Saturday, March 26, 2011


For those of us who are chronicling Barack Obama’s adventures in presidential misleadership, this morning was a veritable Obamathon.

Let us count the ways.

First came the announcement that our fearless leader would appear on national television Monday to explain why he is bombing Libya.

Score one for Peggy Noonan. It took less than 24 hours for the crack White House communications team to be shamed by Ronald Reagan’s speechwriter into doing what she told them to do.

If you were wondering where Obama is getting his marching orders, now you know: the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal.

That’s for those of you who want to keep hope alive.

As for me, I next turned to the same Wall Street Journal to read an article by Robert Kaplan. Link here.

At first, the article sounded promising. Kaplan opened with this sobering analysis: “Despite the military drama unfolding in Libya, the Middle East is only beginning to unravel. American policy-makers have been spoiled by events in Tunisia and Egypt, both of which boast relatively sturdy institutions, civil society associations and middle classes, as well as being age-old clusters of civilization where states of one form or another have existed since antiquity. Darker terrain awaits us elsewhere in the region, where states will substantially weaken once the carapace of tyranny crumbles. The crucial tests lie ahead, beyond the distraction of Libya.”

At least, Kaplan has not gotten caught up in the revolution narrative. He sees an onset of some very dark and difficult times. One cannot help but agree.

In his view the forces that are on the move in the Middle East are unstoppable, and are not likely to be very democratic. Good point, though he is hardly the first to make it.

He might have mentioned that these forces are becoming more and more unstoppable now that they believe that they have Barack Obama on their side.

But, Kaplan is correct when he joins those who have been urging closer attention to the underlying influence of Iran and to the growing threat to the Saudi monarchy.

After offering some useful analysis, Kaplan seems compelled to rationalize Obama’s misleadership. He declares that Obama’s indecisive and feckless leadership, his failure to explain himself… is a  sign of “cunning.”

Kaplan even compares Obama’s leadership style to that of George H. W. Bush during the fall of the Soviet Empire. Actually, Bush had garnered some serious experience in foreign policy before he assumed the presidency. He handled the crisis in Eastern Europe masterfully.

Compared to G. H. W. Bush, Barack Obama is a bumbler.

Kaplan’s analogy is misleading, but his choice of language is telling. Using the word “cunning” to describe the leader of an operation called, “Odyssey Dawn” seems to refer to the most cunning of Greek warriors: Odysseus.

I will mention in passing that the phrase, Odyssey Dawn, makes no sense in English. Since this is an international operation, perhaps the great minds of the administration decided that it was best to speak in Babel.

As you probably recall, the cunning Odysseus invented the ultimate military ruse, the Trojan Horse. Once he persuaded the Trojans to accept the gift of this enormous horse as a peace offering, and to allow it into their walled fortress, the war was basically over.

Led by the cunning Odysseus the Horse was filled with Greek warriors who attacked the Trojans in their sleep and brought the ten year war to a swift and decisive conclusion.

Between us, this cunning action was not the work of a confused and incoherent leader. It had very little to do with the political theater of sending in a barrage of Tomahawk cruise missiles.

For the record, ancient Troy was located in the land now called Turkey. The Trojan War had nothing to do with North Africa.

If we want to know how anyone came up with the silly expression, Odyssey Dawn, I would recommend that he might have been thinking of one of the most famous metaphors from the Odyssey: “rosy fingered dawn.”

As metaphors for the sunrise, that’s about as good as it gets. But, it takes more than an incoherent phrase to make Obama into a modern Odysseus.

After I finished reading Kaplan, I needed some rhetorical tonic, so I turned to Mark Steyn. There I was greeted by a line that shows us yet again why Obama really does need a teleprompter. Link here.

While giving a press conference in el Salvador a few days ago, Obama muttered these words: “It is our military that is being volunteered by others to carry out missions that are important not only to us, but are important internationally.”

I hope I am not alone in seeing that this is syntactical and semantic gibberish.

Let’s keep in mind that the great liberal minds in the American media threw objectivity to the winds in their zealous support for a man they considered to be brilliant beyond human reason. Many of them had thought that the American people were unworthy of so crafty a wordsmith.

If they were half as smart as they think they are, they would have noticed, even before the election, that Obama’s command of the English language leaves much to be desired.

As I mentioned at the time-- regrettably I was among the very few who noticed it-- the title of Obama’s opus, The Audacity of Hope, is a grammatical error. As we know, Obama took inspiration from a sermon by Rev. Jeremiah Wright, entitled: “The Audacity to Hope.”

All the time that Obama was sitting at the feet of Rev. Wright, not understanding a word of what was being said, he managed to pick up a title for his book. When he decided to make this title his own, the best he could do was to mangle the syntax.

For the record, I am perfectly willing to accept that Obama wrote the title of his book. I do not believe that it was remotely possible that he wrote the book himself.

Excuse the digression.

The important point is that the sentence that Steyn quotes, in and of itself, moves Obama to the had of the class in misleadership.

Whatever does it mean to say that other people-- which other people?-- can volunteer your armies to fight in a kinetic military action.

It is possible to say that an executive volunteered his secretary to do charity work. But this only makes sense if you assume that he is really volunteering his own services, given that he is paying for her time.

It makes no sense to say that I can volunteer your secretary to serve on a charity. I do not pay your secretary and have nothing to say about what he or she does with his or her time.

It is correct in English to say that your army can volunteer to do something. It is also correct to say that you, as a commander, can volunteer your army to do something. But it is idiotic to say that a third party-- the nebulous “other people”-- can volunteer your army to do anything at all.

Other people might ask your army to volunteer for action, but, if you are the commander, you cannot show leadership by saying that someone else took control of your army and told it what to do.

I hope that Obama is not saying that he wants to place the American military under the command of the Arab League.

Grammatical errors, sloppy thinking… we are not seeing a great mind at work. We are seeing someone who does not know what he is doing, who does not know who he is, and who is running from responsibility as fast as he can.

Our final misleadership lesson comes to us from the London Telegraph.

As I and many others have mentioned, no one really knows who these Libyan rebel fighters are. Who is fighting against Khaddafi in Benghazi.

According to the Telegraph, the leader of the rebel forces has been recruiting al Qaeda terrorists, of all people. Link here.

As Mark Steyn reports, these fighters learned their trade fighting for the insurgency in Iraq. As it happens, Benghazi was a primary recruiting ground for al Qaeda in Iraq.

Steyn offers the following description of presidential leadership: “Now suddenly he’s [Obama’s] got to go — in favor of ‘freedom-loving‘ ‘democrats‘ from Benghazi. That would be in eastern Libya — which, according to West Point’s Counter Terrorism Center, has sent per capita the highest number of foreign jihadists to Iraq.”

As George Friedman said, when you intervene in foreign conflicts, you need to know which side you are on. And when you are acting as a leader you need to know who is following.


Malcolm said...

In my opinion Andrew C. McCarthy has been right most of the time here is his latest.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thanks, Malcolm. Andrew McCarthy has been great on these topics.

Gift Economy said...

US troops need to be pulled out of - just about everywhere, and we need to focus on getting our nation back to the top in scientific innovation.

Anonymous said...

Odyssey Dawn sounds like a porn star.

Anonymous said...

Why Moderate Arabs Are Horrified at Obama Administration Policy

I've seen a lot in media expressing the views of the Gulf Arab states and officials' statements--not all of them public, and not to mention similar expressions from Turkish and Iranian oppositionists--expressing horror and shock at Obama Administration Middle East policy. Remember, al-Jazira is NOT typical, as it is run by Islamists and follows the pro-Iran line of its owner, the Qatari government.

In this article in al-Sharq al-Awsat (translated by MEMRI), a Saudi-controlled but also relatively liberal newspaper, Tariq al-Homayed, the chief editor, expresses the combination of shock and horror at the Obama Administration. The conflict was hot over Egypt and even hotter over Bahrain, where the Saudis want the current regime to survive and U.S. officials have criticized Saudi intervention.

Indeed, he complains, the statements coming from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton,
sound "more like what we'd expect to hear from the Iranian foreign minister." The "contradictory statements coming out of Washington have become more than merely perplexing; they are also suspicious."


Stuart Schneiderman said...

Now that you mention it, Anon, Odyssey Dawn does sound like the name of a porn star. Excellent insight.

Susan said...

As concerns the phrase the "audacity of hope" I think that most people didn't pick up on grammatical impropriety because it isn't that egregious. You can use audacity + noun, provided that the noun is a human being, such as "the audacity of that man!" Hope is both a noun and a verb, but as a noun it does not of course generally connote (or is it denote?) a living subject. Yet, as you know, in poetry, "hope" can be invested with life-like, even human, qualities. Furthermore, diachronically, language very often evolves through just such mistakes. This is not to say that any of these academic considerations went through the mind of Barack Obama, at least consciously! If so, we would think much more of him!

Personally I have fought for years against the grammatically incorrect "different than." It is a losing battle.

The seriously muddled sentence (about volunteering armies) you quote seems more indisputably the working of a seriously muddled mind. Or a mind that is desperately trying not to take a firm position, to avoid criticism. Better, far better, criticism of Obama's grammar than of his policies!

And yet, it is interesting in this context to note that more competent leaders such as Bush and McCain yet often can't seem to complete a sentence correctly and have problems with subordinate clauses that sometimes don't just border on the dysfunctional, if you know what I mean.

Additionally, Americans are simply much more tolerant of bad grammar than are the French, for example, partially because so many never learned the rules in school to begin with, partially because we are more lax (or relaxed) than the French in general. With the all the negative consequence that laxity entails. In my experience as a teacher of French I have found that for many students, the study of physics seems less daunting than that of the grammar of a foreign language. Incroyable mais vrai.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thank you, Susan.

I agree that Obama is not the only public figure who mangles syntax from time to time. It also seems to me that when he is enunciating policy that involves war, that he should have prepared what he is going to say.

I appreciate your argument, and I agree that everyone seems to have been willing to give Obama a pass on it.

Surely, the syntax is not the same as, "the audacity of that man" because that is just a way of saying that the man is audacious. Obama is not using the preposition in that way. He is talking about people having the audacity "to" hope, as Jeremiah Wright correctly said.

After all, Obama could have used Wright's phrasing. In changing it he made it his and he showed that he does not understand English grammar.

Also, it's the title of his book If you are going to get the grammar right, wouldn't you want to do so in your book title? And where were the legions of editors who worked on the ms... where they so completely awed by Obama that they imagined that whatever he said was correct grammar was necessarily correct grammar?

Therapy Culture said...

"After all, Obama could have used Wright's phrasing. In changing it he made it his and he showed that he does not understand English grammar."

Seems to be an American Presidential legacy...

Gynocologists "practicing their love" on patients, anyone?

Remember that one?

The world once knew us as a people who didn't know geography. Now they know us as a people who don't even know our own language to boot?


Stuart Schneiderman said...

I hadn't heard the phrase "practicing their love" used in reference to gynecologists, but I would assume-- correct me if I'm wrong-- that it refers to certain techniques that were developed by these physicians in Victorian England.

Anonymous said...

Bush may have mangled his sentences, but most people knew where he stood and what he believed about America.

Obama likes to speak a lot and I think it gets him into trouble, not to mention all the staff and reporters that have to work overtime telling us what the Administration meant.

Nothing he does or says gives me a reason to believe he is brilliant, and even if he was, he is not right for the job he holds.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Great point... the fact is, everyone knew what George W stood for, and what his policies were.

Sometimes I wonder whether, when some people hear a clear and concise expression of a point of view, one that they can fully understand, they naturally assume that if it's intelligible to them, then it must be idiotic.

These are the kinds of people who assume that if Obama is unintelligible that must mean that he is brilliant.

Sophie said...

What namely you're saying is a terrible mistake.