June 9, 2013

Obama’s Leadership: The Great Absence

by Hal Gershowitz

Comments Below



We don’t envy the President…not any President. The success of the presidency…any presidency, is more a function of aptitude than experience — think Washington… of wisdom more than measurable IQ — think Madison… and of instinct more than providence — think Nixon (breaking into China, not Watergate).  President Obama feigned promise in all of these areas, but has demonstrated tenure in none.

Upon entering office, with apparent delusions of Lincoln, President Obama promised us “a team of rivals” appointing Hillary Clinton to be his Secretary of State.  He had her devote her time at State largely to faithfully (and exhaustively) carrying his foreign affairs “reset” message to the four corners of the earth.  In the process, which practically consumed her four years in office nothing, but nothing, was actually reset.

Today, instead of a faux team of rivals the president is giving us a team of dedicated sycophants.  When the late Richard Nixon (for whom we carry no brief) selected Henry Kissinger to be his National Security Advisor, he selected someone he had never met, a supporter and advisor of his opponent and nemeses, Nelson Rockefeller.  Kissinger taught at Harvard’s Department of Government and its Center for International Affairs, certainly no bastion of Nixon support. He was selected because Nixon considered him to be a brilliant, independent thinker who had earned the praise and respect of nearly everyone who had ever been exposed to his tutelage.  Nixon wanted someone who would challenge the paralysis of the status quo as well as Nixon’s own sometimes provincial thinking, and who was universally recognized as an impressive out-of-the-box thinker rather than someone who was a reliable “yes man.”  Kissinger, while scorned by many, was (and still is) a world-class thinker whose judgment is oxygenated by a remarkable knowledge and sense of history.

Fast forward to this week’s appointments of Susan Rice as National Security Advisor and Samantha Power as Ambassador to the United Nations.

We won’t obsess over Susan Rice’s dismal performance during the Benghazi tragedy.  The Obama White House sacrificed her on the altar of political expediency.  She, proverbially, fell on her sword for the Administration, making a fool of herself and of her White House handlers in the process.  Ordinarily one with such reliable allegiance often winds up at a think tank like the Brookings Institution, or the Center for American Progress or the Center for International Policy.  Instead, President Obama has anointed Ms. Rice as the nation’s National Security Advisor.  We’ll forgo the temptation to parody any connection between Ms. Rice and any notion of security.  We presume few people between the coasts are finding much comfort with Ms. Rice in her new role, having last seen her on every Sunday morning talk show explaining to the American People just what happened in Benghazi.

Samantha Power is a dedicated, albeit ardently partisan, human rights activist whose passion may commend her to many positions, but US Ambassador to the United Nations is not one of them.  Then again, her views may not be very inconsistent with the Administration’s foreign policy at all.  We have commented many times on the regrettable mea culpa tour with which President Obama launched his presidency.  One doesn’t have to search very far to determine whose poor advice he was heeding as he traveled hither and yon apologizing for America’s misdeeds.  One just has to read Samantha Power (New Republic, 2003):

A country has to look back before it can move forward,” Power wrote. “Instituting a doctrine of the mea culpa (emphasis added) would enhance our credibility by showing that American decision-makers do not endorse the sins of their predecessors.”  This from our new UN Ambassador.

Her position with respect to American support of Israel’s defense needs seems rather unambiguous.  She publically stated in a video interview in 2005 her preference to see our defense aid to Israel diverted to investment in a new state of Palestine.  She even inferred a large American military presence might be needed to control the Israeli military.  American policy with respect to Israel’s defense needs is clear (or is it?) and the appointment of a UN Ambassador whose views conflict with those of the country she serves seems, to us, beyond curious.  In fact, when questioned about her remarks, what she had said even seemed curious to her, “Even I don’t understand it,” she said.  “This makes no sense to me.” And furthermore: “The quote seems so weird.”  But she did say it, and, indeed, it is weird. Also weird was her tantrum over Hillary Clinton’s candidacy when Clinton was running against Obama in the 2008 primaries. Power was fired from the campaign after calling Clinton a monster. She now refers to that rather undiplomatic outburst as the remark she most regrets.

Power was an outspoken critic of George Bush’s (43) slow response to the human rights abuses in Sudan. Her criticism of government inaction was, however, quickly muted once she joined the Obama White House to run the Office of Multilateral Affairs and Human rights.  Hardly a peep when Iran’s green revolution was crushed by Ahmadinejad and the ruling Mullahs, and even less protest during the past two years as over 80,000 Syrians have been murdered by their own government.

These appointments do not, in our opinion, reflect real leadership, but rather, as democratic strategist James Carville has opined, in your face appointments.

White House backpedaling with respect to Iran’s nuclear ambitions and Syria’s brutal war against its own people will, we fear, prove very costly to the country.  The Middle East is sliding into turmoil and, at this point, Russia is emerging to fill the vacuum left by America’s total absence of influence. We seem to think that deferring hard decisions will make the need for them go away.  That has never been history’s lesson.

The President’s muscularity with our nation’s drone offense against terrorism has been a notable achievement that has produced impressive results, taking an enormous toll on al-Qaida leadership.  We won’t question the President’s tactical judgment regarding the procedures for the use of this effective force, but we would question his penchant for making his decisions public.  This need to publicize our changing military priorities as we have done in Afghanistan has been a feature of President Obama’s prosecution of this war.  We still cannot fathom whose interest was served by announcing our withdrawal date from Afghanistan other than that of the Taliban.

The formulation of President Obama’s signature domestic accomplishment, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was, as everyone knows, outsourced to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid who together drafted a monstrosity of law.  Little did the nation realize that when then-speaker Pelosi said we would have to wait until it was passed to see what was in it, she was talking to the President as well as the rest of us.  Well, now we know. The cost of Obamacare is now projected to be more than double what the President said it would be, insurance premiums have increased by more than the President said they would decrease, and the regulations spawned by the ACT now run into tens of thousands of pages.  Not exactly a shining example of Presidential leadership.

The Keystone Pipeline, which requires the President’s approval, could have been a major Obama accomplishment. The people want it.  The unions want it. The State Department all but said they want it (their study found that there would be no material environmental impact), but some environmentalists, specifically the Sierra Club who’s PAC raised over $1,000,000, with every campaign contribution going to the President’s party, said “no.”  And so the pipeline languishes.

The NLRB became a mockery to governance, until the courts over-ruled the President’s recess appointments of labor yes men to the Board.  It wasn’t a complicated decision given that the Court found there had been no recess.  Such shenanigans constitute craftiness masquerading as leadership.

One area where Presidential leadership could have made a huge difference was with Washington DC ‘s school voucher program, which the teachers’ union squashed without a peep from the White House or the Department of Education.

We won’t rehash what we have already written about Benghazi, the ever-mounting IRS scandal, or the Justice Department’s strong-arm tactics with the press other than to observe that they all reflect a lack of presidential leadership.

Indeed, it seems presidential leadership has become the Great Absence in Washington.

All comments regarding these essays, whether they express agreement, disagreement, or an alternate view, are appreciated and welcome. Comments that do not pertain to the subject of the essay or which are ad hominem references to other commenters are not acceptable and will be deleted.

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4 responses to “Obama’s Leadership: The Great Absence”

  1. Bob glasspiegel says:

    Well written and argued. To me the jury is still out on drones I was with ambassador Crocker recently and told him I had fear that we are creating more terrorists than were killing with them. I asked him who is doing the math on this q. His non answer was when he was in Pakistan they never did it without approval of government and they overruled us a few times
    We are now doing it unilaterally with no coordination between state and the CIA. We’ve killed four Americans without trial when there ww no imminent threat without a trial

    Of thee I sing. Love that and love our constitution!

    Would enjoy discussing this with you when we are next together

  2. Mark J Levick says:

    Leading from behind results from an a unwillingness to make leadership decision and to I stead react to events or do nothing. Our President loves to campaign but hates to govern. He sees himself as a thinker of great thoughts and surrounds himself with mediocre talents or sycophants such asHolder, Hagel, Napalitano, Reid, Pelosi, Rice, Powers and other friends of his Michelle and Vallerie. The consequences become more obvious with each news cycle and would give rise to public ire were it not for a supportive media. That may all be changing now that the media has begun to find its voice..

  3. Joyce Gruenberg says:

    I think you forgot to blame President Obama for the recent tornados and Hurricane Sandy.Joyce

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