Friday, July 25, 2014

Obama's Grand Idea

Many people, Charles Krauthammer writes, believe that Barack Obama has checked out of his presidency.

Obama excels at campaigning, so he continues to campaign. He has no idea how to be a chief executive so he avoids playing the game of governance and leadership.

I have suggested that Obama’s inexperience with the ways of the real world forced him to use an ideologically-driven fiction as a frame of reference. He sees himself as a character in the great scheme of history, a scheme that will work itself out, regardless of what he does. He can only position himself correctly and history will vindicate him.

Three weeks ago I wrote on this blog:

If you are living a fiction, you are obliged to play your role. The outcome is inevitable. If you are playing a game you can take actions that can influence the outcome.

Barack Obama believes that he is right and that everyone who does not see it his way is wrong. He does not see a need to change course, because he believes that history will vindicate him.

If history is a grand narrative whose ending is predetermined, the best Obama can do is to place himself on the right side and wait.

And I quoted Peggy Noonan to the same effect:

He thinks he is in line with the arc of history….

This morning Krauthammer picks up the same point. Rejecting the notion that Obama’s disinterest is psychologically motivated, Krauthammer suggests that Obama has tuned out of leadership because he is confident that he is on the right side of history:

Obama’s passivity stems from an idea. When Obama says Putin has placed himself on the wrong side of history in Ukraine, he actually believes it . He disdains realpolitik because he believes that, in the end, such primitive 19th-century notions as conquest are self-defeating. History sees to their defeat.

Since history is on his side, Obama does not need to intervene actively in world crises. History will vindicate him.

At what price remains unclear.

Behind this thinking lies the notion that we are all for nothing when faced with the great tide of history. This Hegelian or neo-Hegelian notion has infected many minds. It tells us that we need but get on the right side of history. It also tells us that human agency, human actions based on the exercise of free will are for nothing in the equation.

As I argued in The Last Psychoanalyst, you can see the world as a drama or as a game. If it is a drama or a fiction you are a mere character following a predetermined script. The denouement will come to pass, regardless of what you do. If life is a game, you are an agent. Your actions will be instrumental in determining what happens.


JP said...

"As I argued in The Last Psychoanalyst, you can see the world as a drama or as a game. If it is a drama or a fiction you are a mere character following a predetermined script. The denouement will come to pass, regardless of what you do. If life is a game, you are an agent. Your actions will be instrumental in determining what happens."

The world is both a drama and a game. It's also a book.

Anonymous said...

The logical consequence of postmodern philosophy practiced in the real world.


The Dark Lord said...

if the arc of history will remain unchanged no matter what Obama does then why did he bother to run for the office ?

Ares Olympus said...

Krauthammer says Obama's apparent "passivity" is strategic because of the ideology that he's right in the end???

All we really know is that Krauthammer is happy to play a chicken hawk neocon with nothing to lose for his nonsense opining:
"A real U.S. president would give Kiev the weapons it needs, impose devastating sectoral sanctions on Moscow, reinstate our Central European missile-
defense system and make a Reaganesque speech explaining why."

The strange reality now is that Europe is now just as dependent upon Russia's cheap oil and gas, as Russia is on selling its cheap oil and gas to Europe, so despite the actual violence going on, its regional politics that won't be changed by global politics. We're smart to stay out, and stupid that we've not stayed out more than we have.

Anonymous said...

Muslims not exactly the brightest bulbs in the world.

Dr. Mabuse said...

I remember a similar case of a leader expecting to be wafted to victory without any effort on his own part. Winston Churchill wrote a 6-volume biography of his ancestor, the first Duke of Marlborough. In the first volume, he dealt with the overthrow of the Catholic James II by the Protestant William of Orange.

When William's ships were approaching England, James seemed completely paralyzed and unable to act to repel the invasion. Instead, he took refuge in prayer and ritual. When a contrary wind drove back the Dutch ships, he maintained that it was only natural, as the Host had been exposed for several days. One of his supporters begged him to mobilize the army and prepare to fight William when he landed, but could not get James to act at all. "Tis all naught," wrote the commander. "The Virgin Mary is to do all."

Anonymous said...

Ares: Isolationism is perennially attractive, but rarely ends well for the United States.

Putin is a thug. Thugs have voracious appetites. He wants to restore Soviet greatness and return neighbors to being satellites rather than true sovereign nations.

Putin's economic regime is the sane-old Soviet playbook: high energy prices to mask sclerotic economic development, inefficient industry, soft agricultural exports, and over-consumption of vodka. High energy prices fund the Kremlin and their de facto government-sponsored elites/oligarchs. Without these abundant Russian commodities, he has very little to challenge the West economically, save thousands of nuclear warheads. He's not investing in his country, his people... he's running an all-cash business.

I haven't heard anyone, including Krauthammer, say say we should go toe-to-toe with Russia in a military engagement. But we are the world's remaining superpower, making us the only real weight to counter Russian aggression and subterfuge. Putin's goals are not in our long-term interest. If we show Western and Central Europe we are feckless in the face of thuggery, we will offer them no other choice but to pay Russia's price in order to appease its aggression. If Russian oil and gas was "cheap," they just got a lot more expensive, and I'm sure Putin and his cronies took positions in the global commodity exchanges prior to the Ukrainian mess.

We are charter members of NATO. If we don't counter with some resolve, and set some limits, Putin will feel free to cause trouble in the Baltic States, beginning with Estonia. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are all military signatories within NATO. This alliance represents the most significant, visible treaty obligation we have... if Putin moves against one if all of them, and we have no response, NATO is meaningless. We will not have kept our word, and we are the core of the alliance. And China will be watching how we handle all this, too.

So it's not some regional political dispute with micro-consequences, along with a minor side play on oil and natural gas. We have obligations and interests in Europe. The former Warsaw Pact member states like Poland are terrified of Russian interference, mischief and blackmail. Energy supplies are just the beginning.

So I don't see Krauthammer on some "neocon" rant to fill air, I think his defensive military recommendations -- backing up our diplomatic tone -- are spot on. If Reagan was such an idiot, how did such a simple, straightforward strategy against the Soviet Union succeed? Maybe because it was simple and direct. You know what most spooked the Soviets about Reagan early on? When he fired the PATCO air traffic controllers. A leader's moves don't have to be complicated to send a clear message, with far-ranging consequences.

We cannot retreat from the world. We must have a sound, coherent foreign policy. We must send clear signals. We must back up our rhetoric when we talk about "red lines." Otherwise, we look like fools. This is not a parlor game or a distraction from domestic hardball politics. This is serious stuff, with serious consequences. If the President has fundraisers scheduled, fine. I don't besmirch him for that. He's President, and I don't want him held hostage by some shirtless thug on a white steed. That said, I do question Obama's lack of vigor and clarity about America's stance around this coordinated Russian incursion using partisans to do the dirty work... like shooting down passenger jets. Are we really going to sit idly by and watch the Russians arm their partisans with high-tech weaponry? Are we really going to be hesitant to send some defensive missile batteries to NATO allies like Poland and the Czech Republic to contain Putin? I hope not. That would be demonstrate weakness. Bad move.


CorkyAgain said...

As Olavo de Carvalho has pointed out, most people believe that the past is immutable but the future is something that can be changed through our actions in the present. Leftwing revolutionaries, on the other hand, think that the future is immutable and the past (and the present) can and should be changed to accommodate the inevitable.

How do you change the past? By controlling the "narrative".