Entry from April 27, 2009

Over the weekend, John Kass of The Chicato Tribune made what you might think would be the obvious point that, in releasing the “torture” memos and then suggesting that prosecutions of Bush administration officials might result from them, President Obama made a mistake which must have endangered the flow of intelligence about future terrorist activity that threatens American lives.

His intelligence gatherers — and others who give them the tools and the go-ahead — can’t spend their time wondering if he has their backs. His statements surely sent spasms through bureaucracies that are vital to his own success and America’s safety. All because he wanted to campaign, rather than lead.

Likewise, Con Coughlin, writing in the London Daily Telegraph, noticed that

The Taliban continues its menacing advance on the Pakistani capital. The Iranian president reiterates his hateful anti-Israeli rhetoric, while Israel’s newly elected Right-wing prime minister makes veiled threats about launching military action to prevent a second Holocaust. Yet the only subject that appears to concern Barack Obama is whether or not senior officials from the previous administration should face prosecution for the harsh interrogation techniques used against terror suspects in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.

It seems obvious to both these writers, in other words, that the President has blundered — that, having the purpose of taking up the burden of American power in the world, he has been either too inexperienced or ill-advised to do it properly. As Mr Coughlin puts it:

Whether a president supports a policy of hard power, as did George W Bush, or one of soft power, which appears to be Mr Obama”s preferred option, it is nevertheless important that the White House projects the sense of global leadership that goes with being the world”s largest military superpower.

But what if these were not mistakes? What if Messrs Kass and Coughlin are the ones who are mistaken? Maybe President Obama never wanted to exercise “global leadership” in the first place. The very words, after all, suggest the sort of “arrogance” that the President was apologizing for, on behalf of his poor, ill-led (up until now) country, on his recent European tour. Maybe he has never had any purpose of global leadership except in the sense that President Jimmy Carter had it thirty years ago: that is, by setting an example to the world of such high principles that nothing else will need to be done and therefore no further leadership will be required of him.

Mr Kass feels sure that the President “must stop campaigning someday, and start thinking like a chief executive.” You’d think so, wouldn’t you? But I’m not so sure. As I mentioned in one of last week’s posts in a similar context, I’m very much afraid that one of the consequences of our electing as president someone who has had no executive experience and then subjecting him to the sort of adulation he has enjoyed in the media is that he has not yet had to learn the difference between campaigning and governing. Perhaps he never will.

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