Belmont Club

What's up doc?

If you scanned the Google news headlines and looked at key phrases which appeared in the last 48 hours, you might see something which looked like this.

Individually the stories would ostensibly be about health care, missile defense, ACORN or Afghanistan. But taken collectively they are about Barack Obama. Reading the news by article provides a sense of the subject. Reading them by headline conveys an idea of the “emerging narrative”. Whether by accident or intent, the news meme is turning disparate subjects into one single subject: the President.  It’s almost as if the whole thing were being orchestrated by Saul Alinsky, who famously wrote “Rule 13: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” Where do the narratives come from? Malcolm Gladwell, in his book The Tipping Point talks about “‘the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point’ … [when] sociological changes  … ‘spread like viruses do'” In plain language, it’s the moment when a consensus begins to emerge on what is being observed, or perhaps more accurately what is not being observed. One theme is the idea that the President is living in another place. The following quotes from the articles above are highly suggestive of a disconnection.

“For us to say you have to take responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase,” Obama said in response to persistent questioning, later adding: “Nobody considers that a tax increase.” …

“My task here was not to negotiate with the Russians. The Russians don’t make determinations about what our defense posture is.”…

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Eight months after Inauguration Day, the Obama administration is still working out its strategy for continued U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, the president said in an interview that airs Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union. “I think that what we have to do is get the right strategy, and then I think we’ve got to have some clear benchmarks, [a] matrix of progress,” President Barack Obama told CNN Chief National Correspondent John King about the war torn country. …

STEPHANOPOULOS: How about the funding for ACORN?

OBAMA: You know, if — frankly, it’s not really something I’ve followed closely. I didn’t even know that ACORN was getting a whole lot of federal money.

The search to understand Barack Obama is the search for a vantage from which understand his policy actions. In what framework do they make sense?  In fact, Obama is asking himself the same question with respect to Afghanistan. The Wall Street Journal reports:

President Barack Obama on Sunday voiced skepticism that more troops would make a difference in Afghanistan, suggesting he might not rubber-stamp military officials’ expected request to send more forces to that country.

“I don’t want to put the resource question before the strategy question,” Mr. Obama told CNN’s “State of the Union.” “There is a natural inclination to say, ‘If I get more, then I can do more.’ But right now, the question is—the first question is—are we doing the right thing? Are we pursuing the right strategy?”

‘Why are we doing this?’ Yes, Mr. President, why are you doing this? After all, the commander in chief ought to know. If the military’s job is to carry out strategy, it is the political leadership’s job to set it.The more ignorant might ask ‘what is the wrong strategy which we are pursuing?’ It turns out to be a hard question to answer. The strategy in Afghanistan, like the process of ‘engagement’ with Iran, was always somewhat undefined. In the beginning the public was told that in Afghanistan the War on Terror would end where it began;  that he would get Osama Bin Laden; that there would be a grand bargain among the powers of the region; that Afghanistan would be developed into a stable country. That there would be a czar to integrate all initiatives. That there were new rules of engagement to avoid civilian casualties. Things would be different now that a real intellect was in charge. Now it turns out that the equation contains a whole lot of undefined terms. But in a world where negotiations with the Russians are not about negotiating with the Russians, where mandates for health insurance aren’t taxes, where President Obama is surprised that ACORN is receiving government money, and where 8 months after inauguration he has to ask himself what an organization he heads is trying to accomplish in Afghanistan, I think it is reasonable to argue that we are not observing or perhaps not understanding the President’s rational model.  Otherwise we’d understand what the terms of the problem were and evaluate the possible solutions. Joe Klein of Time Magazine is still trying to stretch his mind to understand what’s up.

It was generally believed that Obama was holding out the anti-missile system as a bargaining chip to be used in return for Russian cooperation on a more rigorous sanctions regime against the Iranian nuclear development program. And so the question is: what has the Administration gotten in return from the Russians for this concession? We don’t know yet….but I’ve been thinking … Again, this is just speculation on my part. But I do hope that this anti-missile move has a Russian concession attached to it, perhaps not publicly (just as the US agreement to remove its nuclear missiles from Turkey was not make public during the Cuban Missile Crisis). The Obama Administration’s diplomatic strategy is, I believe, wise and comprehensive–but it needs to show more than public concessions over time. A few diplomatic victories wouldn’t hurt.

It depends on how you define victories, Mr. Klein and we are waiting to see what they look like. But they cannot be of a cloth so rare, so beautiful and esoteric that only one pair of eyes can perceive them. Reality is something ordinary people can partially agree on. Handsome is as handsome does.

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