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Sunday, February 24, 2008

If foreign citizens would cheer, swoon, and sing "Kumbaya" along with Pres. Obama, does that make him a fit commander-in-chief and head of state?

WaPo's David Ignatius opines today that Barack Obama is just so damned cool that the rest of the world outside America — allies and enemies alike — will join in the swoon for him that has caught up so many of Obama's American supporters. Thus, Ignatius argues, America will actually be better off having a president whose military, foreign policy, and national security experience can't fill half a matchbook cover:

To prepare for the next stage of the U.S. presidential campaign, try this thought experiment: Imagine the television footage of Barack Obama's first trip abroad as president — the crowds in the streets of Moscow, Cairo, Nairobi, Shanghai, Paris, Islamabad. Now try to imagine the first visit by President John McCain to those same cities. McCain is a great man, and he would be welcomed with respect, deference, perhaps a bit of fear.

Obama would generate different and more intense reactions — surprise and uncertainty, to be sure, but also idealism and hope. Now tell me which image would foster a stronger and safer America in the 21st century.

Obama has liabilities as a candidate, but his inexperience paradoxically may actually bolster one of his core arguments — that he would give America a fresh start.

This isn't just drinking the Kool-Aid. This is slitting your wrists and replacing all of your bodily fluids with the Kool-Aid. Images are important. But image alone can't "foster," much less accomplish, a stronger and safer America, and only a fool could pretend otherwise.

Comparisons between John F. Kennedy and Barack H. Obama are most vivid and valid with respect to their shared (a) charisma and (b) foreign policy inexperience. Kennedy, at least, was a war veteran, and he came from a Democratic Party that hadn't yet started reflexively doubting, then hating and apologizing for, all things American.

And it's true that when Kennedy traveled abroad, his youth and enthusiasm and charisma — his and his even younger wife's good looks, glamor, and sex appeal, and even (as silly as it now seems to us) his hatlessness — generated tons of adoration from the foreign masses. I don't mean to wholly dismiss the important role that an American president can and should fulfill in articulating and personifying our country's characteristic national values (e.g., liberty, self-reliance and -autonomy, democracy, the rule of law, justice) and personal values (e.g., confidence, optimism, piety, generosity, compassion, curiosity, steadfastness, loyalty, integrity). JFK did indeed hit all those notes abroad, as he generally had done at home too (if you ignore, as the press conspired to do, his reckless, uncontrollable, and serial marital infidelities).

The problem is that JFK's shiny image and soaring rhetoric became net disadvantages in America's non-superficial dealings with the world. At the geopolitical, governmental level, based on his youth and his lack of demonstrated experience, he was initially assessed by both our friends and our foes as a lightweight, a dilettante, and a weak-willed pretender. And he immediately proceeded to give the world proof of that initial assessment: From the Bay of Pigs, through a disastrous Vienna summit with Khrushchev, through his now-hot now-cold support for the Diem government in South Vietnam, right up to — most dangerously — the "Missiles of October," John F. Kennedy's foreign policy inexperience and inconsistencies brought us literally to the brink of thermo-nuclear war.

(When I made this same point in a post a few weeks ago, a commenter said, in effect, "So you would rather JFK have buckled under to the Soviets and allowed them to keep their nuclear missiles in Cuba?" Well, duh. Of course not. My point was, and is, that we should never have been faced with the threats resulting from the showdown in October 1962 because if we had had a capable and credible American commander-in-chief and head of state, the Soviets would never have dared place missiles there to begin with. Like JFK's getting his PT boat run over by a Japanese destroyer before he heroically rescued his crew, the Missiles of October episode was a profile in courage wholly predicated on a profile in incompetency.)

Dwight Eisenhower   John Kennedy

JFK's predecessor's foreign policy experience and gravitas, of course, was a given. Dwight Eisenhower had already defeated Hitler and saved the world, after all (and yes, that's something of an exaggeration, but thus was he perceived, and not without some considerable basis). But it's only now, decades later, that we're beginning to properly appreciate how much Ike's foreign policy genius as president was largely hidden to us (if not to world leaders) behind that sunny, bland smile and those calm rounds of golf. Ike was so good, he made it all look easy, even though it never was; and there was no danger that America's enemies would ever underestimate him. Jack Kennedy was so bad, he made it look nearly impossible, even while women fainted and crowds around the world chanted his name; and his election was the international signal for all would-be adventurers, tyrants, and revolutionaries to get wild and go crazy.

Objectively, the only worse-prepared and worse-performing American president than JFK on foreign affairs in the second half of the 20th Century was Jimmy Carter — whose pre-White House foreign policy and national security credentials also resemble (in their shallowness) Barack Obama's. From our enemies' point of view, Carter's election was JFK redux. And of course, the main enemy adventurisms enabled by Carter's perceived and actual spinelessness were (a) the Iranian revolution and seizure of the American embassy hostages and (b) the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 — with meandering and unhappy consequences from both of those events continuing to play out even today.

Barack Obama   John McCain

Oh, I have no doubt that a President Obama would draw rock-star adulation from crowds in Moscow, Cairo, Nairobi, Shanghai, Paris, and Islamabad. But especially in a time of war, America can't afford a political rock-star instead of a statesman as commander-in-chief and head of state. To pretend — as Ignatius' op-ed does — that a political rock-star would actually make a superior commander-in-chief and head of state precisely because he's a political rock star with no relevant experience is an amazing, and amazingly dangerous, self-delusion. By contrast, Ignatius' admission that a President McCain would be "welcomed with respect, deference, perhaps a bit of fear" in all those foreign cities is actually one of the strongest and least disputable arguments for the McCain 2008 campaign that I've yet heard.

Posted by Beldar at 07:50 PM in 2008 Election, Global War on Terror, Obama, Politics (2008) | Permalink


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(1) Carol Herman made the following comment | Feb 24, 2008 10:29:51 PM | Permalink

Obama's chances, and my chances, are about the same.

Back in the 1980's, what Obama's got would be called "vapor ware."

But it's making copy!

As to "worst president awards," I think this president will end up with it. Part of the GOP problem is that Bush has shed GOP voters! 2008 can also bring "loss." Especially on the sea-saw called Congress.

What's puzzled me, though, is how silent Israel is. When it's been looking that Bush has been carrying water for the3 Saud's. (They're supposedly "brokers" too, for a thaw with Tehran.) For what it's worth.

Then, it dawned on me!

Olmert can't insult the saud's! Making fun of their plans would be like farting. And, diplomats know how to appear on stage, without stage fright. Even if the audience is plotzing.

Anyway, for what it's worth. The silence covers the information that would humiliate the Saud's if it ever came out in the open.

Expect darkness to prevail.

While Bush? I don't think he'd chance it before November 4th. But after the election? My guess is that he'll hold a White House Pow Wow. And, he will bless the Saud's plan.

What will Hillary do?

(2) Andy made the following comment | Feb 25, 2008 3:16:12 PM | Permalink

Why don't you ask OBAMA about the GAY extramarital AFFAIR he had and cocaine he did with this man in 1999? http://www.bloggernews.net/113912

(3) ech made the following comment | Feb 25, 2008 4:41:15 PM | Permalink

Well, as I understand it, Obama has signed up Zbigniew Brzezinski as an advisor.

I'd prefer that when the President visits overseas he be treated less like rock star and more in line with Caligula's motto: "oderint dum metuant" (let them hate, so long as they fear). A balance needs to be struck.

(4) LazyMF made the following comment | Feb 26, 2008 1:15:28 PM | Permalink

Do you really believe that the Democrats hate all things American?

(5) Gregory Koster made the following comment | Feb 26, 2008 1:18:13 PM | Permalink

Dear Mr. Dyer: I don't know, I think Gerald Ford could have given Carter a run for his money so far as ineptitude in foreign policy goes.

Perhaps a better way to put Kennedy's qualities is that he always pirouetted out of dangerous pits---after falling in them because it is SO COOL to wear sunglasses all the time, even in murky situations.

It would also be fun to point out to Ignatius that Eisenhower went on a farewell tour of the world in 1960 and got rock star acclaim just about everywhere, no hip youth coolness needed.

I don't think Obama is to blame for imbecilic columns such as Ignatius's. Such imbecilities are a symptom of a much more dangerous phenomenon: the nation is tired of the present state of affairs and is hungry for a change. That this change may be exceptionally dangerous is a secondary consequence in the electorate's present opinion. Plenty of time for buyer's remorse after the election. This danger is compounded by President Bush's marked inarticulateness. Eight years of his flat, mangled style have sometimes been funny, but now is boring. A bored electorate will be looking elsewhere.

Paradoxically, the great progress of the surge has made foreign affairs even more important---and more likely to be ignored because "letting George and the military do it," seems to be working well enough for it to be ignored. From his point of view, why shouldn't Obama withdraw all troops from Iraq on 21 January 09? Let civil wars erupt and rage; the press can be relied on to ignore them, or blame it on the evil Bushitler. Meanwhile, back home, let the taxes rise: the Era of Big Government is Back in Town! The consequences of this withdrawal are easily visible except to those who will not see, which is why Friend#1 hasn't been around here of late.

The only way I can see to avoid this is for a great attack by al-Qaeda between now and election day. I do not think McCain's "straight talk" will be enough to do the job. I also think al-Qaeda has better sense than to do such a thing. The United States is not yet Spain. Best to bide your time in the wilds of Pakistan and redouble your efforts to get hold of those nukes. Let Obama become Prez. Then for the fireworks and whirlwind!

Sincerely yours,
Gregory Koster

(6) Beldar made the following comment | Feb 26, 2008 6:20:09 PM | Permalink

LazyMF: I don't think all Democrats uniformly hate all things American, no. And I didn't say that. I do think that the current Democratic Party's leadership, though, may be fairly described as self-hating Americans who reflexively blame America first (at least as long as it's led by a Republican president, and never mind whether they voted to give him authority to act overseas or not).

(7) DWPittelli made the following comment | Feb 26, 2008 8:37:07 PM | Permalink

I don't know if Eisenhower should be seen as the gold standard for foreign policy decision-making. The overthrow of Mossadegh (1953) and of Arbenz (1954) were contrary to our ideals, and worse, strategic blunders, harmful to the people of Iran and Guatemala, harmful to the image of the United States, and probably harmful to the long-run interests of the United States.

(8) DANEgerus made the following comment | Feb 27, 2008 12:13:23 AM | Permalink

Not surprisingly Barack Obama is hiring all of Jimmy Carter's ex-advisors and planning the disarming of Israel in the face of her enemies.

(9) DANEgerus made the following comment | Feb 27, 2008 12:15:58 AM | Permalink

Oh and this phrase:

"Like JFK's getting his PT boat run over by a Japanese destroyer before he heroically rescued his crew, the Missiles of October episode was a profile in courage wholly predicated on a profile in incompetency."

Is just Churchillian...

(10) JMW made the following comment | Feb 27, 2008 5:40:00 AM | Permalink

I just don't get this series of rants you're going on.

We've had a guy in the White House for eight years whose sole qualification prior to entering was holding the rather weak gubernatorial office in Texas. Foreign policy savant, he was not.

His other qualification, of course, was as a political rock star who appealed to "just folks" on the trail and evangelicals in particular.

Frankly I think Bush did a fine job and his foreign policy was not exactly dictated by his campaign trail promises.

We don't hire experience to run the country, we hire men.

(11) narciso made the following comment | Feb 27, 2008 10:34:50 AM | Permalink

The folderall over Guatemala and Iran, is always predictable and always wrong.
Mossadegh was an old retread politico who tried for a last
hurrah,'nationalization' was the big fad then, fifty years
ago. He ticked off the bazaari traders, and the mullah's; a lesson the Shah
Pahlevi forgot about when formulating his land reform
plan later in the 60s.

Guatemala's more of a wash, but seeing how the Party of
the military, security services, et al; has been successful longer than other
party in the region; one doubts how extraneous our intervention was. The examples of Estrada Cabrera, and Ubico, despots who operated just as ruthlessly when we weren't involved because of our own preocupations; the Indian wars and the Depression, is instructive. The further background ofthe 'curtailment'
of Col. Arana's life, leading to the rise of Arbenz's clique, also had something more to di with it.

(12) Narniaman made the following comment | Feb 27, 2008 10:52:57 PM | Permalink

Barack Obama. . . .like Jimmy Carter but without Carter's adminstrative experience, and with more contempt for the typical American.

Beldar, how do you think a Carter presidency would have been if he would have had a 9/11?

I'm afraid that's what we are in for with Obama as Commander in Chief.

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