“incredibly piss poor leadership” (Obama Doctrine Notes)

(Reply to Kolohe at Ordinary Times)

Kolohe: Obama had these long standing reservations against what most of what his government was doing and planning – and said nothing to no one. That’s…incredibly piss poor leadership.

If you go back to Obama’s statements at the time, the record for someone seeking a defense of Obama’s leadership is even more difficult, in my opinion, although it’s not a major interest of mine to attack or defend Obama personally. Still, he was clearly reluctant about Syria all the way along. It wasn’t as though suddenly in August 2013 he got neo-isolationist religion. Long prior to the mass atrocity at East Ghouta, his policy on Syria appeared confused and contradictory, as in the tragicomical on and off search for supportable rebels to arm and train. Even the original “red line” statement, which is quoted in the piece, was studiously ambiguous about what might occur if and when the line was crossed, and in fact about what the line actually consisted of.

Obama seemed to be hoping that a legacy of American “credibility” on such threats would be sufficient to make this one work, without acknowledging – perhaps according to all the best and latest political scientific critiques of “credibility” – the possible damage to American credibility that his own policies had reinforced.

Was it ever really believable to Assad and his allies that the U.S. would be ready to climb the escalation ladder in Syria? Or was it more likely laughable?

Democratic or left-liberal thinking on the credibility question is actually quite split, as indicated by the differences observed elsewhere on this thread regarding HRC’s “parental” understanding of presidential threats, or the tangled critique of Obama’s possible bluff about bluffing, etc. The problem goes to a much larger issue and set of contradictions. If you re-read Obama’s own statements to the nation in the aftermath of his reversal and then his abortive campaign to get public and congressional permission to strike, they have a forlorn tone: He continues to say that he still believes “we” should punish Assad for the atrocity, but he acknowledges that we won’t. He turns the matter into a profound collective self-indictment, with himself as neurotic enabler in chief.

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    • Are you Frances from OT?

      The answer is that I use a different format for “notes” posts like this one in order to distinguish between pieces that I may or may not choose to develop, and more serious posts that I may work on intensively before publishing. The graph paper background and italicized Courier font are meant to convey off-the-cuff, rough draft characteristics.

      In this case, the post happens to consist of a comment left at another blog. Now that I’m back to blogging here more actively, I may develop a new format for “comments elsewhere,” since such comments are often longer and in fact more carefully worked up than “notes,” even if they don’t represent the kind of work I normally put into other posts.

      So, now you know.

        • Oh, Wanda, it’s you, Frances… Or Frances, it’s you, Wanda…

          OT is Ordinary Times. Actually, if you follow the link at the top of the post, it’ll take you to the original conversation. I thought it was a good conversation, so wanted to begin doing with it something I’ve long wanted to do – archive comments-elsewhere, eventually develop a helper-app for the purpose. I have a longer excerpt following soon. I think I’ll publish, then try out a new “comments-elsewhere-archived” format later.

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TV pundits and op-ed writers of every major newspaper epitomize how the Democratic establishment has already reached a consensus: the 2020 nominee must be a centrist, a Joe Biden, Cory Booker or Kamala Harris–type, preferably. They say that Joe Biden should "run because [his] populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation" (David Leonhardt, New York Times), and though Biden "would be far from an ideal president," he "looks most like the person who could beat Trump" (David Ignatius, Washington Post). Likewise, the same elite pundit class is working overtime to torpedo left-Democratic candidates like Sanders.

For someone who was not acquainted with Piketty's paper, the argument for a centrist Democrat might sound compelling. If the country has tilted to the right, should we elect a candidate closer to the middle than the fringe? If the electorate resembles a left-to-right line, and each voter has a bracketed range of acceptability in which they vote, this would make perfect sense. The only problem is that it doesn't work like that, as Piketty shows.

The reason is that nominating centrist Democrats who don't speak to class issues will result in a great swathe of voters simply not voting. Conversely, right-wing candidates who speak to class issues, but who do so by harnessing a false consciousness — i.e. blaming immigrants and minorities for capitalism's ills, rather than capitalists — will win those same voters who would have voted for a more class-conscious left candidate. Piketty calls this a "bifurcated" voting situation, meaning many voters will connect either with far-right xenophobic nationalists or left-egalitarian internationalists, but perhaps nothing in-between.

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Understanding Trump’s charisma offers important clues to understanding the problems that the Democrats need to address. Most important, the Democratic candidate must convey a sense that he or she will fulfil the promise of 2008: not piecemeal reform but a genuine, full-scale change in America’s way of thinking. It’s also crucial to recognise that, like Britain, America is at a turning point and must go in one direction or another. Finally, the candidate must speak to Americans’ sense of self-respect linked to social justice and inclusion. While Weber’s analysis of charisma arose from the German situation, it has special relevance to the United States of America, the first mass democracy, whose Constitution invented the institution of the presidency as a recognition of the indispensable role that unique individuals play in history.

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[E]ven Fox didn’t tout Bartiromo’s big scoops on Trump’s legislative agenda, because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as to believe that him saying, “We’re doing a big infrastructure bill,” means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says something unusually inflammatory.On some level, it’s a little bit funny. On another level, Puerto Rico is still languishing in the dark without power (and in many cases without safe drinking water) with no end in sight. Trump is less popular at this point in his administration than any previous president despite a generally benign economic climate, and shows no sign of changing course. Perhaps it will all work out for the best, and someday we’ll look back and chuckle about the time when we had a president who didn’t know anything about anything that was happening and could never be counted on to make coherent, factual statements on any subject. But traditionally, we haven’t elected presidents like that — for what have always seemed like pretty good reasons — and the risks of compounding disaster are still very much out there.

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