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August 23, 2010

The Presidential Leadership Vacuum

judgment.jpg Last week the Editorial Staff couldn't help but notice a developing theme in the media. Newspapers on both sides of the county are noticing: the Oval Office lights may be on, but no one is home.

First the LA Times deftly questioned the President's priorities, dubbing him The Fundraiser in Chief. The WaPo asked why General Petraeus seems to be the only one making the case for the war in Afghanistan? Last week saw a long awaited and historic milestone in the war on terror: the withdrawal of combat forces from Iraq. And yet our Commander in Chief had little to say.

The NY Times offers an amusing explanation for Obama's low profile: he can't figure out how to take credit for the withdrawal while avoiding the inference that our military mission (at least) has finally been accomplished:

The official end of America’s combat mission in Iraq next week will fulfill the campaign promise that helped vault President Obama to the White House, but it also presents profound risks as he seeks to claim credit without issuing a premature declaration of victory.

It's a thorny problem for a man who repeatedly argued that the Surge was a failed strategy; who claimed Iraq needed a surge of diplomacy rather than an increase in military force. With the withdrawal of the last combat forces from Baghdad, we're about to see whether diplomacy can win the day in Iraq. And that's precisely the problem: the withdrawal of combat forces means the world will be looking to - and judging - Obama's vision and leadership. There will be no more convenient scapegoats - no combat forces who can be blamed for creating more terrorists or inflaming the Arab street. Suddenly, everyone is wondering who (or what) will step into the breach left by withdrawing U.S. forces? With attention and accountability shifting to Washington, even Obama's supporters have noticed that there's a vacuum in the Oval Office:


A leadership vacuum

There's a new argument emerging among supporters of the Ground Zero mosque. Distressed by President Obama's waffling on the issue, they're calling on former President George W. Bush to announce his support for the project, because in this case Bush understands better than Obama the connection between the war on terror and the larger question of America's relationship with Islam. It's an extraordinary change of position for commentators who long argued that Bush had done grievous harm to America's image in the Muslim world and that Obama represented a fresh start for the United States. Nevertheless, they are now seeing a different side of the former president.

Can anyone imagine George Bush remaining largely silent about what our military has accomplished out of fear he might be criticized? Say what you like about Bush - no matter how difficult the issue, the world never wondered where he stood:

One of my husband’s friends–hated Bush, loved Obama and defended him vociferously for the first year, less passionately the second–told him over lunch this week that he’s done with Obama and “I never thought I’d say this but I miss Bush. We knew that he said what he meant, even if we didn’t want to hear it. We knew who he was, even if we didn’t like him. And we never had to wonder whether he liked us. He always did.”

And that is it, in a nutshell. Bush is missable, because we miss having a president whose affection for his country and its people–even the ones who hated him–was never in doubt.

We miss Bush because he never lectured us or harangued us, and when people disagreed with him, they were not immediately called names in an attempt to simply shut up debate.

The Anchoress is right, but that's not the only reason so many of us miss George Bush. We miss Bush because we could depend upon him to be decisive; to act upon his convictions; to do what was needed in times of crisis. We could depend on him to take responsibility and lead by example rather than saying the expedient thing and then waffling at the first sign of criticism. No one could accuse Bush of taking a safe position or deflecting the blame:

Bush was a Decider - faced with a problem he weighed his options, made his choices and stood by them. Obama, by contrast, has chosen to be a Derider and Divider who consistently ducks hard decisions and, when challenged, blames everyone but himself. With Obama we never know where the buck will stop, but there's one thing we can be certain of: it won't be the Oval Office.

Obama's refusal to step up to the plate reminds me of a scene from one of my favorite movies, Gettysburg. General Longstreet is asked to remain safely in the rear during an upcoming battle. His response is short, but to the point: "You can't lead from behind".

That's a lesson Obama has yet to learn. And his supporters are beginning to notice.

Posted by Cassandra at August 23, 2010 06:12 AM

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Just more proof that character counts.

Posted by: FbL at August 23, 2010 09:32 AM

Obama is the leading example of a worrisome trend: the rise of the Staff Man versus the Line Man. (Using "staff" in the sense of one who advises and recommends but does not have actual decision-making authority and accountability.) In business as well as government, we seem to see an increasing trend of people preferring Staff jobs (studying merger possibilities rather than actually running a small acquired company, writing papers on "air traffic in 2030" rather than running the Atlanta Tower for the FAA) and, too often, eventually winding up in very important Line jobs despite actual experience of responsibility which is nonexistent or derisory.

Obama has NO meaningful Line experience: he has never been a mayor or a governor, never run a factory or a lemonade stand. Some counter this point by arguing that he ran an effective campaign: really, though, the relationship of a politician to his campaign that he is merely the *product*.

Posted by: david foster at August 23, 2010 09:45 AM

Interesting idea, DF! The thing is, it seems to me that even without line experience he could do better if he was willing to risk the political damage to do what was right, or if he had the humility to recognize that he needed to learn how to lead.

Posted by: FbL at August 23, 2010 09:51 AM

Some counter this point by arguing that he ran an effective campaign...

David Plouffe ran Teh Won's campaign, the moved on to a book deal.

Obie's shown how well he can campaign on his own by getting every Dem he's championed defeated...

Posted by: BillT at August 23, 2010 09:54 AM

We knew that he said what he meant, even if we didn’t want to hear it.

I thought you said Bush lied and people died. Or was that one of your schizoid personalities.

Obama couldn't hold the line if he was the size of a planet.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at August 23, 2010 10:02 AM

...he could do better if he was willing to risk the political damage to do what was right...

As far as he's concerned, he *is* doing what is right -- re-making America according to his vision of a Marxist paradise.

Posted by: BillT at August 23, 2010 10:02 AM

I could make a better case that Obama is hiding out. Most folks are out of D.C. for holiday leaving him to his own devices. Looking around he finds that, at least for August, the buck stops on his desk.

He is facing a slap on the face from Iran firing off a cruise missile capable rocket a hoot-and-a-holler from the nuclear plant, North Korea banging their spear on the ground, a resurgent Russia assisting the Iranians and taking back ground in the Caucusus, our combat brigades departing Iraq with no fanfare from Obama or Biden, the mosque uprising at ground zero, open warfare on the mexican border at Juarez/El Paso, the conga line of illegals invading Arizona as we sound retreat turning over large swaths of border areas to the cartels, a blown-out-of-proportion egg scandal being exploited by the FDA to give them increased regulatory power over our food supply, a struggling economy as small business owners refuse to hire turning the screws on BHO who is totally ignorant of Econ 101, and the list goes on.

Obama couldn't get out of town fast enough. Where does the buck stop? Throw a dart in the general direction of D.C. and that is where the buck stops. August is where the rats desert the sinking ship and the King has no clothes. But we have Howard Dean, Huffpo, Biden and a few other unfortunates who were left standing when the music stopped.

Posted by: vet66 at August 23, 2010 01:15 PM

I suspect that 0 really thinks he's doing the right thing, and can't understand why the adoration has faded. He could not do what Bush did in that clip; that would require a commitment to an action in aid of another. The idea that he could help his people does not cross his mind. The idea that his job is to help his people do their jobs he would just deny.

I was congratulating the manager of our city's fitness center this morning on the superior staff he'd collected, and he demurred, saying that it was all their doing, not his. "You shine in the light your people make," I replied, and he, well, glowed. "Damn," he said, "it's been a while since I've heard that. You're ex-military? Navy?" "Marines." "Ah, our Men's Department." ...

For 0, it's all about how he looks and who he can blame. For Bush, it was about doing better and helping others do better.

I wonder when 0 would have noticed that his security detail had been detained? Probably when he wanted to ask them to do something for him.

Posted by: htom at August 23, 2010 01:39 PM

Probably when he needed some meat shields to take bullets and shrapnel for him, Tom. You know that's how he is.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at August 23, 2010 01:54 PM

DQ is holding the fort for Bookworm over at her blog. We were discussing various things like the death tax, the next election, and how much gun control should be had to eliminate crime in Oakland and Chicago. Btw, Oakland's one of those Democrat fiefdoms, where they keep the blacks on the plantation, guarded by other black gang busters armed with illegal handguns.

An idea came to me that we should have two Presidents, like Sparta had two kings. One President goes out and fights on the front lines, personally leading charges into enemy positions, and if he dies, well... we always have a domestic backup.

This would place more demand on a "leader" that can actually lead in combat, because he is no longer so valuable he has to be wrapped in wool and prevented from being "endangered".

Posted by: Ymarsakar at August 23, 2010 01:57 PM

Using Grim's metrics. Too much lack of danger, makes sheep and slaves, not leaders and fighters.

No matter how many fighters are in the US, if the leaders don't have that fighting quality, then nothing good happens. That's just unavoidable given human hierarchies and how our nature demands we be organized in such fashions.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at August 23, 2010 01:58 PM

Ooo, Oo, I still got something else to say.

If all those Bush wannabe fans actually understood bush, they would know that Bush wouldn't speak out in public, on anything, given Bush's respect for the office of the Presidency.

But they don't understand respect. All the Left understands is "gimme my benefits" and "fear my power".

Posted by: Ymarsakar at August 23, 2010 02:00 PM

I cracked up when I saw the picture of the vacuum in the Oval office. I love it!

Posted by: Elise at August 23, 2010 03:01 PM

Yeah, the bright red is a nice touch...

Posted by: BillT at August 23, 2010 03:15 PM

"Ooo, Oo, I still got something else to say."

That's just so unlike you.

Posted by: DL Sly at August 23, 2010 03:27 PM

Sly, heh.

I've been taking lessons from Obama on filling up space.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at August 23, 2010 07:49 PM

"Newspapers on both sides of the county are noticing: the Oval Office lights may be on, but no one is home."

Too bad those fools didn't notice that before helping the current occupant get to the Oval Office...but maybe the fools who voted for him needed the lesson.

Posted by: camojack at August 24, 2010 01:05 AM

Leadership vacuum = giant sucking sound.

Posted by: Cricket at August 24, 2010 02:17 PM

I keep thinking of two R. Kipling poems: "Tomlinson" and

"A Servant when He Reigneth."
Stanzas 2-4:

His feet are swift to tumult,
His hands are slow to toil,
His ears are deaf to reason,
His lips are loud in broil.
He knows no use for power
Except to show his might.
He gives no heed to judgment
Unless it prove him right.

Because he served a master
Before his Kingship came,
And hid in all disaster
Behind his master's name,
So, when his Folly opens
The unnecessary hells,
A Servant when He Reigneth
Throws the blame on some one else.

His vows are lightly spoken,
His faith is hard to bind,
His trust is easy boken,
He fears his fellow-kind.
The nearest mob will move him
To break the pledge he gave --
Oh, a Servant when he Reigneth
Is more than ever slave!

Posted by: LittleRed1 at August 25, 2010 03:46 PM

Excellent, LittleRed1.

Posted by: Cricket at August 26, 2010 10:41 AM