Wednesday, October 7, 2009

In Search of A Policy

Ask the White House about the current Afghanistan/Pakistan (AfPak) policy and one is deluged by professorial phrases like 'deliberating a strategy', 'analyzing proposals', 'nuanced thinking' and so forth. Everyone agrees that the decision that President Obama needs to make within weeks is not an easy one and requires careful analysis and deliberation. However, as Charles Krauthammer points out, Afghanistan did not just spring up on them. It has been around for eight years. The administration has had over nine months to deliberate and formulate a strategy. This endless discussion can only be perceived as lack of backbone at worst and indecisiveness at best. At some point this President will have to decide (for or against the surge) and then sell that proposal to the country. Instead we see him second guessing his own six month old strategy before it even has a chance to be implemented. When the President can't even sell something he believes in (healthcare), how will he sell a policy that he himself doubts?

The primary problem here is prioritization. President Obama has decided to concentrate all his energy on the created crisis of healthcare. The system is broken to be sure, but Americans have survived with the current system for decades. One more year would not change much. By contrast, the economy (jobs and the sinking dollar), AfPak and Iran will definitely change (for the worse) in a year. These pressing issues should have taken precedence. Instead It is only the last few days that President Obama has finally started concentrating on Afghanistan. Until now he had talked to Gen. McChrystal only twice. One of those times was at an airport for 25 minutes. Obama's 'beer summit' lasted longer. As Stephen Colbert points out, Obama did address AfPak but it was after banks, cars, stimulus, health care, a dog, an herb garden, the Olympics and beer.

America's foreign policy has been delegated to Vice President Biden for the most part. It is the strategy being pushed by Biden that is getting the most attention among factions of the White House and Democrats. One can only assume Obama is leaning toward that policy because he has said practically nothing on the matter. Remember this the same Joe Biden who devised the brilliant proposal to divide Iraq into three 'nations'. He is also probably the only person in the country who has been stimulated by the failed stimulus package. The President would be ill advised to accept Biden's proposals.

It is a clear sign that things aren't going well when Gaddafi wants you to be the President forever, Hugo Chavez prays for your health and the French President chides you for living in a virtual world. Iran is adding to Mr. Obama's woes by continually dismissing American overtures for a meaningful dialogue. Iran did accept Obama's offer to unclench its fist, although it was to slap the collective face of this administration and by extension, the United States.

On the positive side, the war on terror as a whole has had recent successes. Raids in Somalia, drone attacks in Pakistan and the recent arrests of terror suspects in the US suggest that the tactics used to prevent further attacks on US soil are working. Iraq is off the news and Obama has been smart to let that country continue to stabilize. Unfortunately for the President, these are Bush legacies. They are working because Obama was smart enough to leave those policies in place.

Most of President Obama's decisions are a confluence of three traits: meteoric confidence in his own persuasive powers, naive idealism and a tendency to avoid confrontation. This explains his incessent need to be on TV and involve himself in everything from the swine flu to Kanye West. It would also explain his childish desire to see a nuke free world and his waffling on AfPak, Gitmo closure and the public option in the healthcare debate.

It seems Mr. Obama suffers from a case of Presidential ADD. Besides healthcare, AfPak, Iran, the economy, the war on terror, Iraq and the dismal unemployment rate, President Obama trying to micromanage Chicago gang crime (which Senator Obama didn't show much concern for), the New York gubernatorial race and even the Olympics. So far the only real accomplishment of Mr. Obama is appearing on TV more than any other President in history.

It is high time the Candidate became the President. Its not too late to develop a spine and clench his own fist and stand up for something. The blame Bush/Cheney cow has been milked dry and then some. People now interpret the 'inherited from Bush' tactic (to deflect blame) as whining.

The astonishing predicament that this 'transformational change agent' finds himself in would be amusing if it weren't so dangerous.
Still, one gets the feeling that George W. Bush is trying in vain to suppress a grin.

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