Mort Zuckerman, editor-in-chief of US News and World report writes a blistering piece that certainly seems to indicate that’s the case. Zuckerman says the world sees Obama as “incompetent and amateur” and that on the world stage he is “well-intentioned but can’t walk the walk”. That’s a nice way to say he’s a lightweight in an arena where only seasoned heavyweights prosper.
Zuckerman’s opinion is not one to be taken lightly. He was a huge Obama backer. He voted for him. His newspaper, the NY Daily News, endorsed him and was enthusiastic in his support of the Obama candidacy.
Now, 16 months into his presidency, he’s obviously very disappointed in his choice. And, it would appear, has come to understand that which he didn’t know or didn’t bother to find out about Obama at the time – that he has no leadership skills or abilities and is, in fact, more of an academic than a Commander-in-Chief.
Zuckerman is a keen and long time observer of American foreign policy, and as such he has the ability to compare and contrast what American foreign policy has seemed like under different presidents and under this one. He begins his critique of Obama by saying he actually inherited a “great foreign policy legacy enjoyed by every recent US president.”
Of course to hear Obama talk about it you’d think he’d been handed the worst mess in the world. But even assuming that, what has Obama done? Not much – and that’s beginning to become evident to the rest of the world. Says Zuckerman:
Yet, the Iraq war lingers; Afghanistan continues to be immersed in an endless cycle of tribalism, corruption, and Islamist resurgence; Guantánamo remains open; Iran sees how North Korea toys with Obama and continues its programs to develop nuclear weapons and missiles; Cuba spurns America’s offers of a greater opening; and the Palestinians and Israelis find that it is U.S. policy positions that defer serious negotiations, the direct opposite of what the Obama administration hoped for.
So success in the field that is exclusively the President’s has been elusive. Then there’s Obama the “leader”:
The reviews of Obama’s performance have been disappointing. He has seemed uncomfortable in the role of leading other nations, and often seems to suggest there is nothing special about America’s role in the world. The global community was puzzled over the pictures of Obama bowing to some of the world’s leaders and surprised by his gratuitous criticisms of and apologies for America’s foreign policy under the previous administration of George W. Bush. One Middle East authority, Fouad Ajami, pointed out that Obama seems unaware that it is bad form and even a great moral lapse to speak ill of one’s own tribe while in the lands of others.
Seems to be common sense to the rest of us, yet it is hard for anyone, even his most ardent supporters, to deny he’s engaged in more of that than any useful diplomacy.
Zuckerman also notes something I commented on months ago. He has no personal relationship with any of the world’s leaders. And that is critical to success in foreign diplomacy:
In his Cairo speech about America and the Muslim world, Obama managed to sway Arab public opinion but was unable to budge any Arab leader. Even the king of Saudi Arabia, a country that depends on America for its survival, reacted with disappointment and dismay. Obama’s meeting with the king was widely described as a disaster. This is but one example of an absence of the personal chemistry that characterized the relationships that Presidents Clinton and Bush had with world leaders. This is a serious matter because foreign policy entails an understanding of the personal and political circumstances of the leaders as well as the cultural and historical factors of the countries we deal with.
His meeting China was also a disaster and he was treated almost disrespectfully there. And he’s all but deep sixed our “special relationship” with the UK and certainly isn’t much loved by Sarkozy of France. Don’t even begin to talk about Israel.
These sorts of problems and perceptions have an effect in international affairs. A perfect example?
Recent U.S. attempts to introduce more meaningful sanctions against Iran produced a U.N. resolution that is way less than the “crippling” sanctions the administration promised. The United States even failed to achieve the political benefit of a unanimous Security Council vote. Turkey, the Muslim anchor of NATO for almost 60 years, and Brazil, our largest ally in Latin America, voted against our resolution. Could it be that these long-standing U.S. allies, who gave cover to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iran’s nuclear ambitions, have decided that there is no cost in lining up with America’s most serious enemies and no gain in lining up with this administration?
So they go their own way in the absence of US leadership. This week, Russia’s President Medvedev criticized the US for placing additional sanctions on Iran, above and beyond the UN’s rather pitiful ones.
Obama has been a foreign affairs disaster to this point, and as Zuckerman points out, this has sent a very clear message to many of those out there who wish us ill as well as those who count themselves as allies:
America right now appears to be unreliable to traditional friends, compliant to rivals, and weak to enemies. One renowned Asian leader stated recently at a private dinner in the United States, “We in Asia are convinced that Obama is not strong enough to confront his opponents, but we fear that he is not strong enough to support his friends.”
I think at this point, that’s a perfectly defensible and accurate assessment. This is why I continue to say that there are some pretty heavy storm clouds brewing on the international horizon. US leadership is seen as missing or weak – a perfect time for those who take advantage of power vacuums to step forward and make their particular grabs for power.
Don’t be surprised to see it happen soon.
I’m sure it will somehow become a matter of race, but a recent Public Policy Polling survey showed that 50% of the state voters rated President Bush’s performance in 2005 after hurricane Katrina as better than the effort by President Obama today. Only 35% picked Obama’s performance as the best. That’s not to say the state was satisfied with either response. On the contrary, 62% said they disapproved of Obama’s handling of the crisis while 58% said they disapproved of Bush’s performance.
Meanwhile, another new poll finds that Obama’s approval rating has hit a new low:
Rasmussen Reports released a new poll Wednesday showing Obama’s approval rating hitting a new low — 42 percent. The daily tracking poll puts a 20-point spread between Obama’s strong approval and disapproval, 24 and 44 percent respectively.
That last poll tracks with the poll reported previously that found a majority of Americans didn’t believe Obama deserved re-election.
The continuing bad news in the polls has got to be worrying the crew in the White House. It’s not at a point, given the election is still 2 years off, that anyone there has to panic, but they’ve got a job on their hands turning this around. The building conventional wisdom seems to be that Obama is an administrator, not a leader, and that, given his performance, is going to be a tough meme to kill. The other CW seems to be he may be in over his head. The polls reflect both of those perceptions.
The president and his staff have got to find a way to cast Obama as a decisive and competent leader. That’s a real problem right now, although unfortunately, given the simmering international situation, they may get more opportunities than they ever sought to make the attempt.
Of course many of the upcoming international opportunities, we’ll learn, will come about precisely because Obama isn’t a strong and decisive leader.
Irony, it seems, has a warped sense of humor and always seems to throw more opportunities at those that want them least.
This is just shameless.
In an interview with Roger Simon of Politico, our Presidential blame-shifter creates a hypothetical situation in an attempt to divert attention from his poor performance to unnamed Congressional persons:
“I think it’s fair to say, if six months ago, before this spill had happened, I had gone up to Congress and I had said we need to crack down a lot harder on oil companies and we need to spend more money on technology to respond in case of a catastrophic spill, there are folks up there, who will not be named, who would have said this is classic, big-government overregulation and wasteful spending.”
What they may or may not of have “said” is irrelevant to the fact that 6 months ago, had he gone up to Congress and said a crack down was needed, he’d have enjoyed substantial majorities in both the House and Senate allowing him to do exactly that. In fact he didn’t go to Congress, he didn’t say there needed to be a crack down and he didn’t initiate any new legislation to do so.
His 16 months in office apparently weren’t enough to oversee any necessary changes in Minerals Management Service to better regulate drilling and it was under his administration that the Deepwater Horizon platform was awarded a government award for safety in 2009 for “outstanding drilling operations” and a “perfect performance period.”
In other words, any failure on the part of government rests squarely in his lap.
“Some of the same folks who have been hollering and saying ‘do something’ are the same folks who, just two or three months ago, were suggesting that government needs to stop doing so much,” Obama said. “Some of the same people who are saying the president needs to show leadership and solve this problem are some of the same folks who, just a few months ago, were saying this guy is trying to engineer a takeover of our society through the federal government that is going to restrict our freedoms.”
Here he resorts to a classic logical fallacy: the strawman argument. Those arguing that he’s trying to “engineer a takeover of our society” weren’t arguing about executing the basic functions of government. They were talking about takeovers of banks, financial institutions, car companies, health care and other areas not associated with those basic function. Disaster relief and mitigation – that’s considered a basic function and no one is hollering that shouldn’t happen as it always has. Taking over GM? That relates to what those people were “hollering” about. That is an unprecedented takeover. That is an indication of the point those people are making. Containing an oil spill in the federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico? That’s Obama’s job.
So the implication here is he’s either not doing his job because those same people will holler, or those people hollering are hypocrites (and he hopes that distracts you from the fact that he’s not doing his job (the strawman fallacy comes under the broad category of “fallacies of distraction”)).
Here’s a hint for our erstwhile President: ducking responsibility and blame-shifting are not among the principles of leadership.
Clarence Darrow once said, “when I was a boy I was told that anyone could become President; I’m beginning to believe it.”
Unfortunately, so am I.
[Another good takedown here.]
If the administration has lost Bob Herbert, an up to now dependable Obama sycophant, I’d say they’re in deep trouble.
Not that Herbert’s column is an outright declaration of incompetence or anything. In fact he tip toes around quite assiduously laying out the woes the nation faces and his idea of what is necessary (more spending – much more spending) to correct the situation.
He laments the depth of unemployment and the economic demise of the private sector. And he is sure, that had some things been done when necessary (more spending – much more spending) we might be on the road to recovery. But since those things weren’t done (more spending – much more spending) we’re in the quagmire and, says Herbert, “there is no plan that I can see to get us out of this fix.”
Any guess why he says that? The last to sentences in his column and our quote of the day explain:
Bold and effective leadership would have put us on this road to a sustainable future. Instead, we’re approaching a dead end.
When even Herbert figures it out you have to figure the gig is pretty much up.
The ABC News/Washington Post poll is nothing to write home about if you’re the President of the United States – they guy in charge of the federal government’s response to disaster. Americans are beginning to understand the scope of the catastrophe, they hold the proper company responsible and culpable, but, that said, they’re not at all happy with the federal government’s response. Interestingly, the present effort gets worse reviews than Katrina.
By more than a 2-to-1 margin, Americans support the pursuit of criminal charges in the nation’s worst oil spill , with increasing numbers calling it a major environmental disaster. Eight in 10 criticize the way BP’s handled it – and more people give the federal government’s response a negative rating than did the response to Hurricane Katrina.
A month and a half after the spill began, 69 percent in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll rate the federal response negatively. That compares with a 62 negative rating for the response to Katrina two weeks after the August 2005 hurricane.
The IBD/TIPP poll echoes the ABC poll:
The poll found that 30% rated Obama’s response as “unacceptable” and 22% rated it “poor.” Just 6% rated it “excellent” and 17% “good.” The rest gave him an average score.
Three-quarters of Republicans and one-third of Democrats disapprove of Obama on the issue. In an ominous sign for Democrats heading into midterm elections, just 18% of independents gave him favorable marks on the spill vs. 57% giving him failing grades.
The all important independent bloc gave him failing marks in an overwhelming majority (74% of independents viewed the federal effort negatively in the ABC poll).
“I don’t sit around talking to experts because this is a college seminar,” Obama continued. “We talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers, so I know whose ass to kick.”
Given the polls, the size of the disaster and the poor federal response, most people, as the polls demonstrate, already know “whose ass to kick.”
Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to be having much of an effect.
I think Charlie Rangel may have summed it up best:
“I don’t think the administration has the slightest clue. We’re bringing in experts now, in and outside of government, to see whether or not BP will do more.”
America continues to be held hostage by a lack of leadership.
We’re 48 days into the worst American oil spill in history and the administration is just now seeminly becoming engaged in the business of addressing it. Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal has been hopping around like a frog on a hot griddle trying to get some action to preserve the state’s wetlands. In a statement released 3 days ago, he thanks President Obama for coming to the state and says that each of the 2 times he’s been there (in 48 days) the pace seems to pick up (hint, hint). He also says this:
“Just as we said yesterday, we told the President we are moving ahead without BP. We already signed contracts to begin this work with Shaw and Bean Dredging. We put in a request to the Army Corps of Engineers this morning to release their available dredges and they have indentified four dredges – including one located close to the site that is most likely to be available – the MV CALIFORNIA. I met with the CEO of Shaw today and they said that if the US Army Corps of Engineers will allow them to borrow sand closer to the dredging sites, which we will replace, we could see sand by Monday.
“We are moving forward with or without BP. We gave them two choices – they can either send us a check, get out of the way and let us start this work, or they can sign a contract and do it themselves. We are going ahead without them. Last night, we met with Admiral Allen and he said he feels like he is making progress in getting BP to actually pay for this work. To date, BP has done a great job in sending us press releases and attorneys, but they haven’t sent us any money to dredge.”
So why is anyone waiting on BP for anything? The oil slick certainly isn’t waiting on them. Why is government?
Well state government may have a budget problem. I.e. it may not have the money for such a massive undertaking. It might need disaster relief money.
Most would think that’s something the federal government should have made available immediately. Heck, if nothing else, divert some of that useless “stimulus” money that hasn’t been spent yet.
The bottom line is that in a time critical situation like this, a state governor shouldn’t be left to beating up a private company for money to do what needs to be done to save his state’s wetlands. I’m not saying BP shouldn’t pay – bill them for heaven sake – but why hasn’t the federal government’s disaster relief funding been used to remedy this situaition? Why is Jindal still “undertaking” the sand berms?
This is what people mean about a lack of leadership or sense of urgency concerning this spill from the President. Jindal and the state of Louisiana hit upon these berms as a method of keeping the oil away from Louisiana’s marshlands weeks ago. Why is he still trying to get them built?
Read the rest of Jindal’s press release and contrast that with what Obama has had to say. In one you’ll find an engaged leader on top of the situation and making it the priority it should be. In Obama’s case, it seems he’s being dragged into the problem figuratively kicking and screaming and would much rather be at the Ford theater or welcoming the latest sports team to the White House or attending another McCartney concert. Anything but the doing the job for which he campaigned.
Speaking of campaigns, Byron York dials up the Way Back machine and gives us a little reminder of the “executive experience” President Obama claimed then and why this should be no real surprise to those who were paying attention:
COOPER: And, Senator Obama, my final question — some of your Republican critics have said you don’t have the experience to handle a situation like this. They in fact have said that Governor Palin has more executive experience, as mayor of a small town and as governor of a big state of Alaska. What’s your response?
OBAMA: Well, you know, my understanding is, is that Governor Palin’s town of Wasilla has, I think, 50 employees. We have got 2,500 in this campaign. I think their budget is maybe $12 million a year. You know, we have a budget of about three times that just for the month. So, I think that our ability to manage large systems and to execute, I think, has been made clear over the last couple of years. And, certainly, in terms of the legislation that I passed just dealing with this issue post-Katrina of how we handle emergency management, the fact that many of my recommendations were adopted and are being put in place as we speak, I think, indicates the degree to which we can provide the kinds of support and good service that the American people expect.
Yes, it was all there for those who chose to actually look.
The political winds certainly seem to be shifting a bit as I watch pundit after pundit begin, every so softly for some, to come to the same conclusion Maureen Dowd has about President Obama.
The oil won’t stop flowing, but the magic has.
The other day, Dowd referred to Obama as “President Spock” and moaned about his inability to relate. He’s not an emmoter-in-chief as Bill Clinton was, she complained. Instead he maintains an aloof distance and instead of tackling the problems that come with the presidency head-on, seems more inclined to treat them as annoyances or distractions.
All this brought on by an oil spill that Barack Obama had nothing to do with, but which is now starting to define his presidency. Said Dowd in the previous editorial:
Once more, he has willfully and inexplicably resisted fulfilling a signal part of his job: being a prism in moments of fear and pride, reflecting what Americans feel so they know he gets it.
Again, to those of us who watched his progression to the Presidency while warning about his wafer thin resume, this doesn’t come as a particular surprise. Call it “I told you so” if you wish, but many critics found his lack of leadership credentials to be the most important reason not to elect the man.
And now, the Dowds, Carvilles and Matthews of the world are discovering this problem.
Certainly, he didn’t cause the leak. George Bush didn’t cause Katrina. But he’s responsible for the federal response, a precedent set by Katrina and the Democrats who demonized and pilloried Bush. Obama is the guy on the spot to make a difference when a disaster strikes. He is the person who must mobilize the federal forces necessary, remove the red-tape and get things headed in the direction they need to be headed.
Where is that? He’s visited the area twice. He seems to have no idea of what further measures might be possible or necessary. He’s delegated everything to others and doesn’t seem that interested in taking an active hand. In fact, it appears he’s only made an effor to look like he’s interested because people are beginning to talk.
Where is the leadership? Where’s Obama taking an active role, for instance, in federalizing some National Guard troops, training them up on beach and marsh clean up and getting them where they need to be? Is every possible boom available on site and either deployed or ready to go? Why isn’t he in using the influence of his office to remove the red tape wound tightly about the Corps of Engineers and helping the governor of LA get his barrier islands constructed?
Why isn’t he talking to Saudi Arabia about how they used supertankers used to clean up the horrendous spill caused by Saddam Hussein over here? How many supertankers are available. Why aren’t we chartering them, and moving them in the spill area?
Instead we see the deployment of the Attorney General to explore criminal indictments against BP, a commission to study the problem and this:
One little hole a mile down on the ocean floor, so deep it seems like hell spewing up its sulfurous smoke, has turned the thrilling saga of “The One” into the gurgling horror of “The Abyss.” (Thank goodness James Cameron, the director of “The Abyss,” came to Washington Tuesday to help the administration figure out how to cap the BP well. What’s next? Sending down the Transformers and Megan Fox?)
Seriously – James Cameron is somehow more of an authority on submersibles than, say, the thousands upon thousands of experts within the oil industry (not just BP) who work with them daily in the environment in question? Is it any wonder to see people like Dowd beginning to lose confidence in Obama’s ability to lead?
Barack Obama isn’t responsible for the leak, and he’s made it clear, and rightfully so, who is. But he is responsible for protecting this country from all enemies and problems – even evil oil slicks that threaten our coastlines and way of life in those areas.
And he’s failing – miserably. Dowd continues to pretend this is something that Obama can change and quickly if he’ll only step up.
This president has made it clear that he’s not comfortable outside whatever domain he’s defined. But unless he wants his story to be marred by a pattern of passivity, detachment, acquiescence and compromise, he’d better seize control of the story line of his White House years. Woe-is-me is not an attractive narrative.
His problem isn’t a story line that he’s deliberately, for whatever reason, allowing to unfold. It is the fact that he hasn’t the experience, the fortitude or the leadership to do what is necessary to address the ever growing problem.
43 days and Obama remains on his balcony, detached, annoyed and clueless. That’s not how anyone wants to see their President.
As he did many times in the Illinois Senate, he is again voting “present”.
Frank Rich has never seen an act by President Obama of which he didn’t approve or, if approval wasn’t really credibly possible, anything for which he couldn’t find an excuse. The oil spill is no exception:
Whatever Obama’s failings, he is infinitely more competent at coping with catastrophe than his predecessor. President Bush’s top disaster managers — the Homeland Security secretary, Michael Chertoff, as well as the notorious “Brownie” — professed ignorance of New Orleans’s humanitarian crisis a full day after the nation had started watching it live in real time on television. When Bush finally appeared, he shunned the city entirely and instead made a jocular show of vowing to rebuild the coastal home of his party’s former Senate leader, Trent Lott. He never did take charge.
The Obama administration has been engaged with the oil spill from the start — however haltingly and inarticulately at times. It was way too trusting of BP but was never AWOL. For all the second-guessing, it’s still not clear what else the president might have done to make a definitive, as opposed to cosmetic, difference in plugging the hole: yell louder at BP, send in troops and tankers, or, as James Carville would have it, assume the role of Big Daddy? The spill is not a Tennessee Williams play, its setting notwithstanding, and it’s hard to see what more drama would add, particularly since No Drama Obama’s considerable talents do not include credible play-acting.
It’s not clear what Bush could have done (or would have had to have done) had there been a competent mayor of New Orleans or governor of LA in office. Neither did their job. So the blame fell on Bush.
Obama faces a crisis in federal waters – not state. Those are waters that are his administration’s responsibility. Blame Bush won’t work. And neither will attempts to duck the Katrina comparisons.
Rich speaks of “airbrushing” of the facts surrounding Katrina. I must have missed that. But that is precisely what has already begun in the defense of Obama with this claim that he and his administration were “engaged” from “day one”. Reactions to oil spills which are standard operating procedure regardless of who is in office are not “engagement”. In fact, most wouldn’t consider them to have become really engaged in the spill for a week or two and then, it appeared to be minimally and reluctantly. In fact, it appeared to be a distraction, an annoyance of which the administration would prefer to be relieved.
If there is any “airbrushing” going on, the left has definitely been engaged in that since “day one”.
Rich claims that it was Bush who made the masses doubt the competence of government (with his Katrina performance). He says:
Long before Obama took office, the public was plenty skeptical that government could do anything right. Eight years of epic Bush ineptitude and waste only added to Washington’s odor. Now Obama is stuck between a rock and a Tea Party. His credibility as a champion of reformed, competent government is held hostage by video from the gulf. And this in an election year when the very idea of a viable federal government is under angrier assault than at any time since the Gingrich revolution and militia mobilization of 1994-5 and arguably since the birth of the modern conservative movement in the 1960s.
But why is the “idea of a viable federal government” under assault?
As usual, Rich wants’ to blame it on Bush. It is a tried and true blame shifting device that progressives have been deploying for the 18 months Obama’s been in office. They don’t seem to realize, however, that it lost its cache after about 6 months. This is Obama’s show now, and as Peggy Noonan points out, the problem is competence:
This is what happened with Katrina, and Katrina did at least two big things politically. The first was draw together everything people didn’t like about the Bush administration, everything it didn’t like about two wars and high spending and illegal immigration, and brought those strands into a heavy knot that just sat there, soggily, and came to symbolize Bushism. The second was illustrate that even though the federal government in our time has continually taken on new missions and responsibilities, the more it took on, the less it seemed capable of performing even its most essential jobs. Conservatives got this point—they know it without being told—but liberals and progressives did not. They thought Katrina was the result only of George W. Bush’s incompetence and conservatives’ failure to “believe in government.” But Mr. Obama was supposed to be competent.
But, as Noonan points out, over these 18 months, more and more Americans have come to the conclusion he’s not. Those are pretty ugly thoughts when it comes to this president to some I suppose, but in fact, he’s demonstrated nothing to persuade most people otherwise.
And it is the image of the deep water oil well gushing oil into the Gulf that Noonan turns into metaphor of the Obama presidency and why his competence is questioned. Think taxpayer and the borrowed money his administration has been responsible for spending, think the proposed trillion dollar budgets as far as the eye can see, think his disconnection with the priorities of the people for favored agenda items.
While this disaster might rightfully shine a light on BP and the oil industry’s lack of planning for such a problem, it also erodes the ability of politicians to sell government as the most competent answer to our problems. Government has a specific role for which it is most suited. Defense, legal and judicial systems, stable currency, and minimal legislation to enable and oversee those systems.
Beyond that, it becomes intrusive, cumbersome, highly bureaucratic, unresponsive and expensive. The oil spill simply points this out fairly graphically. Health care reform, as it comes into play over the years, will reinforce that point even further.
Noonan, who I believe supported the Obama candidacy, is bothered by the effect the spill and Obama’s disconnectedness and inept governing to this point will have on his presidency. It is I think her way of saying, in a nuanced way, that she regrets her choice:
The disaster in the Gulf may well spell the political end of the president and his administration, and that is no cause for joy. It’s not good to have a president in this position—weakened, polarizing and lacking broad public support—less than halfway through his term. That it is his fault is no comfort. It is not good for the stability of the world, or its safety, that the leader of “the indispensable nation” be so weakened. I never until the past 10 years understood the almost moral imperative that an American president maintain a high standing in the eyes of his countrymen.
For the most part, I agree with her point that we and the world are best served by a President who is held in high esteem by his or her citizenry. But that’s something that is earned, not just given. This man sought the presidency after slamming the competence of his predecessor on every occasion possible. And when confronted by a disaster of his own, we get this:
Mr. Obama himself, when running for president, made much of Bush administration distraction and detachment during Katrina. Now the Republican Party will, understandably, go to town on Mr. Obama’s having gone before this week only once to the gulf, and the fund-raiser in San Francisco that seemed to take precedence, and the EPA chief who decided to cancel a New York fund-raiser only after the press reported that she planned to attend.
You reap what you sow. When you slam the opposition and their leader as incompetent (I recall that word used often by sitting Democratic leadership) you imply that if you’re elected, you won’t be incompetent. It’s his standard and right now he’s hoist on his own petard.
Most impartial observers haven’t seen much competence displayed in the past 18 months. Not only has the administration seemingly not been up to the job, they’ve attempted to continue the blame-shifting that worked for the first 6 months of their existence, apparently still not realizing who is now President of the United States.
This is all yours, Mr. Obama.
Lead or go find something else to do.
Nate Silver, a guy I respect and enjoy reading, dances around the point of a Weekly Standard comparison of FDR and Obama.
If Franklin Delano Roosevelt were president today [...] liberal health care reform would have been enacted already. [...]
Silver, a man of numbers (he was tweeting Olympic goalie shot blocking stats during the US/Canada gold medal hockey game for heaven sake), goes to them and wonders why FDR’s (and LBJ as a comparison) congressional majorities weren’t mentioned by the Standard.
Silver goes on to talk about the huge size of the majorities FDR enjoyed, the implication being that they made a significant difference.
But that wasn’t the Standard’s point as seen in these paragraphs that Silver also quotes:
The reason is tied to what is probably the greatest difference between FDR and Obama. Roosevelt took command of Washington. Obama hasn’t. “FDR became the father of the modern presidency by moving the Chief Executive to the center of the American political universe,” John Yoo writes in his new book on presidential power, Crisis and Command. “Roosevelt’s revolution radically shifted the balance of power among the three branches of government.” [...]
FDR seized legislative authority. The bills that Congress passed in his first 100 days and beyond were produced by the Roosevelt administration and ratified reflexively by Congress.
Those three highlighted quotes are the reason for Obama’s problem – quite simply a lack of leadership. Where FDR was proactive, wrote the legislation and then twisted arms to get it passed in a majority Democratic congress, Obama has done none of that. He outsourced it. He instead left it up to Congress to write the legislation (with predictable results) and squandered a majority by passing nothing of his big ticket agenda. He’s now reduced to parliamentary tricks to try to pass health care reform legislation.
Whether or not Obama’s majorities are as big as those of FDR or LBJ enjoyed isn’t the point – the point is he had majorities and he squandered them by sitting back, leaving it all to Congress and letting party infighting slow and then stall his agenda. Had he, as the Standard notes about FDR, taken “command of Washington” and the legislative process the outcome might have been very different. Had he introduced legislation written by the administration, he had a very good chance of having health care done by last year.
He didn’t. So the point isn’t about the size of majorities. It isn’t clear Obama would have been in any better shape had he had FDR’s majorities. The point is Obama is no FDR because he lacks the leadership qualities, skills and abilities of FDR, not because he had a smaller majority in Congress.
I certainly wouldn’t put much confidence in the claim that relations have improved between the US and China. In fact, despite Obama’s claims, it appears they’re much worse. Recent actions by the US have riled the Chinese to the point that they’re being anything but subtle about their feelings and certainly not keeping those feelings out of state sanctioned publications. According to the UK’s Sunday Times, 55% of Chinese agree that “a cold war will break out between the US and China”.
What has spurred this turn of events?
The finding came after battles over Taiwan, Tibet, trade, climate change, internet freedom and human rights which have poisoned relations in the three months since President Barack Obama made a fruitless visit to Beijing.
You’ll most likely remember how the administration touted the visit as one which significantly improved out relations with China. Apparently the administration was the only one which saw it that way:
During Obama’s visit, the US ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, claimed relations were “really at an all-time high in terms of the bilateral atmosphere … a cruising altitude that is higher than any other time in recent memory”, according to an official transcript.
The ambassador must have been the only person at his embassy to think so, said a diplomat close to the talks.
“The truth was that the atmosphere was cold and intransigent when the president went to Beijing yet his China team went on pretending that everything was fine,” the diplomat said.
In reality, Chinese officials argued over every item of protocol, rigged a town hall meeting with a pre-selected audience, censored the only interview Obama gave to a Chinese newspaper and forbade the Americans to use their own helicopters to fly him to the Great Wall.
President Hu Jintao refused to give an inch on Obama’s plea to raise the value of the Chinese currency, while his vague promises of co-operation on climate change led the Americans to blunder into a fiasco at the Copenhagen summit three weeks later.
Diplomats say they have been told that there was “frigid” personal chemistry between Obama and the Chinese president, with none of the superficial friendship struck up by previous leaders of the two nations.
And, if you can believe it, it has gone downhill from there.
An independent survey of Chinese-language media for The Sunday Times has found army and navy officers predicting a military showdown and political leaders calling for China to sell more arms to America’s foes. The trigger for their fury was Obama’s decision to sell $6.4 billion (£4 billion) worth of weapons to Taiwan, the thriving democratic island that has ruled itself since 1949.
“We should retaliate with an eye for an eye and sell arms to Iran, North Korea, Syria, Cuba and Venezuela,” declared Liu Menxiong, a member of the Chinese people’s political consultative conference.
He added: “We have nothing to be afraid of. The North Koreans have stood up to America and has anything happened to them? No. Iran stands up to America and does disaster befall it? No.”
Apparently they’re on to the new but unspoken motto of the Obama administration “speak a lot, but do nothing”. What is being sensed by these military leaders in China is weakness. And such weakness is never left alone or ignored in international politics – it is always, in some way, shape or form exploited. While some may see this as nothing more than saber rattling, knowing the Chinese, it’s much more than that. It signals a significant change in our relationship:
Chinese analysts think the leadership, riding a wave of patriotism as the year of the tiger dawns, may go further.
“This time China must punish the US,” said Major-General Yang Yi, a naval officer. “We must make them hurt.” A major-general in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), Luo Yuan, told a television audience that more missiles would be deployed against Taiwan. And a PLA strategist, Colonel Meng Xianging, said China would “qualitatively upgrade” its military over the next 10 years to force a showdown “when we’re strong enough for a hand-to-hand fight with the US”.
Chinese indignation was compounded when the White House said Obama would meet the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, in the next few weeks.
“When someone spits on you, you have to get back,” said Huang Xiangyang, a commentator in the China Daily newspaper, usually seen as a showcase for moderate opinion.
If that’s the moderate opinion, you can imagine what the more hawkish among China’s opinion makers are saying.
This is what happens when amateurs play at foreign policy and those they’re dealing with sniff out weak (or non-existent) leadership. As I mentioned quite some time ago, 2009 would be a year of relative calm as other nations took the measure of the new administration and what they could expect. Once that was done, 2010 would most likely be the year when they’d act – and frankly, given this from China, it’s most likely not going to be a pleasant year for US foreign policy.
Oh, and if you think China is willing to back the US on new sanctions against Iran – as the administration has been claiming – I’d be willing to take that bet and give odds that no such backing will ever be given by China.