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Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Quiet Americans

Talleyrand, alas, did not get his wish with the American president’s new appointments. No matter. The guiding force of the second Obama administration is Mr. Lugar. If this were any other country, we’d say that Obama-Biden-Kerry-Hagel have mounted a palace coup of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. It’s not the first time—we said it for the first GW Bush administration, which looked to many people like a restoration of the senior branches of the Ford administration, apart from Powell the apostate. 

Events will determine what this team does and how it does it. But for now it’s worth noticing that the old Americans so many of us became accustomed to in foreign policy—the bold brash bullying people like McNamara, Rumsfeld, Kissinger, Baker, Holbrooke—are gone. They created as many problems as they solved, or tried to solve, to be sure. But the world got used to this type. It knew what to expect from it and how to handle it.

Obama and his team are not quiet in the literal sense; they are, on balance, more loquacious than loud. But they are a deliberative lot; self-appointed wise men; cautious often for the sake of being cautious; accustomed to deference; and only half-eloquent. Their egos are no smaller than those of their predecessors. But by their ostensible humility, thoughtfulness and unity, they will sow a great deal of confusion among us. Expect mischief.

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