — Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah, squarely backed by a resurgent Russia. We must hold our elected leaders accountable for coherent and realistic strategies that advance U.S. national interests. And thus far though the Syrian debacle, we have only seen one embarrassment after another — damaging our credibility along the way.

Having been a spokesman for both the Pentagon and a top tier presidential candidate, my view is that Mr. Kerry & Mr. Obama don’t have a realistic sense of what war and diplomacy entail.

They have shown reckless disregard for the safety of all Americans, with unwise “red line” threats and subsequent promises of “limited military action” against a dictator with deep ties to terror networks. And for something that strains the imagination to say it’s in our national interest. Though undoubtedly horrific, why is killing 1,400 people with chemical weapons significantly worse than 100,000 already killed by rockets, bombs, bullets? As much as Team Obama has touted the U.N. and international community, they’re not buying it either.

Launching a hundred or so Tomahawks and calling it a day is not realistic, as we can expect reprisals from Hezbollah and other Iranian/Syrian proxies, potentially worldwide. When Syria’s ruthless dictator Bashar Al-Assad says we “can expect everything,” I’ll take him at his word.

Recall it took Libya’s similarly ruthless dictator Muammar Qaddafi a full two years to get revenge for the 1986 Tripoli air strikes. We may have forgotten about it, but he sure didn’t — Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up by Libyan agents over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988 killing 270 people. Let’s also remember Hezbollah has carried out major terror attacks in Argentina, Bulgaria, Lebanon and Israel, including on the Marine Barracks bombing in Beirut, which killed 241 U.S. and 58 French service members in 1983.

Though passionate and well-spoken, Obama and Kerry share an ideology rooted in weakness and appeasement, not based on strength and determination. That invites a challenge from those who seek to take America down a few pegs — Iran, Russia, China, etc. as well as non-state actors like the Taliban, Hezbollah, and Al Qaeda.

They might want to start consulting their military commanders a bit more often, Al Qaeda lawyers a bit less, and most importantly, choose their words on national security a little more carefully.

J.D. Gordon is a retired Navy Commander and former Pentagon spokesman who served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense from 2005-2009.  He is a Senior Adviser to several think tanks in Washington, DC.