Friday, March 25, 2011

Barack Obama's Leadership Deficit

You have to hand it to Barack Obama. He is treating us to lesson after lesson about how not to exercise leadership. If you are really interested in how not to do it, then Obama’s your man.

By now, most people seem to have gotten the message. No one really believes in the charade any more.

When Obama exercises the full measure of his commander-in-chief authority by authorizing missile attacks against a notably unsavory tyrant, the American people give him the equivalent of a Bronx cheer.

According to a new poll: “Only 17 percent of Americans see President Barack Obama as a strong and decisive military leader, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll taken after the United States and its allies began bombing Libya.

“Nearly half of those polled view Obama as a cautious and consultative commander-in-chief and more than a third see him as indecisive in military matters.” Link here.

If the Obama PR mavens believed that ordering a missile attack would make him look more presidential and more in command, they are doubtless scurrying back to the drawing board.

Peggy Noonan gets to the heart of Obama’s leadership deficit in a column today: “Now he seems incompetent and out of his depth in foreign and military affairs. He is more observed than followed, or perhaps I should say you follow him with your eyes and not your heart. So it's funny he'd feel free to launch and lead a war, which is what this confused and uncertain military action may become.” Link here.

Note the wonderful phrase: “… more observed than followed….”  It does not signify leadership. It describes someone who is playing at being a leader, who is pretending, who is acting the role. As I wrote in my post “Why Are We Bombing Libya?” it looks like political theatre.

Noonan is a speechwriter by trade, so she thinks of leadership in terms of the kind of speech that a president should give. She knows, as you do, that there is more to leadership than giving speeches, but when you undertake momentous kinetic military action you need to explain yourself to those you want to follow your lead.

Even more so when you work for them.

In Noonan’s words: “Which gets me to Mr. Obama's speech, the one he hasn't given. I cannot for the life of me see how an American president can launch a serious military action without a full and formal national address in which he explains to the American people why he is doing what he is doing, why it is right, and why it is very much in the national interest. He referred to his aims in parts of speeches and appearances when he was in South America, but now he's home. More is needed, more is warranted, and more is deserved. He has to sit at that big desk and explain his thinking, put forward the facts as he sees them, and try to garner public support. He has to make a case for his own actions. It's what presidents do! And this is particularly important now, because there are reasons to fear the current involvement will either escalate and produce a lengthy conflict or collapse and produce humiliation.

“Without a formal and extended statement, the air of weirdness, uncertainty and confusion that surrounds this endeavor will only deepen.”

No statement to the American people. No consultations with Congress. Just who does Barack Obama think he is?

At the least, he is not acting as though he is the President of the United States.

You cannot lead if no one is following you, and no one follows a leader without having some idea of where the leader is going and how he is going to get there.

Some Americans voted for Barack Obama because they believed that he had superior rhetorical skills and an especially capacious intellect. Everyone is entitled to a mistake.

But, at a time when rhetorical skills might come in handy, the president seems to be unwilling to use them to explain what he is doing.

Those who were seduced into defending candidate Obama because they were convinced that the nation needed a leader with superior intelligence should now be lining up to apologize to the nation.

There are a number of possible explanations for why Obama has not given the speech.

1. He doesn’t know why he is doing what he is doing.

2. He knows what he is doing but would rather not have to explain it because it would make him look bad.

3. He doesn’t care what the American people think. Or better, he does not think that they know how to think.

4. He doesn’t care what the Congress thinks. All that they can do is interfere with him.

5. He doesn’t have to explain himself, so, why should he. Barack Obama has spent his life getting away with things; why should he not keep on doing as he has always done.

6. He has a coterie of flunkies, enablers, and satraps who are perfectly willing to explain it all for him.

We have a half-dozen possible explanations. Most likely, the ultimate truth contains something from each of them.

Clearly, Obama is making it up as he goes along. He is not sure whether his policy is regime change or humanitarian relief. He is not sure who is really in charge.

While the humanitarian angle tugs at our heartstrings, the same principle does not seem to apply in other similar situations around the world.

Telling the nation why we are bombing Libya would entail, for someone with intellectual integrity, explaining why we are not bombing Syria or Iran or the Sudan.

Of course, if it’s all a lot of political theatre, where Kadhafi is sacrificed to make Obama look like a decisive commander, this is clearly not something that a president wants to communicate to the nation.

Of course, we can all imagine that the spin meisters in the White House could come up with some semi-cogent arguments for the intervention. But if Obama goes on national television to deliver them in a speech, how can we guarantee that he will not smirk and give the game away.

If Obama does not really care what the American people think about all of it or what the American Congress might say, he can probably rationalize his way around it by telling himself that his cause is so righteous and so just that everyone will naturally support it, without questions and without objections.

On the other hand, if your cause is so righteous and just, you should not really have any trouble explaining yourself.

If similar thoughts are passing through Obama’s mind, that would make him pathetically na├»ve and excessively imperious.

Then again, Obama does not seem to see himself as the American president. He sees himself as King of the World, as a trans-national figure who need but gain the approval of the United Nations.

Obama went to the UN and not the United States Congress or the American people because he must have felt that the U.N. was his true constituency.

If he did not feel it, then he certainly acted as though he did.

As the old saying goes, actions speak louder than sentiments.

A leader who does not explain himself to his followers is disrespectful. He is treating his followers as automata who will simply follow his lead because he is the leader.

But then, some people do not explain themselves because they can get away it. Why take the risk of setting your policy in stone when most people are perfectly willing to let you make it up as you go along?

When you fail to explain yourself because you can get away with not explaining yourself, that does not make you a leader. It makes you a spoiled brat.

So, we are being led by a leader who disrespects the American people, who does not seem to know what he is doing, and who feels that he is King of he World.

One has to assume that Obama has not overcome his notable lack of executive experience.

A true executive knows that the effective implementation of policy depends on a motivated work force. A motivated work force feels like it is part of the process of setting policy and strategy. Then, it will see itself as an active participant in a mission it accepts

A weak and incompetent executive believes that leadership is about giving orders. He believes that when leader says: Jump, everyone will jump.

This jejune attitude is what you would know about leadership if your frame of reference was the world of fiction, whether from television or movies or books.

Leadership is a difficult topic for intellectuals, historians, and novelists because their work does not involve it.

When the cognoscenti and the literati write the final version of history, too often they can do no better than to communicate their deficient understanding of history. Then, a bright young novice like Barack Obama will come along and mistake the fiction for the real thing.


Anonymous said...

TO: Dr. Schneiderman, et al.
RE: Heh

Clearly, Obama is making it up as he goes along. He is not sure whether his policy is regime change or humanitarian relief. He is not sure who is really in charge. -- Stuart Schneiderman


His plan, as I've stated time and again, is anything that is bad for America will be done.

In Libya, the plan IS 'regime change' and that change will be for the Islamists, who are ready to seize power when Gadhaffi is removed.

The same is going on in Egypt, as you so adroitly pointed out just down the 'hall' from here. The same will happen in Syria and Yemen and anywhere else that these uprising occur.

And I doubt if Iraq will be 'untouched' by this movement.


[Hang on to your hats, the 'fun' is just beginning.]

JP said...

It's fascinating to watch a real-time Crisis Era event unfold.

It if was historical and not about to cause us all severe misfortune, that would be much better.

This is the post-Unraveling part of the Crisis Era.

Since Boomers and Xers don't actually *have* leadership skills, those skills being the ones that were actually honed by generations that are now out of the picture, we get to see what happens when everybody in charge of everything doesn't know how to lead.

If it makes you feel any better, no one else in the world actually has leadership skills either. The EU, China, U.S., Japan, India...

...everyone (who counts, geopolitically) is in the same boat.

And the boat is going to head off the waterfall.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Chuck is quite correct to point at something that I have not much mentioned... that these spontaneous rebellions are often being directed by Islamists, often from Tehran.

I also agree with JP that very few people these days have leadership skills and that this is not at all comforting, given the perilous state of the world.

Of course, a vacuum will be filled, and it seems that Iran is pulling lots of strings behind the scenes.

I see that the Chinese are keeping their distance, but I wonder whether they are not planning to take a more active role in foreign affairs once the situation veers completely out of hand.

David Foster said...

Leadership skills as a general matter: One of the problems is that the "staff" has been gaining too much influence relative to the "line." (I here use the term "staff" to refer to people who analyze, advise, and recommend but do not have the final decision-making authority and accountability for same which is the province of the line.)

It was once understood that people considered for important Line jobs should ideally have a mixture of Line and Staff experience. But what has been happening in recent years is that people serve for years primarily in Staff positions (sometimes with a perfunctory Line assignment purely for show) and then wind up getting put in a large & important Line position. The outcome is pretty predictable.

Barack Obama's career provides a case in point.

Anonymous said...

TO: Dr. Schneiderman, et al.
RE: On Leadership

I also agree with JP that very few people these days have leadership skills and that this is not at all comforting, given the perilous state of the world. -- Stuart Schneiderman

There IS a way to improve your leadership skills.

For those under 30 years of age, go IMMEDIATELY to your local Army or Marine Corps recruiter and sign up to go Airborne-Ranger or Recon-Marine.

It's easy. It's fun. You'll get to do exciting things for the rest of your life. Especially if you survive the tour of duty.


[You haven't lived....until you've almost died.]

Anonymous said...

TO: All
RE: A P.S. on my 251059 Mar 11....

Speaking of how Iraq will fare in all this 'spontaneous' turmoil....

....I recall seeing an item that that Shi'ite SOB who lead the rebellion against the coalition-established government in Iraq years ago has returned to Iraq from hiding in Iran.

The coincidence is just too much to ignore....for anyone with more than two synapses to rub together.


[I believe in coincidence. I just don't trust it. -- Garrack, Cardacian Tailor/Tinker/Soldier/Spy on ST:DS9]

Susan said...

Reason # 7 (for not giving a speech):

Hillary Clinton made me do this. I think she should give the speech

Therapy Culture said...

Obama should stick to the things he addresses to scientists here;

In so doing he could yet become our first green president.

Renewable energies and sustainable technologies is what the US and the world needs more than anything else.

We Americans could lead the way.

Obama needs to forget Big Oil, pull Big Oil's underpaid employees, our troops, out of Afghanistan and Iraq, quit Libya and focus on SCIENCE.

Oh but then there's the lithium problem, isn't there. We need lithium for cell phones, lap tops and solar batteries.

Where is lithium located?


So it looks like we'll be "drilling baby drilling" over there for many years to come.

Don't expect the "war on terror" to end any time soon.

Dennis said...

The problem is that innovation almost never comes from government, businesses, et al. Those who innovate will become the businesses and governments will always extract much of the profit from that innovation in order to stiffle it. Hewlett and Packard started in their garage. Edison, Bell, Marconi, et al did not have government largess which almost always corrupts science.
I would posit that the idea that will create the next great move forward in energy production will not come from any of the existing ideas, each of which have huge drawbacks to them. The current energy sources are just a bridge which one needs not to burn behind them.
There is little reason to create hardship for large number of people in the quest for energy independence. A population struggling to meet survival needs is NOT going to spend much time innovating and nothing is more blinkered than the government and their favored businesses. In fact that relationship, if history is any indication, keeps innovation at bay.
Real leadership would recognize that and ensure that its citizens has access to available resources so that they might reach a point of self actualization needed to think outside the box.
A litany of leftists talking point only demonstrates that one has never asked all of the questions that need to be answered in order to find viable solutions to any of the issues. What is the logistic involved in fielding new sources of energy so that it is readily available and can be sustained? Is that source of energy actually better on the environment than other current forms? If the by product of using an energy source is water could all that water being dumped into the atmosphere create a problem of its own?
Life does not change because one wants what one wants. Leadership is knowing how to get the people around you to make it happen and when to stay out of their way. Something government and Obama will never learn. Government does not take chances that the individual is capable of withstanding and survive.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I would second what Dennis says. None of these alternative energy sources is remotely capable of providing enough energy. The only one is nuclear... and that has been held down by the environmentalists and their lawyers who are waving this illusion about green energy.

All of these alternative energies are cost inefficient. And as Dennis suggests, if they were cost effective business would be hard at work on them.

It still feels to me like a ruse to return to a pre-industrial paradise that the Green lobby dreams of.

Because if you shut down coal and nuclear, knowing that sun and wind cannot possibly make up the slack, then you will have blackouts galore, accompanied by factories and industries shutting down.

David Foster said...

Therapy: "Where is lithium located?

Actually, the primary source of lithium is South America, particularly Bolivia. It can also be extracted from seawater, as South Korea is apparently beginning to do. Although lithium does exist in Afghanistan, the absence of infrastructure (particularly railroads) does not make this a very attractive location for large-scale mining operations as long as other sources exist.

Therapy Culture said...

"Although lithium does exist in Afghanistan, the absence of infrastructure (particularly railroads) does not make this a very attractive location for large-scale mining operations as long as other sources exist."

That's why our troops are there. Eventually an infrastructure will be built. That's the whole point of the "war on (t)error.

I agree with you about innovation.

That's why Obama should stick to what he says in that video link.

Putting science first again. Emphasising science in our schools from the earliest stages to get kids thinking in a scientific mindset so that they have what it takes to make those experiments in their Mom's garage or Mom's boyfriend's basement.

The first innovation would be coming up with a way to harness phyto-energy that does not require lithium.

Anonymous said...

TO: All
RE: This 'War for Oil' Tripe

Don't know exactly who thinks they're going to get Libyan oil from the 'grateful' Islamists out of this 'kinetic military action'.

But they are certainly either (1) fooling themselves or (2) know EXACTLY what they can expect from the haters of the West, when they come into power.


....which is it? And why?


[Those who do not learn from history, are doomed to relive it.]

P.S. Think Iran's overthrow of their own dictator, the Shah Shah.

Gift Economy said...

Re: Libya

* Follow the money.

Re: Those who do not learn from history, are doomed to relive it.

* That's what we're doing. Every war is the same.

Follow the money.

Re: Think Iran's overthrow of their own dictator, the Shah Shah.

* Three letters,


Anonymous said...

TO: All
RE: Where He Doesn't Need to 'Lead'

Today, SecState Clinton said that the US will not 'intervene' in the Syrian revolution, as it has in Libya.

There are two reasons that spring to my mind on why this is so:

[1] Syria does not have much in the way of oil.
[2] There's not need to provide military support to the rebels in Syria, because Hezbollah will do it for Obama.


[Hang on to your hats. The 'fun' is JUST earnest.]

blahga the hutt said...

It's hard to feel empathy for Noonan, since she was one of those at the forefront of hacking McCain and Palin down so that the Messiah could take charge. She's the last one who should be complaining about Teh One. How's that working for ya, Pegmeister?

Stuart, the Chinese don't have the stupid emotionalism that we have for "human rights." That's why they're not getting involved. They'll deal with whoever is in power to get the resources. Not necessarily a bad idea in a coldblooded sense.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I had forgot about that rather embarrassing chapter in Noonan's past.

As you say, the Chinese do not feel responsible for humanity. They deal with their own national interest. Which is not necessarily a bad idea.

But, does anyone really believe that the mission in Libya is really humanitarian. As Chuck points out, there is no way we are going to get involved in Syria.

On the other hand, I wonder about getting involved without really knowing who belongs to the Libyan opposition. One feels at some level that the great student of liberation theology is really all about fomenting revolution. said...

Quite worthwhile information, thanks so much for the post.