Belmont Club

Twenty Years Too Early, Ten Years Too Late and the Relic From Rome

Twenty Years Too Early, Ten Years Too Late and the Relic From Rome
(Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

“I still say Kayla should be here, and if Obama had been as decisive as President Trump, maybe she would have been,” Marsha Mueller said, referring to the death of her daughter at the hands of ISIS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. “After Kayla’s death, the Muellers became outspoken critics of the American government’s handling of its foreign hostages. They had been encouraged to keep her captivity secret, and discouraged from attempting to free her or pay a ransom.”

Leaving aside the question of whether Obama ever had a good tactical option at rescuing Kayla Mueller, “decisive” is probably the wrong word to characterize the former president’s style. Obama knew what he wanted and valued signaling and appearances in a sincere way. He was always signaling. If the Muellers were instructed not to speak it was so as not to jam his carefully crafted messages. By treating Bin Laden’s corpse reverently; by an excruciating choice of words and many other ways he was signaling. Always signaling, which he saw as an important part of his job.

To be fair, Obama had a point. Messaging is certainly an important part of statesmanship. What he never quite accepted was that his signals never had the intended effect. Baghdadi was a thug and Obama’s punctilio never made it past the brutal filter. Like Dr. Arthur Carrington from the movie “The Thing from Another World,” he was always trying to reason with the monster, convinced that words would win the day, little realizing it would not work.

Obama was not indecisive. He simply decided on a different course and held to it. The only problem is it led nowhere. Ironically it was Maureen Dowd in the NYT who most clearly understood this. “Obama — Just Too Good for Us.” “‘Sometimes I wonder whether I was 10 or 20 years too early,’ Obama mused to aides.”  Persuasion was his sole and sometimes insufficient weapon. Dowd saw Hillary’s nomination as the machine politics backlash against the ineffectual idealism of Obama.

Where were the next Barack Obamas? Obama had never been about party building. He was the man alone in the arena.

Even though he could make magic — like the time he sang “Amazing Grace” at a funeral for black parishioners murdered by a white supremacist in South Carolina — Obama did not like persuading people to do what they didn’t want to do. And that is the definition of politics. He wanted them simply to do what he had ascertained to be right. …

“I couldn’t shake the feeling that I should have seen it coming,” Rhodes writes about the “darkness” that enveloped him when he saw the electoral map turn red. “Because when you distilled it, stripped out the racism and misogyny, we’d run against Hillary eight years ago with the same message Trump had used: She’s part of a corrupt establishment that can’t be trusted to change.”

Alas for Hillary the candidate, if Obama came 20 years too early she came 10 years too late.

By contrast, Trump’s reaction to Mueller’s murder was far more Roman and atavistic. It was frankly tribal. In the video clip below mentally replace Caesar’s line upon seeing the head of Pompey, “he was a consul of Rome” with “she was a citizen of the United States” and one gets the sense of what Delta Force conveyed. Not very enlightened, but there it is.

Shame, Baghdadi. Shame.

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Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001, by Steve Coll. Winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize, journalist Coll recounts, for the first time, the history of the covert wars in Afghanistan that fueled Islamic militancy and sowed the seeds of the September 11 attacks. Using firsthand accounts by key government, intelligence, and military personnel, both foreign and American, he details the secret history of the CIA’s role in Afghanistan (including its covert operations against Soviet troops from 1979 to 1989), the rise of the Taliban, the emergence of bin Laden, and the failed efforts by U.S. forces to find and assassinate bin Laden in Afghanistan.

Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness, by Peter Godfrey Smith. In this book, philosopher Godfrey-Smith tells a bold new story of how subjective experience crept into being — how nature became aware of itself — a story that largely occurs in the ocean. By tracing the question of inner life back to its roots, he casts crucial new light on the octopus mind — and on our own.

The Jungle Grows Back: America and Our Imperiled World, by Robert Kagan. An argument for America’s role as an enforcer of peace and order throughout the world — and what is likely to happen if we withdraw and focus our attention inward.

For a list of books most frequently purchased by readers, visit my homepage.

Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with your friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.

Open Curtains by George Spix and Richard Fernandez. Technology represents both unlimited promise and menace. Which transpires depends on whether people can claim ownership over their knowledge or whether human informational capital continues to suffer the Tragedy of the Commons.

The War of the Words, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres

Rebranding Christianity, or why the truth shall make you free

The Three Conjectures, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age

Storming the Castle, why government should get small

No Way In at Amazon Kindle. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.

Storm Over the South China Sea, how China is restarting history in the Pacific.

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