Because President Obama has got it ass-backwards. Ryan Lizza in the New Yorker says that our seemingly incoherent policy — which Krauthammer calls “ad hoc” — is driven by two ideas: “that the relative power of the U.S. is declining, as rivals like China rise, and that the U.S. is reviled in many parts of the world.” Therefore, we shouldn’t try to lead from the front, but quietly, modestly, and humbly try to get others to take the lead, and then join in.
Suppose we change the terms of reference to domestic politics, and ask how Obama should conduct his reelection campaign. How does this sound: since the relative power of Obama is declining, as rivals like Palin and Trump rise, and since Obama is reviled in many parts of the country, the president shouldn’t be out in front, but get others to take the lead, and then join in?
No one pretending to understand the president would ever say such a thing, because it’s so obviously nonsensical. Who would vote for someone who never tried to lead the country, but only said “me too” when he heard something he agreed with?
Nobody, that’s who. And yet we’re supposed to accept, perhaps even admire, that he runs the ship of state that way. I give it three letters: NOT.
It’s nonsensical and unbelievable, it’s the textbook case of lipstick on the swine. Charles Krauthammer deconstructs it with pitiless care: nobody, including China, is in a position to challenge us militarily; yes, others dislike us, as they always have — not, as Obama seems to believe, only since the end of the Cold War — that goes with the territory. American presidents have accepted that, and gotten on with it.
But our wimp-in-chief , as presented by the New Yorker, isn’t about to do that, and not because he has thought deeply about the nature of modern leadership (as Krauthammer wryly remarks, “leading from behind” is an oxymoron). He believes in his own charisma (“I have a special gift,” he has said), and so he expects all the right people — from his domestic “base” to the media, and to the “progressive intellectuals” throughout the world — to accept whatever he comes to say.
Because it’s all about saying, not doing. Like all legislators, he’s a believer in the magic of words, in the power of public oratory. That’s what they do for a living, after all. They don’t run anything, they don’t make tough decisions, they give speeches. And if a speech turns out to have been wrong, well, they give another speech.
With rare exceptions, his foreign policy speeches have been quite consistent: he viscerally sides with our revilers, believing that America lacks standing to take the lead on the crucial issues of our time. Rejecting, as he does, the very idea that America represents something uniquely praiseworthy in the modern world, he is not trying to advance either our interests or our values as most Americans understand them, but instead apologizes for previous presidents who did that.
That’s what leading with your behind is all about.