The Ethics Of Amateur World Leadership

Student Driver

The only rational way for any American to respond to the absurd and unprecedented bungling by President Obama and his tight circle of incompetents is sheer terror. If this was the level of care, seriousness, responsibility and professionalism employed by—oh, pick one; let’s say President Kennedy and his all-star advisors during the desperate efforts to avert nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis, we might all be cockroaches today. That this particular series of inept maneuvers, verbal gaffes and brain-numbing rationalizations may not be the one that sinks the United States like Titanic Jr  should not be the cause of cheering by anyone. We are stuck with this, because the news media of the United States conspired with well-meaning ideologues to place the fate of the nation in the hands of an arrogant amateur without even the ability to realize how little he knows what he is doing. Now we are awaiting what must be the most surreal Presidential speech in U.S. history—or at least we can hope it is—by a leader who has only one skill, and is once again relying on it to bail him out of a mess of his own making.

The eagerness with which our leadership appears to be leaping at Vladamir Putin’s cute ploy to raise his own prestige while providing cover for his murderous ally, Assad’s Syria, only shows how desperate and unserious a once-great nation’s government has become. If you have been lucky enough to be ignoring the news, here’s how it came about: While making unscripted remarks in his efforts to show why, as President Obama has demanded, the President of Syria must be punished with a “limited” but “decisive” missile strike lest future despots use banned chemical weapons with impunity, Secretary of State John Kerry, a career gaffe-master appointed, in an act of presidential malpractice, to the field of international diplomacy, where precision of words matter, spontaneously offered a scenario where there might be no “punishment.”

“If Assad handed over his chemical weapons within a week, the U.S. would not attack Syria, ” Kerry said, to everyone’s surprise, undercutting his boss and everything that had been said by the White House in the previous days. Putin, who is ruthless, dishonest but unlike our leader, no naif at international gamesmanship, immediately offered to broker a deal to allow such a surrender. Russia then looks like the peace-maker, and also gets to help an ally play the “let’s jerk around international inspectors” game that Saddam Hussein played so well. If you have not been paying close attention, you might even miss the clear cynicism of his “proposal”: Putin has stated that he does not believe that Syria has or has used chemical weapons. As James Taranto wrote today,

“So Putin is going to see to it that Syria destroys the weapons his own government denies it has. Good luck.”

We will need it. Yesterday Kerry also undercut the already unbelievable claim that the missile strike would do any substantive damage to Assad, other than creating provocation for the region to blow up. He said that the missile strike would be “unbelievably small.” A disgusted Jonathan Karl of ABC News’wrote: “Here’s an unusual way to instill fear into the heart of your enemy.” Slate’s Joshua Keating wrote,

“I may not have much experience with brinksmanship, but it seems to me that threatening to hit someone becomes a lot less effective when at the same time you’re telling your friends, Don’t worry, I’m not going to hit him that hard. And convincing the public that this situation is analogous to the buildup to the largest war in human history is difficult when you’re also saying that an “unbelievably small” effort will be sufficient to deal with it. Given the blows the Assad regime has already absorbed over the last two years, it’s hard to imagine statements like these changing his thinking.”

Either of Kerry’s two gaffes, in a professional presidency led by someone who had the faintest idea what he was doing and understood the need for national credibility, would guarantee a forced resignation. Not in an Obama administration, though, saddled with a Secretary of Defense who has been virtually silent in the midst of a defense crisis because, as he proved in his confirmation hearings, he makes John Kerry sound like Winston Churchill. This is a no-competence zone, run by a leader who doesn’t think competence matters, and who, with good reason, thinks the U.S. public will put up with anything he does.

Need more proof? Here it is, courtesy of usually reliable Obamaphile Dana Milbank of the Washington Post, who has been showing signs of integrity of late:

“About a year ago, the White House put Susan Rice, then the ambassador to the United Nations, on TV to read CIA talking points that turned out to be false about the attack in Benghazi, Libya.The backlash poisoned her relationship with Republicans in Congress and dashed her chances of becoming secretary of state. President Obama instead named her national security adviser, which didn’t require Senate confirmation. Now there is another crisis. Obama needs congressional support for a military strike on Syria, because a “no” vote could cripple his presidency and damage American credibility. So what do the big brains in the White House do? They put Susan Rice in front of TV cameras to read CIA talking points.

“Yep, that’ll seal the deal.”

Note that Milbank’s integrity transplant has yet to take: he can’t bear to assign accountability where it belongs. “They” didn’t send out proven liar Susan Rice: he did, the President of the United States. Barack Obama really and truly thinks the United States public is this stupid…and why shouldn’t he? He thinks he is brilliant, and he has a flat learning curve. Surely the mentally inferior public is equally uneducable. “Who’s Susan Rice? Oh, right, she’s the National Security Advisor; we can trust her. Not like that U.N. Ambassador, what’s her name, who lied about Benghazi…”

Yes, I find it insulting. I find the continued arrogant, careless, destructive leadership of President Obama insulting, but more than that,  I find it sad and frightening. Taranto again:

“For Obama, the gambit affords a way that the most dramatic crisis of his presidency can end with a whimper, which as a political matter is vastly preferable to a bang. But the U.S. has been made ridiculous in the world to an even greater extent than it already was…In a mordant way, it is fitting that this crisis seemingly ended with an administration gaffe, for that is also the way it began. Obama wasn’t doing anything more than thinking out loud last year when he set a “red line” against the use of chemical weapons, but he trapped himself into making it U.S. policy, then demanded Congress and the world back it up.”

After five years, the President who promised to restore American credibility internationally has made the nation a laughingstock and the stooge of Vladamir Putin. The President who promised unprecedented transparency has, as we now know, allowed the government under his watch to secretly encroach on individual rights and has obstructed congressional efforts to investigate legitimately troubling scandals, some involving the deaths of Americans. The President who promised to unite the nation and bring the races together has presided over a catastrophic deterioration of inter-racial trust and respect. This is not about policy or politics; this an ethics crisis, and the ethical values involved are accountability, responsibility,  and competence. Because the President was allowed to duck the first, he has routinely abandoned the second, and thus failed to develop the last, the most important of all in his position, and the most dangerous to lack…competence.

There is no more perilous place in the world for an arrogant amateur than the Oval Office. We put him there. Now, apparently, all we can do is to keep our fingers crossed.

Who knows…maybe his luck, and ours, won’t run out.


Sources: Washington Post, Daily Mail, Wall Street Journal

20 thoughts on “The Ethics Of Amateur World Leadership

    • I’ve tied to post a link to this piece several times without success. Now I’ll just copy/paste the article. I think maybe it’s sacasm?

      September 8, 2013 By Wayne Bomgaars

      As the media interprets recent events as Obama’s march to war, America and the world falls for it hook, line and sinker. Say what you want about Obama but he is a very smart man. He would never ask permission he did not need from Congress to launch a strike on Syria unless he knew beyond a doubt he could get it. That is if his real intentions were to actually carry out military operations. But why on earth does it appear he wants this war?

      After agonizing over this question over and over I began to realize there is only one logical explanation. He does not. Only a month ago the GOP was accusing Obama of being weak for not acting when the “red line” was crossed. There was pressure for him not only from the US but from the world as well. The reputation of the great American defender was on the line. Still it was obvious at the time Obama did not want to rush into another quagmire, bogging down the rest of his tenure as our nation’s leader. But the evidence kept rolling in. He had to do something not only for his reputation as a world leader but for the United States as well.

      Cue the British Parliament to provide Obama with the perfect out. Just days after Britain’s governing body eliminated any joint action with the US to participate in a coalition to strike the Assad regime, Obama made a surprising and decisive move. Against the advice of all his advisors, he put any US participation in the hands of our do-nothing Congress with no chance they would give him the approval he needed. Not because it isn’t the right thing to do but because Obama was asking for it. The outcome is a given if you just take a step back and look at the situation rationally. And there is no way Obama is going to launch this attack once Congress says no. It would be political suicide. Bush may have gotten away with it but America is not going to let it happen again. The fallout would signal the end of any and all effectiveness the Obama administration for the remaining years of his presidency. And history would place him with the likes of war criminals like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Let me repeat this. Obama is not that stupid!

      So why then does our president appear to be beating the drums of war? The simple answer is he is now regarded as a hawkish leader before the US and the world. And he does so without having to fire a shot. He appears wholeheartedly in favor of a strike and is playing the part well. The hawk stands upon his perch without lifting a talon as Congress now takes any and all responsibility for lack of action on the part of the US. And during this entire debacle, he even manages to make republicans come out as anti-war; something even no one thought possible only a month ago.

      If this sounds like an improbable scenario I ask that you to ponder for a moment the potential outcome:

      No war
      Obama and America look strong and world leaders should not doubt Obama’s willingness to take action
      Congress was made to do their job
      Congress will take the responsibility of inaction
      Republicans have to pretend they are anti-war
      Americans comes out against any further wars thereby providing the beginning of the end to our perpetual war
      Puts pressure on the UN to take other action
      Suddenly the UN is eager to accept other harsh non-military actions against Syria

      And there is even the added bonus that the GOP weakening the push to shut down the government over the debt ceiling will not proceed with the intense battle anticipated. Next week Congress returns for only nine days. Nine days to act on the Syrian War, the debt ceiling, immigration, the Voting Rights Acts and many other important issues.

      Seeing they can barely rename a post office, Congress will not have the ability to once again play games with by demanding cuts and further tax cuts for corporations. It will have to accept a reasonable offer or be blamed for damage to our nation’s credit rating. Republicans are very aware they will face blame and backlash should this happen.

      Tell me this isn’t the best outcome ever. And I honestly think this was Obama’s intention from the beginning. You know damn well if he didn’t do anything, Republicans would be calling him weak because of the corner he had painted himself in when he talked about the red line.

      Granted, Obama made a mistake with his “red line” comment, but by acting in a calm savvy manner, he can come out looking the part of the tough guy without even taking a swing. And he smiles as Congress does for him what he wanted in the first place.

      If America could just set down their pitchforks and torches for a moment, they would be able to see what brilliant strategy this is..

      • Ugh.
        Rationalization within spin within blame shifting. THAT may be brilliant. I suppose that the plan was also to look as weak, inarticulate and foolish in the process of this “brilliant” maneuver, to hand America’s enemy, Russia, a diplomatic coup, degrade the President’s domestic support, and have US evidence called a lie, all while not being supported by the UN, and, in the end, not saving a single Syrian life.


        The shamelessness of the media continues to amaze.

        I am amazed that someone as sharp as you would possibly swallow this. It was probably authored in desperation by Valerie Jarrett.

        {The link came through fine, by the way.}

        • Hohoho! I didn’t swallow it Jack. I’m just sharing it here for comment from you and your readers. And, as I noted elsewhere, NPR ran much the same thing on Morning Edition. Which means, possibly, that the SPIN is revving up to a high pitch.

          Me? I’m as disgusted as you are, but perhaps for differerent reasons. I didn’t bother with the President’s speech tonight. My wife and I are watching Black Swan – substituting one horror for another.

            • And from Peggy Noonan about the inevitable spin:

              Then get ready for the spin job of all spin jobs. It’s already begun: the White House is beginning to repeat that a diplomatic solution only came because the president threatened force. That is going to be followed by something that will grate on Republicans, conservatives, and foreign-policy journalists and professionals. But many Democrats will find it sweet, and some in the political press will go for it, if for no other reason than it’s a new story line.

              It is that Syria was not a self-made mess, an example of historic incompetence. It was Obama’s Cuban Missile Crisis—high-stakes, eyeball-to-eyeball, with weapons of mass destruction and an implacable foe. The steady waiting it out, the inner anguish, the idea that crosses the Telex that seems to soften the situation. A cool, calibrated, chancy decision to go with the idea, to make a measured diplomatic concession. In the end it got us through the crisis.

              Really, they’re going to say this. And only in part because this White House is full of people who know nothing—really nothing—about history. They’ve only seen movies.

        • Well, you know that Democrats are smarter than Republicans and liberals are smarter than conservatives. That is why they Obama must be brilliant and be doing a great job.

          One larger, troubling aspect of this is it has brought to light how bad our major parties’ candidates for president are. We have Obama and Kerry here. Would it have come out better if Gore had spoken? Don’t depress me by bringing up the Republican candidates, either. I think we are seeing the end of competence. Maybe we need to admit that there aren’t any competent people left. Will George W. Bush really be seen as the last President capable of handling the office? It is a scary thought, but it is a fear of mine.

        • He is smart and educated, but the claims of brilliance are belied by his conduct. There is a minimal level of intelligence required for effective Presidential leadership, but the correlation between intelligence and leadership is weak. Some of our most intelligent Presidents–Adams, Wilson, Nixon, Carter—have been among our worst. Some of modest intellectual achievement and credentials—Washington, Jackson, Ike, Reagan, Truman—have been excellent leaders. If you keep doing stupid things, it doesn’t really matter how smart you are.

  1. I can give my full opinion of his speech later…

    but in summary it goes like this “I still think we should attack, because my incompetence has forced my hand on this. But, due to the lucky loose lips of John Kerry, I’m letting the representative portion of our government know that they really don’t need to have a vote in which I will be resoundingly humiliated….no really….please don’t vote. Also, it was MY idea to consult Congress….because I have no clue that the Constitution implies that duty. Also, right-wingers, you hate freedom, dignity, and children. And left-wingers you hate the military.”

      • I didn’t hear that. I didn’t even hear the speech, I was giving baby his bath. I read the transcript later. But that’s a perfect characterization “speech in search of a purpose”. I feel like most of Obama’s foreign “policy” is a speech in search of a purpose.

  2. If it looks stupid, and sounds stupid, and requires large blocks of rhetoric to try to convince us it’s not stupid maybe…
    Oh, what the hell. We’re screwed.
    Imagine what history books will say about the fall of the United States and Barack Obama’s role in it.

  3. Curiously, I mentioned above in an offhand comment that my wife and I would watch Black Swan rather than listen to Obama’s speech. After the film, as per my habit, I read the Wikipedia article so I could review the plot. I then took notice of another Wikipedia article entitled “Black swan theory” and was struck by what I read and the possible relevance to this conversation.

    “The black swan theory or theory of black swan events is a metaphor that describes an event that comes as a surprise, has a major effect, and is often inappropriately rationalized after the fact with the benefit of hindsight.”

    Is that cool or what?

  4. This is one of those times when you look at a sitting administration, open mouthed, and wonder to yourself, “Do these guys realize what idiots they’ve made of themselves and of this country… and how did we ever let them get into office in the first place?”. Then you reflect on your own helplessness in getting rid of them before they do more harm, as they surely will. I suppose you can call it a Carter Moment, for lack of a better term.

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