Monday, June 21, 2010

Will the Big O Be A One-Termer?

U.S. News & World Report Editor Mort Zuckerman makes a compelling argument that President Barack Obama is seen as “incompetent and amateur” on the world stage in today’s edition of the magazine.

Though you have to take what Zuckerman writes with a grain of salt (he tends to be a bit too pro-Israel, among other things) he certainly brings forth some salient points that, as a pajama-clad armchair blogger and L.H. Puttgrassesque pundit for the people, I find interesting. First:
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.
If I know anything about leadership in the Arab world (and what little I know I glean from the likes of terry Pratchett and Frank Herbert, well-noted scholars of Araby) bad-mouthing one of your own simply isn’t done. (Yes, it's done in the West in spades; that just shows some of the cultural differences one has to deal with when going West to Middle East, and vice versa) What the west sees as apology and attempt at humility, others clearly see as weakness – and if we’re hoping to make inroads with Muslim countries, showing weakness isn’t the way to go about it.

Then there’s this ouchie:
French President Nicolas Sarkozy openly criticized Obama for months, including a direct attack on his policies at the United Nations. Sarkozy cited the need to recognize the real world, not the virtual world, a clear reference to Obama's speech on nuclear weapons. When the French president is seen as tougher than the American president, you have to know that something is awry.
Nuclear disarmament – talk of it and a little action – is what earned Obama his Nobel Peace Prize. But at the time it seemed odd to me, and it appears I’m not the only one. Nuclear deterrence is a noble goal, but a state-sponsored nuclear attack certainly seems a lot less likely than continued terrorist attacks, even a terrorist attack with a nuclear weapon.

What’s most interesting about this entire situation is how blind the national media and Obama’s core supporters are to the man’s shortcomings. I voted for the guy, believing that, well, maybe if he’ll follow through with some of the stuff he’s talked about and works to improve our image abroad, he’ll be a good president. Given that we’re still operating that prison in Guantanamo, we’re still wiretapping citizens and going by guess and by God when it comes to national security.

The man does give a good speech, I admit that. Or as Zuckerman says:
Obama clearly wishes to do good and means well. But he is one of those people who believe that the world was born with the word and exists by means of persuasion, such that there is no person or country that you cannot, by means of logical and moral argument, bring around to your side. He speaks as a teacher, as someone imparting values and generalities appropriate for a Sunday morning sermon, not as a tough-minded leader. He urges that things "must be done" and "should be done" and that "it is time" to do them. As the former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, Les Gelb, put it, there is "the impression that Obama might confuse speeches with policy." Another journalist put it differently when he described Obama as an "NPR [National Public Radio] president who gives wonderful speeches." In other words, he talks the talk but doesn't know how to walk the walk. The Obama presidency has so far been characterized by a well-intentioned but excessive belief in the power of rhetoric with too little appreciation of reality and loyalty.
I know enough from raising my kids that if I don’t follow up my rhetoric with action, any amount of rhetoric won’t work. At all. It’s only after the action comes that the kids understand that the rhetoric is serious. I can’t parent by words alone, and running a country that way doesn’t work either.

So I believe in 2012 that the presidential election is for the Republicans to lose. Nominate the right person and they’ll win the White House. I also expect to see a rather raucous nomination fight on the Democratic side to the caliber of the Hubert Humphrey/Ed Muskie battle in 1968.

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