Zakaria, Obama, and ‘the establishment’

ZAKARIA, OBAMA, AND ‘THE ESTABLISHMENT’…. Last week, Newsweek‘s Howard Fineman said President Obama needs to invest more energy in impressing the Washington establishment. This week, Fareed Zakaria, Fineman’s Newsweek colleague, suggests the Washington establishment doesn’t know what it’s talking about.

Specifically, Zakaria makes note of the new administration’s “striking moves in foreign policy.” They started early on with announcements on Guantanamo and torture, but quickly expanded, “mixing symbolic gestures of outreach with substantive talks.” We’ve seen encouraging initial steps in our relations with China, our outreach to Syria and Iran, and a more constructive relationship with Russia.

These are initial, small steps but all in the right direction — deserving of praise, one might think. But no, the Washington establishment is mostly fretting, dismayed in one way or another by most of these moves. The conservative backlash has been almost comical in its fury. […]

The problem with American foreign policy goes beyond George Bush. It includes a Washington establishment that has gotten comfortable with the exercise of American hegemony and treats compromise as treason and negotiations as appeasement. Other countries can have no legitimate interests of their own — Russian demands are by definition unacceptable. The only way to deal with countries is by issuing a series of maximalist demands. This is not foreign policy; it’s imperial policy. And it isn’t likely to work in today’s world.

I remember a point, not too long ago, at which Zakaria was positioned as a leading, sensible, center-right observer on politics and foreign policy. He seems far more progressive now, not because Zakaria’s worldview has changed, but because so many of the voices that dominate the political discourse have gone off in a misguided direction.