The front page of today’s New York Times features an article titled Paths to War, Then and Now, Haunt Obama. It is an exercise in journalism as a hall of mirrors. The article, by Peter Baker, is “based on interviews with 10 people who spoke with [Obama] in the days leading up to his speech Wednesday night.” These conversations occurred on two occasions: a dinner at the White House for “a group of foreign policy experts and former government officials,” and a separate discussion with a “group of columnists and magazine writers.” Baker’s article includes extensive quotes by President Obama, about which he writes, “[i]n quoting his private remarks, the people were recalling what he said from their best memories.” Yet Obama’s statements are placed in quotation marks, which under normal rules of journalism means that they are exact quotes, not paraphrases.
Baker tells us further that “three New York Times columnists and an editorial writer were among those invited” to the meeting with journalists, but those colleagues are not sources for his article. Why not? Did they decline the president’s invitation? Baker doesn’t suggest that they did. Then, were they unwilling to talk to Baker? If four representatives of the Times actually attended one of the sessions, what sense does it make for a fifth Times employee, who was not present, to write an article about the meetings? Why don’t the ones who were there tell us what they heard?
President Obama conducted these sessions in order to put himself in a positive light. He invited political supporters who, it is safe to assume, also wanted him to make him look good. These supporters shared their impressions with a reporter for the newspaper that, more than any other, is a slavish follower of President Obama. Given that context, one expects pro-Obama spin, like this:
The president they described was calm and confident, well versed on the complexities of the ISIS challenge and in no evident rush to end the discussions. A briefing book sat in front of him during the second of the sessions, but he never opened it.
And yet, the principal impression one takes away from the story is of the president’s whininess. He seems to take it as a personal affront that Islamic terrorists have disrupted the torpor of his second term, and have even required him to make a decision to use military force. A recurring theme is Obama’s belief that he is unpopular because Americans just don’t appreciate how deliberate, how careful, how nuanced–how smart, in a word–he is:
He would not rush to war. He would be deliberate.
“But I’m aware I pay a political price for that,” he said.
[Obama displayed] prickliness as he mocked critics of his more reticent approach to the exercise of American power.
“Oh, it’s a shame when you have a wan, diffident, professorial president with no foreign policy other than ‘don’t do stupid things,’” guests recalled him saying, sarcastically imitating his adversaries. “I do not make apologies for being careful in these areas, even if it doesn’t make for good theater.”
I don’t recall anyone asking Obama to apologize for being careful, but that apparently is how he interprets criticism of his inept foreign policies. More whining:
It was clear to the guests how aware Mr. Obama was of the critics who have charged him with demonstrating a lack of leadership. He brought up the criticism more than once with an edge of resentment in his voice.
“He’s definitely feeling it,” said one guest. At one point, Mr. Obama noted acidly that President Ronald Reagan sent Marines to Lebanon only to have hundreds of them killed in a terrorist attack because of terrible planning, and then withdrew the remaining ones, leaving behind a civil war that lasted years. But Reagan, he noted, is hailed as a titan striding the earth.
Well, Reagan won the cold war and contributed mightily to the downfall of the Soviet Union. If Obama can win the war against Muslim terrorists, we will hail him as a titan striding the earth, too. Only Obama doesn’t seem to understand that we are in a war against Muslim terrorists, so he isn’t likely to win it, any more than Jimmy Carter could win the cold war when he thought we had an “inordinate fear of Communism.”
Some of those who attended the sessions whined on Obama’s behalf:
“He’s not a softy,” Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter and attended the dinner Monday, said of Mr. Obama. “I think part of the problem with some of his critics is they think he’s a softy. He’s not a softy. But he’s a person who tries to think through these events so you can draw some long-term conclusions.”
That’s our Barry, just too thoughtful for his own good! Remember those kids in elementary school who said they weren’t doing well because they were too smart for the classes? I never thought I would see that level of delusion in a president of the United States.
One comes away from Baker’s account with the sense what what really offends Obama about ISIS is that the terrorist group has forced him to make a decision:
Mr. Haass said attention to nuance was a double-edged attribute. “This is someone who, more than most in the political world, is comfortable in the gray rather than the black and white,” he said. “So many other people in the political world do operate in the black and white and are more quote-unquote decisive, and that’s a mixed blessing. He clearly falls on the side of those who are slow or reluctant to decide because deciding often forces you into a more one-sided position than you’re comfortable with.”
Note what a harsh indictment of President Obama that statement is: Obama is “reluctant to decide” because “deciding often forces you into a more one-sided position than you’re comfortable with.” Of course it does! Before you decide, you can ponder the pros and cons, the one hand and the other hand, the various shades of gray, and leave it at that.
But when you decide, you have to choose: to go to war; to bomb; to take a side; to incur casualties; to face the consequences. When a president makes hard choices that involve life and death, in all likelihood he will be “force[d] into a more one-sided position than [he is] comfortable with.” It is always more comfortable to stay on the fence. But making tough decisions, knowing that there are pros and cons, that every course is perilous, and that the consequences of any decision will be mixed, is what we have presidents for. After nearly six years, Barack Obama still doesn’t seem to understand that.