Commentary Magazine


Obama’s Missed Moment

Obama’s initial reaction to the Fort Hood attack was odd, as many remarked. He seemed unwilling to depart from his Interior Department script and strangely disconnected from the gravity of the situation. This time, Obama had several days to prepare after a domestic terror attempt. But again, his delivery was not compelling. As Charles Hurt remarked: “It was three days late and Obama mailed it in. Unaided by his trusty TelePrompTers, the president read through his statement like a schoolkid dutifully treading through his book report.”

The explanations for the latest laconic offering vary.  Obama was miffed about having to interrupt his vacation. He doesn’t really like all this national-security stuff (As Rich Lowry noted, “the administration’s body language says it would prefer to keep counterterrorism on a back-burner while it engages in the more important work of nationalizing health care and fighting global warming.”).  And then it didn’t help that after vowing to get the terror plotters, Obama jumped into the golf cart and was back to the links.

His spinners suggested he was trying to prevent panic or project an aura of cool determination. But if there are unsteady nerves out there, I would suggest they stem from the queasy realization that the president does not comprehend the rhetorical and atmospheric requirements of being commander in chief. He didn’t seem to understand that months of public dithering over the Afghanistan war strategy took a toll on both his image and our country. He didn’t grasp the fact that the West Point speech was detached, unemotional, and unduly equivocal at the very moment our troops, allies, and enemies were watching for a hint of steely determination from the president. And when terror strikes the homeland, there is no compelling moment, no grab-the-bullhorn-on the-rubble occasion, in which we sense that he knows we are in a war and intends to persevere against enemies determined to attack the U.S. and, more broadly, Western civilization. There is no emotional core to emerge.

After a year in office, Obama either doesn’t grasp the nature of the war we are in (and the necessity to show our resolve to our enemies) or he lacks the ability to project the qualities that Americans look for in a commander in chief. Either way, it is deeply troubling and a reminder of the risk the country takes when it elects someone with no national-security, no military, and no executive-leadership experience.