President Obama, Zen, and Libya

There is a meme developing that Obama is a ditherer, that he’s indecisive, and that he stays on the sidelines too much. The latest cause of angst is what many feel is the USA’s slow movement into Libya. This is a misreading of the situation, and something which both liberal and conservatives get wrong.

Let me use two other examples as well as this Libya one, to illustrate a pattern that’s repeating itself for a third time, which makes me suspect that it is intentional.  It goes like this:

The population wants something done–>Obama encourages legislators to get something done–>Obama leaves it to Congress, staying out of the nitty gritty–> Sensing a political opportunity, opponents start whacking him for “voting present” or abdicating on leadership –> The media plays along, creating an echo chamber and the population starts getting restless. –> Obama steps in at what seems like the 11th hour –> Everyone (opponents and supporters alike), claim it’s too late! –> Obama manages to get finally push a definitive outcome over the hurdle–>  Obama gets branded a sellout by supporters for compromising, and a his opponents crow about victory (while simultaneously alleging he is a “radical”).

Lost in all of this, is that that definitive outcome that Obama pushes over the hurdle, is very near to what he wanted all along.   Use the model for Health Care Reform (HCR), and for the tax cut deal, and you will see that that is exactly what happened.  Obama campaigned on universal health coverage, and also it is no secret that many liberal economists feel spending is the way to stimulate the economy.  Lost on his opponents, as well as his supporters who are concentrating on alleged “betrayals” was the fact that in the end, healthcare, and along with it universal coverage is now the law of the land.  On the tax scuffle at the end of 2010, it is likely that he was able to quietly inject a second stimulus in exchange for preserving the status quo for the rich for two more years . How does this relate to Libya? Look at the leadership pattern I outlined, which Obama used on taxes and healthcare, it’s repeating.

Obama campaigned as the anti-Bush.  He campaigned on repairing America’s image and on charting a path of multilateralism.  In Libya, many were bewildered that Obama did not speak out more forcefully on the situation much earlier.   Now the Arab league approved a no-fly zone, after which the UN followed through yesterday.  As soon as this happened, already many have been quick to declare, “Too late!”   However, Obama has now made some very definite statements, which has the effect of putting teeth to the UN’s resolution.  And guess what? If there is military action in Libya, it would’ve been accomplished with France and other Arab states having been the most hawkish voices in all of this (!).  If military action happens, it will be a multilateral undertaking.  This would in fact be the exact opposite of how the USA went into Iraq–and again, like on healthcare and taxes, Obama would’ve ended up where he wanted to anyway.  Fool me once…..

In conclusion, he does often appear with a borderline  zen like style of leadership which can be understandably frustrating.  Sort of like NBA legend, Coach Phil Jackson, who has been known to call a timeout  and not say a word at all.  I think a lot of people misread him, because if you really look at the big stuff, generally:

1. Obama is very clear about who he is.

2. Obama more or less manages to gets what he wants.

Definitiveness of purpose, and accomplishing.  Is that not effective leadership?



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