Monday, February 15, 2010

Obama is not a strong leader

Recently, the leader of the Taliban in Pakistan was killed by a US rocket launched from a drone. This was a major achievement, and is expected to result in a serious weakening of the Pakistani Taliban. With it, the Taliban and Al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan will also be meaningfully weaker.

Yet, there was little if any fanfare from the Administration. Had this happened under Bush, we'd have had a full-court press from Bush about how meaningful and important and decisive this was, how it reflected just how well Bush was handling the war (think not, go back and look at the grand-standing done when we killed the leader of "Al Qaeda in Iraq", a rather second-rate figure leading a group which didn't have that name prior to our entry into Iraq and which was pretty well a second-rate group in the struggle in Iraq). By comparison, the death of Hakimullah Mehsud is far more significant. He was the replacement of Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed by US forces in August 2009, and his death is meaningful because it shows that Al Qaeda and the Taliban, after seven years of moribund action by the Pakistani and US forces, are under continuing and real threat.

Further, Pakistan has joined the fight in it's northern "frontier" provinces in earnest. This is a major shift of the actions and intent of Pakistan in the past year. It is due in no small part to the threats and pressure placed upon the Pakistani government by Obama, partly in response to needing to distance itself from the ISI-funded terror group which attacked Mumbai, and partly in response to Clinton's visit where the US promised to be more careful and discrete in its use of drones and aeriel bombing. This latter point had been a major sticking point during the Bush years.

Finally, this week, as part of 'the surge' in Afghanistan, the Marines and the Afghani Army have launched a major offensive - this offensive is likely to take several major Talibani strongholds in southern Afghanistan. The question remains open whether they will be held long-term of course, but this is a massive shift of strategic approach from only a year ago where the Afghani government was openly mocked for ruling essentially ONLY Kabul (the Capital).

Each of these three events are significant. They show a combined US, Pakistani and Afghani force taking direct action against the Taliban/Wahabi extremists in an area of the world and in nations in which it is FAR TOUGHER to deal with Al Qaeda and jihadists than Iraq EVER was, on its worst day. Iraq was a secular nation which generally abhored jihadism and fundamentalist Muslims. Hussein rather frequently purged/attacked Sunni and Shia extremists, and he was hated by the likes of Bin Laden for allowing the teaching women in schools, for the embrace of technology, and of course for not seeking to establish a Sunni-lead Caliphate in the way that Bin Laden seeks to do. Iraq was only a hotbed of Sunni extremism because of the colossal ineptitude of the Bush-lead war/occupation there which tortured innocent civilians, and generally considered any concern for civilian casualties or the treatment of prisoners to be 'molly-coddling' in their own words. As Rush Limbaugh famously said, "apparently what the Democrat Party wants to do is offer terrorists therapy" (Ok, that's a paraphrase- but it's damned close to the actual quote) - which he said, and then members of the Republican party repeated, when complaints surfaced about the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib Prison (and elsewhere).

Contrastingly, Pakistan was and is the home of hundreds of Madrasas, religious schools normally founded and run by pro-Wahabi fundamentalist extremists from which suicide bombers are recruited and willing martyrs are sought. These Madrasas were funded by the oil wealth of Saudi Arabia, including Bin Laden's reputed $300 Million. It is a nation with 180 Million people, many of whom are barely literate, and a great number live in barely governed frontier provinces, like those in the Punjab and Kashmir regions. These regions have been the source of outside defeat for centuries (most recently the British were defeated in their attempt to conquer the region in the late 1800 and early 1900's. The Pakistani government signed peace treaties with the Taliban in 2008 to allow them to control sections of important roads and areas - a peace treaty which has subsequently been torn up as the Taliban proved to be untrustworthy (I suspect so did the Pakistani government). Afghanistan, if anything, is even MORE difficult to control, as the Soviets found out. Yet, when we invaded in 2001, we found ourselves welcomed by a people tired of being brutalized, brutalized by the Soviets, then the warlords, then the Taliban. All we had to do, according to Afghanis, was establish something which was moderately effective and importantly, not blatantly corrupt. Instead, whether due to negligence or overt hostility, the Bush government allowed EXACTLY the same type of government which preceded the Taliban, i.e. one lead by warlords - which the Afghani people had already rejected in place of the Taliban - to return. Consequently, the country slipped inexorably back into the hands of the Taliban. Afghanistan became probably the most corrupt nation on earth under Bush's leadership and our occupation. Estimates put corruption at 20% for any action, meaning, in addition to taxes, you had to pay 20% of your salary to just get ANYTHING done. The people were furious.

Obama insisted on a major change in the Karzai government, and has insisted on the placement of officials not for nepotism or favors, but based on seeking to employ those who aren't corrupt. It's not changed things much YET, but it IS a start, and vastly superior to the apathy and neglect heaped upon the nation by Bush. Afghanistan is the FAR HARDER war to win, but as can be seen by these three events, progress is FINALLY being made. Will it result in some sort of stable, non-extremist government, I don't know, and I can't say. I advocated leaving because I thought we'd gone too far, lost too much, to have a chance. We may not win, but I was wrong, and we have a chance.

The shame of it all is, despite these MASSIVELY more meaningful events than anything Bush ever accomplished in Iraq, Obama is seen as weak. He is anything but in terms of placement of military leaders, of insistence on listening to military and intelligence experts, in terms of gaining the cooperation of reluctant allies, but he IS in terms of holding his political opponent's feet to the fire. In short, Obama may win all the battles, but lose the war (of popular opinion) because rather than engage in the same kind of mean, but effective politics Bush so ably engaged in, Obama desires to be "Presidential" and tactful. If he continues to be unwilling to call a spade a spade, he will see his majority in the House shrink to a very small number, and possibly lose his majority in the Senate - and with it, he will become an impotent President - and with THAT, he likely will not win reelection in 2012, and we will put back in place the same kinds of mendacious people as we ousted in 2008 from the White House. We'll have President Palin or President Huckabee or some other Limbaugh boot-licker who will again neglect Afghanistan and Pakistan and we will see a resurgent extremist movement. If Obama doesn't get that his job is to protect the country first before his legacy as a statesman with a virulently uncooperative Republican party which has shown time and again it puts party and political victory FAR ahead of country - then he is a weak leader and the country will follow him and his legacy down the rat-hole.


  1. We will hopefully see a major public announcement after the conclusion of the month long military action in Afghanistan. My hope is that Obama is avoiding the premature 'mission accomplished' type of PR event characteristic of his predecessor.

  2. I am sadly disappointed with President Obama's performance in his first year of office. Health care reform, so desperately needed by many people in the US, and something which is of vital importance to the US economy long term, is effectively dead. The Republicans will never allow it, due to the Republican party being controlled by the insurance companies. Unfortunately, too many Democrats are also controlled by large, special interests as well.

    The Democratic party is about as fractured as you can get a party, while the Republicans get further and further united...(alas, also further and further towards a almost totalitarian right-wing description).

    I'm beginning to believe that the best solution would be to throw everyone in congress out and never let them run for public office again, followed by amending the constitution to allow for a 1 term term limit for both House of Representatives and Senate.

  3. Let's remember that President Clinton got steamrolled in the 1994 mid-term elections, yet he won re-election handily in 1996. I don't think most people remember how beaten President Clinton looked, and how both the vast majority of the American media and the vast majority of the American people thought he stood no chance of re-election. Yet win re-election he did.

    I'm not sure how people can forget that huge story, but in large part they have, and they have also forgotten how Democratic presidents tend to struggle in their first two-or-so years in office, before often rebounding.

    (President Kennedy is another huge example of this Democratic phenomenon. On the evidence of the polls during his presidency, only his final year seemed "successful" to the majority of the American public. He may not have been re-elected were the presidentical election to have occurred in 1962, but he probably would have been in 1964, had he survived.)

    History rarely repeats itself exactly, but as Mark Twin put it, it nearly always manages to rhyme with itself. Just because President Obama ran on the themes of "hope" and "change," it doesn't mean that his presidency is not subject to this historical rhyming scenario. It is subject to it.

    (Of course, President Carter's example shows that sometimes recovery does not happen for Democratic presidents....)

    President Obama is playing the long-game. Whether or not he's playing it well remains to be seen, given the extended nature of the long-game. But he is savvy, and he knows that even mid-term losses do not necessarily doom a presidency--particularly if the economy turns around.

  4. Hasslington has a point. During the last couple yrs of the Bush presidency the only people with lower approval ratings than Bush was Congress. I saw a poll the other day on CNN that said right now 63% of people polled say they will not vote for an incumbent in Congress. Among just Republicans it was higher and just Democrats it was a little lower even among just Democrats the number was over 50%. Right now any member of Congress of either party is in trouble. People who are unemployed or are seeing their salaries stay the same or drop get really pissed when they see the very people (Goldman-Sachs, Bear Sterns, JPMorgan Chase) who came up with default swaps and caused a lot of the financial mess we were in get bailed out while they collect unemployment. If Congress had made some sort of meaningful rules to prevent them from doing it again the bailouts might not have been recieved as badly but they didn't. Right now people look at Congress and see a corrupt group that has been bought out by so many special interest that they cannot accomplish anything. I mean look at health care. Personally I was against the bill they came up with but Reid and Pelosi cheered when Obama was elected saying Now we can do a health care bill, and proceeded to disagree on so many things that they could not get one passed while they had a filibuster proof majority and a president with a pen in his hand. If unemployment drops below 6% before 2012 Obama has a very good chance of getting reelected, the odds for any member of Congress up for election in 2010 are not nearly so good.

  5. Hass and Tuck,

    To a degree, my point is different (or at least emphaisis IS different).

    Whether Obama wins re-election is only of secondary consideration to me. Tuck, while Obama had a SUPPOSED filibuster proof majority, he never really did. Three votes, Lieberman, Nelson, and Chaffee were never in the fold on health care, and Landriex was at best on the edge - the reason for this is because Obama has been far too genial with his fellow (former) Senate collegues.

    My point, though, was that Obama has been VASTLY more successful than Bush in Afghanistan, a far harder place to be than in Iraq. Yet, he is seen as weak. He is seen as weak, because, due to his unwillingness to 'take out his claws' he IS weak. The country doesn't like partisanship, but it equally doesn't like gridlock, and a gridlock seemingly stemming from corruption, corruption in BOTH parties. The Dems have generally been MORE willing to hold the corporate captain's feet to the fire, but little has come of it.

    If Obama doesn't grow a pair, our one bright and shining chance to PERHAPS retrieve this country from the abyss of debt, a collapsed middle-class and an off-shoring of jobs and the wealthy shortly thereafter, will be gone.

  6. There are plenty of Republicans out there willing to rein in some of these companies also. The main problem is if you look at campaign donations from Wall Street, the committee chairmen over the various committees that make the regulations for the other congressment to debate and vote on top the list. That is fairly consistent whether it is a Democrat or Republican at the head of the committee. What we need is a bunch of new congressmen, from both parties, who have not been bribed for yrs. Everyone needs to show up for the primaries (generally twice as many vote in the Nov elections as in primaries) and vote out the incumbents. The new congressmen will know why they were elected and act a bit better for at least a few yrs. The main problem with this plan is that just as the corporations bribe congress, congress bribes the people. Most of them campaign on their senoirity and ability to bring government money home. This is all a vicious cycle and if you want to see how it ends if you don't stop it somehow just look at the history of Rome.

  7. Pen, I got your original point, and I get this latest one, too. But my point is that this is how it goes with Democratic presidents. What you are saying is what people have been saying about Democratic presidents for the past fifty years. The symmetry is astonishing in its sameness.

    People screamed about Kennedy's supposed "weakness," Carter's supposed "weakness," and Clinton's supposed "weakness." (Due to the Kennedy assassination, Johnson had a lengthy respite; he squandered it, of course.)

    Democratic presidents struggle mightily to find the right balance point in Washington; it's in their "nice person" DNA.

    To an even greater extent, the U.S.A. is a default conservative country, so Democratic presidents are always immediately behind the eight ball. (Congress has cover because it's first and foremost identified as "congress.")

    That's reality. The rest of the world knows this fact about us and talks about it all the time--it's we who forget it (or don't know it) nearly all the time.

    When you follow a petulant, impetuous, childish (but oddly savvy) individual like President Bush, you can't follow the same model, successful though it may be. President Obama knows this.

    But you can't be a wimp, either. Like Kennedy, Carter, and Clinton, President Obama is erring on the side of "thoughtful colleague" in his early days, which means that he is erring on the side of looking like a bit of a wimp, for now. In the short run, that hurts him. In the long run, however....

    Presidents "grow a pair" over time--they never have it right off the bat. Republicans can get away with it because of the fact that they represent the status quo; hence, people are largely content with things when they they are elected, and consequently don't care so much about day to day leadership.

    Democrats are often elected during fraught times and therefore on a slogan of "change." Hence, they are immediately and always under the microscope, so to speak. It's a recipe for immediate disappointment, whether they deserve it or not.

    President Reagan looked like an empty windbag after one year. President Clinton and Bush II looked like callow amateurs after their first years. Only President Bush I looked okay after one year, and he lost his re-election bid....

    The difference is that the Democrats were analyzed extensively, whereas the Republicans were not necessarily given the same treatment. So, by comparison, President Obama probably looks rather steady in his role after one year. The problem is that no one is applying historical perspective to his tenure--it's as if history started a few months ago.

    I still find this lack of historical perspective astonishingly silly and very embarrassing.

    This president looks "presidential," which is a good start. He's been a bit wimpy up to now, but he's also been intelligent and steady and serious. In the short run, that rarely produces results. In the long run, thankfully, it generally does produce results, political and (more importantly) cultural and legislative.

  8. Honestly I think Obama has done ok when it comes to defense. He authorized the Seals to take out those pirates that had a US citizen as hostage, it took a while to decide but he gave his generals most of what they wanted in Afghanistan and they seem to be tightening the noose on the last few southern cities. I don't agree with a lot of what he is trying to do but as far as the military he has, so far, done much better than I expected.

    Really the only president in my lifetime I would classify as a wimp is Carter. I think the deal in Iran was the first time in history that a nation's embassy was taken and its citizens held hostage that it was not considered an act of war. Now I have to admit I am a bit prejudiced about that whole situation as I spent a semester of college in Europe during the hostage crisis. After being asked 50 times how the US can let a third world country push us around like that you just start answering "I didn't vote for him and most of the people who did probably won't next time around."

  9. Carter's handling of the hostage crisis, I think, was a major reason he wasn't re-elected. His first couple of years in office were... mediocre. His last year or so in office was a disaster.

    I think, as I said earlier, that what we need is strict term limits. If Congress won't do it to itself, in the form of a constitutional amendment, then perhaps the people need to do it by demanding a constitutional convention. No one should be able to serve effectively "for life" in congress. One term in the senate and three terms in the house of representatives should be the limit.

    I'm perfectly aware, by the way, that a constitutional convention, once called, can't be held to any requirement.. i.e. it could completely do away with the old constitution, and start again. Yet, I don't think that would happen. A few things might change, but I think our fundamental elements of American government would remain. The very threat of a convention, however, should convince Congress that either they need to establish term limits, or face the wrath of the voters. I for one am sick of the entire political mess in Washington that has been caused by both parties equally.

  10. Toe and Tuck,

    Carter was plagued by a couple of things, neither of which was being 'a wimp'.

    First, he honestly thought he'd been elected to 'clean up' Washington, and so he undertook to do so. He sicced the FBI on Congress and so we had Arab-Scam - a sting operation that pointed out both parties were happy to take money (in this case from supposed Arab contributors).

    Second, he suffered from a terrible eocnomic climate inherited from his predecessors. He appointed Paul Vollker (or is it Volkker??) who frankly deserves the credit for ending 'stag-flation'.

    Carter took FAR more of a gamble with the Iran hostage rescue attempt than Reagan or any other President has since. It was a high-risk/high-reward scenario. Carter also froze $4B in Iranian assets, a move which was in fact VERY significant in harming the Iranians, and we took 4 Guided Missile Destroyers from them which were being built here for the Shah.

    Carter also 'suffered' from deciding to use human rights as the key point in our foreign policy - a move which brought about the fall of the Shah, and the fall of the dictatorship in El Salvador. If that's being a wimp, it's the kind of wimp I'd prefer to see.

    Ultimately though, Carter suffered from his own hubris, he felt/thought he could change Washington without getting Congress (especially his own party) behind him. He couldn't, and so he failed as a President.

    Yet, what you both have alluded to is something which strikes me as pretty insightful as well as provocative. Both of you recognize the corrosive influence of money on politics. I suspect both of you understand MOST of that money comes from business and/or the wealthy. We want term limits to prevent 'corruption' a corruption stemming from taking campaign contributions needed to get re-elected. If it were about bribes, then term limits would do no good. You also both seem to understand well that it's not the poor or the middle class who have the power, other than the power of the vote (which they rarely seem to use), but instead it's those who can apply that cash.

    What I counter with, though, is not to tear appart our governmental structure (such as term limits), but rather to deal with the cash. Make campaigns publicly funded - allow people to buy any speech they desire, but compel them to do so as individuals, and to declare openly who they are; and with both you will change fundamentally the nature of politics in this country. If politicians don't need (or more imporantly CAN'T) rely upon outside donations (so long as they gain a minimum bar of support), then they don't have to make promises to large donors. You can't stop T. Boone Pickens from buying his own airtime, but so long as everyone understands it's T.Boone Pickens and not 'Citizens Concerned for Liberty' or other misleading names, well, that's as good as you'll get.

    I oppose term limits because good governance isn't simple, it isn't learned in a week or a month, and by having such limits you essentially consign the government to functioning poorly (at best) in what laws it enacts. Also, I think it might offer even GREATER incentive for making promises (to get the cash to win the first time).

  11. I want term limits less to deal with the corrupting influence of money, (which I recognize), but more because I am convinced that there is not a single member of either house of Congress today that is in touch with the American people. None of the members of congress deserve my vote, and none will get it. Considering what both parties have done to this congress, it makes me want to abolish the party system altogether, like Nebraska did some years ago. (I realize that isn't practical or possible).

    Money is a corrupting influence on politicians, but campaign finance reform is effectively dead until the supreme court is overruled by constitutional amendment. Their ruling that free speech demands that we allow corporations unfettered access to our political system is both harmful to our political system, but probably legally correct. I do suppose that Congress could impose a severe tax on such contributions, but would they bite the hand that feeds them? I think that unlikely to the point of absurdity.

    I honestly don't see how our government could become more dysfunctional than it is now. Our present system is radically broken, and needs radical change. Severe term limits would be that change, and perhaps help congress remember that they are elected to be civil servants, not civil masters.

  12. I haven't read the entire ruling by the court on the campaign finance laws but they basically said you cannot treat a corporation or a union or any other group of people, as a person under the law and then deny them free speech.

    I have seen Pen's idea pop up a few times, let people (and corps) give what they want but all donations over a certain amount ($10, $100, $1000?) are public and can be looked up on a website. If Exxon wants to donate $10k to someone on a committee that is looking at something to do with the oil industry, fine they can, but everyone would know that congressman took money from Exxon, votes are already public and most people would put 2 and 2 together and a lot of corruption would get cleaned up at election time.

  13. Mr. do Gondufo, I am 'Dog Gone', one of the Penigma Admins. On behalf of our blog, welcome and thank you for your comment!

  14. Drinkers of Gondufo - thanks for the comment. By the way, are you from Gondufo proper, or Serra at large?

  15. I'll tell you this:

    I'd rather have discussions regarding whether or not President Obama is a "stong" leader (such as this discussion), than have to put up with someone like a potential "President Pawlenty," who is already being ripped to shreds abroad.

    (I still say that Governor Pawlenty is small potatoes, by the way, and I hope he stays as such.)

    Governor Pawlenty certainly deserves to be ripped to shreds. I've simply no idea why we leave it to the British to do it for us:

  16. Pawlenty has always been a light-weight, the problem is, he doesn't/didn't know it, and so he allowed his asparations to cloud his better judgment about paying for needed state services. I've 'met' him twice - on the plane to/from Washington, he's a polite person, and seems amiable enough, something I wouldn't say about Michelle Bachmann, who I had the misfortune/fortune to sit next to on the plane once, but I was struck with a sense that he was simply not in the same league as those whom he'd run agsint.

  17. Penigma, I agree entirely with your assessment of Governor Pawlenty (and Michele Bachmann).