Jake Sullivan Presides Over Yet Another Foreign Policy Disaster

The Forrest Gump of American decline?

August 17, 2021

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan is at the center of yet another U.S. foreign policy disaster. During the Obama administration, in his role as a top aide to former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and then-vice president Joe Biden, the highly credentialed wunderkind presided over some of the most humiliating failures in the history of American foreign policy.

Sullivan's extensive experience as an architect of American failure in Syria, Libya, Ukraine, Iran, and Myanmar, plus the fact that White House press secretary Jen Psaki is mysteriously out of the office, made him a natural choice to defend the Biden administration's handling of the rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan.

"It is certainly the case [that] the speed with which cities fell was much greater than anyone anticipated," Sullivan said Monday during an interview with NBC's Savannah Guthrie, who also asked about President Joe Biden's assessment that a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan was "highly unlikely" and "there's going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy of the United States," as there was in Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War.

Fact check: False. Kimberley Motley, an international human-rights attorney who has worked in Afghanistan for more than a decade, described the situation in the country as a "nightmare" that was "like Saigon on steroids."

Sullivan was unable to muster a compelling response. "To be fair, the helicopter has been the mode of transport from our embassy to the airport for the last 20 years," he said as the network rolled footage of Taliban militants streaming into Kabul.

Perhaps the 44-year-old Sullivan has grown weary of presiding over epic failures. Despite being considered one of the most brilliant foreign policy experts of his generation, Sullivan's résumé is littered with embarrassing debacles, including both of Hillary Clinton's failed presidential campaigns. Afghanistan is merely the most recent example.

In 2011, as a top adviser to then-secretary Clinton, Sullivan helped orchestrate the "kinetic military action" in Libya. Even though the intervention resulted in the death of dictator Muammar Qaddafi, it is widely viewed as a failure. The U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, was assassinated during the Benghazi terrorist attacks in 2012, and the country would eventually become a haven for Islamic State militants.

Less than a month before Stevens was killed, Sullivan was among the team of experts advising then-president Barack Obama on the escalating civil war in Syria. Obama warned Bashar al-Assad, the Russian-backed dictator, that the use of chemical weapons was a "red line" that would "change my calculus" regarding U.S. military action against the regime.

Assad crossed the red line on multiple occasions, and the United States responded by taking negligible action to deter the slaughter of civilians. Assad remained in power, Russia flexed its military muscle, and the Islamic State established a caliphate in northeast Syria, wreaking havoc in Iraq as well.

During an interview with the New Yorker in 2019, Sullivan said he considered it "a great regret of mine" that "we were not able to more effectively play a role in stopping hundreds of thousands of people from dying in Syria and millions and millions more losing their homes."

By 2014, Obama's failure to enforce his "red line" on chemical weapons in Syria had changed Vladimir Putin's calculus regarding Russian military intervention in Ukraine. Once again, the United States took no significant action to deter Russian forces from destabilizing the country and annexing Crimea. The conflict would claim thousands of lives, including the 298 people aboard Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, which was shot down with a Russian-made missile over eastern Ukraine.

Less than a month after Biden was sworn in as president, the government of Myanmar was ousted in a military coup conducted by individuals responsible for the genocidal atrocities perpetrated against the country's Rohingya population. Foreign Policy magazine called it "a failure of U.S. diplomacy orchestrated by some of [the Biden administration's] own players nearly a decade ago."

In other words, people like Jake Sullivan. In 2011, he was advising Clinton when she described meeting Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi as an "inspiration" and touted the Obama administration's efforts in the country as a diplomatic victory. The celebration was short-lived. Aung San Suu Kyi would go on to assume a senior role in the country's government but would be widely condemned for her refusal to denounce the military's campaign of violence against the Rohingya.

Sullivan, who played a key role in negotiating the failed Iran nuclear deal in 2015, is currently leading the Biden administration's efforts to revive the controversial agreement. He will almost certainly have a major role in crafting the pathetic U.S. response to China's inevitable invasion of Taiwan. He is the Forrest Gump of American decline, and one of the best rebuttals to the American system of meritocracy.

None of these policy failures will hurt Sullivan's glowing reputation among members of the Liberal Élite. After all, his credentials are impeccable: Yale University (Phi Beta Kappa), Rhodes scholar, Yale Law School, Brookings Institution. He was a debate team champion and president of the student council in high school, where he was voted "most likely to succeed." He clerked for Supreme Court justice Stephen Breyer and worked as chief counsel for Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.), where he was presumably traumatized by the abuse he suffered.

In any event, these colossal blunders will likely pale in comparison to what he will be able to accomplish as U.S. secretary of state in the Kamala Harris administration.