Friday, October 30, 2009

Obama's Tenacity Gap

Yesterday blogger Ann Althouse suggested that President Obama is becoming identified as a ditherer. Usually when such an epithet sticks to a name, there is something to it.

In a superb column today David Brooks argues that the real problem with Afghanistan is not troop levels or even strategy. As he has discovered from his reporting, the real problem lies in Obama's lack of tenacity. To most educated observers Obama lacks the kind of fierce determination, the clarity and purpose, that is essential to defeating the Taliban insurgency. Link here.

Brooks took what should not be a radical step for a journalist. He interviewed a group of the most intelligent experts on counterinsurgency. He discovered that they were not wringing their hands over troop levels or even strategy reviews. They felt that the biggest problem was the growing belief that Obama did not have the tenacity to keep his word.

So, it is not about troop levels; it is really all about character.

Speaking of the experts' view of Obama, Brooks wrote: "... they do not know if he possesses the trait that is more important than intellectual sophistication and, in fact, stands in tension with it. They do not know if he possesses tenacity, the ability to fixate on a simple conviction and grip it, viscerally and unflinchingly, through complexity and confusion. They do not know whether he possesses the obstinacy that guided Lincoln and Churchill, and which must guide all war presidents to some degree."

However much the world likes Obama, the fact that so many people believe him to be ditherer, someone they cannot count on to keep his word, will have dire consequences.

It is not just military experts who doubt Obama's tenacity. People in Afghanistan are voting their disapproval by their actions. As Brooks explains, Afghan villagers are now "hedging their bets," refusing to inform on the Taliban because they do not know whether Obama will stand firm in the face of the insurgency.

He adds that President Karzai is being forced to forge ties with warlords because he might need their support if the United States withdraws. And other countries do not trust Obama either, so Pakistan, Russia, and Iran are obliged to maintain ties with the Taliban.

How did we get to this sorry state of affairs? Simply put, a year ago the American intelligentsia was glorying in the fact that Barack Obama had a more nuanced approach to problems, a more subtle and sophisticated mind, especially compared with the stubborn and simple-minded tenacity of George W. Bush.

No one was willing to praise Bush for his ability to fixate on a simple conviction and to follow through on it, unflinchingly, in the face of gale-force dissent.

Of course, there were a few voices last year who warned against nuance, who saw the difficulties a leader would face if he tried to be all things to all people, or if his mind was too sophisticated to formulate policy and carry through on it. Modesty prevents me from naming names here, but this post from August, 2008 might offer some evidence. Link here.

[If you are interested in this topic, I recommend Peter Wehner's remarks on the Commentary blogsite. Link here.]

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