At about this stage in the Carter years, I began to worry: the president was getting a reputation for being a wimp, the economy was going to hell, and his poll numbers were headed steadily south. The main enemy — the Soviet Union — was flexing its muscles, invading Afghanistan in December of 1979. This came amidst the Iranian hostage crisis, which began early the previous month.
We tend to forget that the U.S. military buildup, which ultimately played a big role in the successful outcome of the Cold War, was started by Carter in response to the Soviet move, but by the time it started, “the wimp” could not hope to recover his lost manhood by sending money to the Pentagon.
And so I asked myself, is there a point at which a president realizes that wimps don’t get reelected? And if so, what might he do to shatter that image? For the next two years I worried that Carter might overreact to some international crisis in order to make folks see that he was really a tough guy.
It never happened, to my relief. But I’m starting to have the same worries about Obama. To be sure, he’s got a press that is considerably friendlier than Carter had, but even so we are seeing quite a number of stories about a president who just can’t seem to make decisions, who doesn’t seem to get it when terrible things happen, things that cry out for American leadership. The wimp seems to be mounting a comeback. If he gets tarred with that brush, he might start considering options to recreate his image. There are certainly many opportunities, from Iran to Venezuela.
To be sure, I worry just as much — no, I worry even more — about two more long years of appeasement and retreat, leaving us with a world of emboldened enemies and frightened friends and allies. But that’s the world we’ve been given already by this administration, a world in which the current main enemy — Iran — is running amok (killing our guys in Iraq and Afghanistan, organizing an anti-democratic and anti-American mass movement throughout the Middle East, shipping weapons to the forces of evil in Gaza, Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, etc. etc.), just as the Soviets did during the last wimp in the White House. It could get much worse.
I believe that Obama is viscerally opposed to the effective use of American leadership and American power, believing as he does that the big problems of this earth are the consequences of past American sins, which in turn were based on the misguided doctrine of American exceptionalism. Some say that the minisurge in Afghanistan gives the lie to that picture, and there is no doubt that we are waging Obama’s war as vigorously as we know how. We shall soon see how serious he is about it, and I am rooting for him to stay the course, even though I am a military dad and I do not enjoy seeing Americans on the battlefield. I rather expect to see him try to wiggle out of his war, but I will be pleased to be wrong.
In any event, there are always exceptions, and I think the president’s overall approach to the world is that of a humble penitent, not a proud leader. Ask Colonel Gaddafi. Better yet, ask those poor fighters in Bengazi, waiting to die in the next few days. Or ask the Saudis, whose panic is demonstrated by the deployment of their armed forces to quell an Iranian-backed uprising in Bahrain (the Saudis know that their own Shi’ites are getting great encouragement from Tehran to emulate the Bahraini demonstrators).
Imagine this continues, with violence spreading, gas prices rising, friends around the world despairing, and enemies exulting. At some point a trusted political aide will say: “You’ve got to find a way to turn this thing around, or it’s back to Chicago, sir.” Does he go for it? Or does he say, “That’s fine, not to worry. I’m going to stay this course, and if I lose, I lose”?
I don’t know. But it’s worrisome. Somebody’s going to tell him that General Petraeus can pull off a glorious victory in…”
Your blank to fill in.
As with the last wimp, the tipoff that he’s going to toughen up will come almost unnoticed. Watch the military budget, and watch the choice of the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Then go back and fill in the blank again.