The headline writers at The Financial Times worked their dark magic to confect this:
The fallen superpower: US foreign policy from triumph to hubris
Veteran diplomat William Burns details shifts under five presidents in ‘The Back Channel’
Who better than Posh Boy Lionel Barber to write this meditation on the career of William Burns ? His very impressive C.V. is available here:
In the memoir of his diplomatic career, titled The Back Channel , is reviewed by Barber. Mr. Burns left the Diplomatic Service in 2014, and became the president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and is a graduate of Oxford University.
In the Age of Trump, the points of agreement between Barber and Burns are presented here:
Burns correctly singles out the elder Bush’s administration as the model. The national security team that managed the end of the cold war was top drawer. James Baker was a shrewd secretary of state who enjoyed the trust of the president. Bush Sr understood the importance of restraint. His decision not to topple Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf war looks even wiser given the debacle after the second Gulf war.
But, as Burns recognises, the US stood at the pinnacle of power in 1991. One year later, as Bill Clinton prepared to enter the White House, Burns warned in a prescient memo that victory in the cold war masked more malign developments. The forces of fragmentation were on the rise, with the risk of a retreat into nationalism or religious extremism or a combination of the two.
“Ideological competition was not over — it was simply reshaped,” Burns wrote, “In much of the world . . . Islamic conservatism remains a potent alternative to democracy as an organising principle.”
The Adults in the Room is subject to a political resuscitation. It is more of the same defense of The American Empire, the bleak headline is just the hysterical frame, as a caution not to abandon the fiction of America as benign hegemon. In its round- about way it is the re-rendering of Huntington’s ‘Clash’ in more palatable terms, for easier consumption.
The leading myth of the mainstream media over the past year has been the idea that there were “adults in the room” in the Oval Office of the White House. These so-called adults were for the most part general officers, both active duty and retired, who were going to restrain the excesses of Donald Trump by providing moderate and authoritative advice that he couldn’t get anywhere else.
Thus far, we have witnessed two Army generals who have served as the national security adviser, and two Marine generals who have served as Secretary of Homeland Security, Secretary of Defense, and even chief of staff to the president. The past two weeks have been two of the most immoderate weeks in the brief history of the Trump administration, demonstrating that the adults are either AWOL (Absent without Leave) or unable to broadcast on Trump’s frequency.
It was fatuous to assume that general officers could provide the kind of support that such an inexperienced president required. The example of Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State George C. Marshall in the Truman administration was singular because he was an unusual soldier-statesman. The examples of Generals Brent Scowcroft and Colin Powell are not particularly useful because they had high-level civilian mentors such as Henry A. Kissinger, Frank Carlucci, and James Baker. Generals H.R. McMaster, John Kelly, Michael Flynn, and James Mattis lacked civilian guidance in the White House; they had no background for offering the sophisticated guidance needed on the geopolitical issues that bedevil our president.