Commentary Magazine


Topic: media handmaidens

Why Doesn’t Obama “Panic” About Iran?

We are told there is a “little bit of panic” in the White House over the Gulf of Mexico oil leak. White House flacks worry it threatens Obama’s aura of competence (if one supposes that sky-high unemployment, the loss of key gubernatorial races and the Massachusetts Senate seat, the gaping deficit, and his sagging poll numbers haven’t already scuffed it up). Politico reports:

“There is no good answer to this,” one senior administration official said. “There is no readily apparent solution besides one that could take three months. … If it doesn’t show the impotence of the government, it shows the limits of the government.”

Hope and change was Obama’s headline message in 2008, but those atop his campaign have always said that it was Obama’s cool competence — exemplified by his level-headed handling of the financial meltdown during the campaign’s waning days — that sealed the deal with independents and skeptical Democrats. The promise of rational, responsive and efficient government is Obama’s brand, his justification for bigger and bolder federal interventions and, ultimately, his rationale for a second term.

I suppose there are symbolic moments that provide a tipping point, but have the reporters not noticed that those bigger and bolder federal interventions are what is driving down his and the Democrats’ popularity? The panic, I think, is indicative not of the magnitude of the issue or the reaction of the public (Does a majority of the public really blame Obama for the oil spill?) but instead of the obsession of this administration (and its media handmaidens) with spin, image, and communication as the answer to every challenge Obama faces. (“‘They weren’t slow on the response; they were slow on talking about it,’ an outside White House adviser said.”)

What is interesting is what isn’t panicking the White House. The “we have no plan” Iran memo from Robert Gates doesn’t panic them. SCUD missiles in Syria only engenders “deep concern.” Sky-high unemployment figures with little prospect of robust job creation? Yawn.

And it’s equally interesting what sort of villian gets the administration’s attention: “At the same time, they’ve identified a villain — BP — with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar saying he’d keep a ‘boot on the neck’ of the company to ensure it would pay for and toil over a cleanup of historic proportions.” An exasperated reader emails me: “Will we hear Robert Gibbs say, ‘ We will keep the boot on the neck of the Iranian nuclear program’”? Uh, no.

In sum, the oil spill is an illuminating event — in large part because it stands in contrast to the more serious threats and the lackadaisical attitude this administration demonstrates toward everything that doesn’t threaten the president’s image and political standing. But here’s the thing: what’s going to happen to that aura of competence when the mullahs get a nuclear weapon? Ah, now that will be a communications problem.

We are told there is a “little bit of panic” in the White House over the Gulf of Mexico oil leak. White House flacks worry it threatens Obama’s aura of competence (if one supposes that sky-high unemployment, the loss of key gubernatorial races and the Massachusetts Senate seat, the gaping deficit, and his sagging poll numbers haven’t already scuffed it up). Politico reports:

“There is no good answer to this,” one senior administration official said. “There is no readily apparent solution besides one that could take three months. … If it doesn’t show the impotence of the government, it shows the limits of the government.”

Hope and change was Obama’s headline message in 2008, but those atop his campaign have always said that it was Obama’s cool competence — exemplified by his level-headed handling of the financial meltdown during the campaign’s waning days — that sealed the deal with independents and skeptical Democrats. The promise of rational, responsive and efficient government is Obama’s brand, his justification for bigger and bolder federal interventions and, ultimately, his rationale for a second term.

I suppose there are symbolic moments that provide a tipping point, but have the reporters not noticed that those bigger and bolder federal interventions are what is driving down his and the Democrats’ popularity? The panic, I think, is indicative not of the magnitude of the issue or the reaction of the public (Does a majority of the public really blame Obama for the oil spill?) but instead of the obsession of this administration (and its media handmaidens) with spin, image, and communication as the answer to every challenge Obama faces. (“‘They weren’t slow on the response; they were slow on talking about it,’ an outside White House adviser said.”)

What is interesting is what isn’t panicking the White House. The “we have no plan” Iran memo from Robert Gates doesn’t panic them. SCUD missiles in Syria only engenders “deep concern.” Sky-high unemployment figures with little prospect of robust job creation? Yawn.

And it’s equally interesting what sort of villian gets the administration’s attention: “At the same time, they’ve identified a villain — BP — with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar saying he’d keep a ‘boot on the neck’ of the company to ensure it would pay for and toil over a cleanup of historic proportions.” An exasperated reader emails me: “Will we hear Robert Gibbs say, ‘ We will keep the boot on the neck of the Iranian nuclear program’”? Uh, no.

In sum, the oil spill is an illuminating event — in large part because it stands in contrast to the more serious threats and the lackadaisical attitude this administration demonstrates toward everything that doesn’t threaten the president’s image and political standing. But here’s the thing: what’s going to happen to that aura of competence when the mullahs get a nuclear weapon? Ah, now that will be a communications problem.

Read Less

Spinning Obama’s Foreign-Policy Flops

Earlier this month, Jackson Diehl detailed Obama’s lack of success in forging productive relationships with foreign leaders. Now Obama’s dutiful flacks and media handmaidens take to the front page of Diehl’s paper to explain Obama was merely making use of his “charisma.” Now he is getting around to those relationships. There is this jaw-dropping bit of spin:

The change from a year ago is stark. In his widely broadcast address in Cairo last June, Obama called Israeli settlements in the occupied territories “illegitimate.” By contrast, he met last week at the White House with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for two hours, urging him privately to freeze Jewish settlement construction.

What relationship is Obama making use of there? If this is Obama’s idea of a forging bonds with foreign leaders (condemning his country, reading the prime minister the riot act, twice snubbing Netanyahu during his White House visits), our foreign-policy apparatus surely is guilty of gross malfeasance. Then the blind quotes are trotted out to — surprise, surprise — ding George W. Bush and explain how Obama’s newfound personal diplomacy is vastly superior to his predecessor’s:

“Obama is not the sort of guy who looks for a best buddy, and that’s very different than Bush,” said a European diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly about perceptions of U.S. leaders abroad. “Sometimes being too personal is not a good thing. You can make mistakes.”

No, Obama is the sort of guy who returns the Winston Churchill bust, gives Gordon Brown and the Queen of England cheap-o gifts, bows to dictators, and slams the elected prime minister of Israel. Completely different. But even the Washington Post must concede that Obama has not forged really any productive relationships with world leaders:

Obama, who was an Illinois state senator just four years before he was elected president, knew few world leaders upon taking office. Since then, he has developed mostly arm’s-length relationships with fellow heads of state, including many from developing countries that previous presidents largely ignored or shunned to protect U.S. relationships with more traditional allies.

Let’s get real — Obama has not really used his charisma to promote anything but himself:

Republican critics say the approach has unsettled the United States’ best friends, and failed more than succeeded in promoting American interests on some of the most far-reaching foreign policy challenges of the day.

Obama’s direct appeal to the people of China and Iran[ Did we miss this? Was he championing democracy at some point?], for example, has produced little change in the attitude of their governments, showing the limits of a bottom-up approach when it comes to dealing with authoritarian countries. Middle East peace talks remain moribund after the administration’s so-far-unsuccessful attempts to end Israeli settlement construction or to persuade Arab governments to make even token diplomatic gestures toward the Jewish state.

As Simon Serfaty of theCenter for Strategic and International Studies notes, “He is beginning to face a crisis of efficacy.” In other words, despite all the reverential treatment by liberal elites, Obama has yet to develop effective ties with allies or used public diplomacy to further American interests. His infatuation with dictatorial regimes, his embrace of multilateralism, and his willingness to kick allies (e.g., Israel, Poland, the Czech Republic, Britain, Honduras) in the shins have left America more isolated and rogue states more emboldened than ever before. An assessment from Der Spiegel put it this way, recalling Obama’s Cairo speech (which the Obami still laud as an achievement of some sort):

The applause for Obama’s Cairo speech died away in the vast expanses of the Arabian Desert long ago. “He says all the right things, but implementation is exactly the way it has always been,” says Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal.

Obama’s failure in the Middle East is but one example of his weakness, though a particularly drastic and vivid one. The president, widely celebrated when he took office, cannot claim to have achieved sweeping successes in any area. When he began his term more than a year ago, he came across as an ambitious developer who had every intention of completing multiple projects at once. But after a year, none of those projects has even progressed beyond the early construction phase. And in some cases, the sites are nothing but deep excavations. … Obama can hardly count on gaining the support of allies, partly because he doesn’t pay much attention to them. The American president doesn’t have a single strong ally among European heads of state

Perhaps less time spent crafting stories for the Post and more time working on a viable foreign policy built on American interests rather than Obama’s ego would be in order.

Earlier this month, Jackson Diehl detailed Obama’s lack of success in forging productive relationships with foreign leaders. Now Obama’s dutiful flacks and media handmaidens take to the front page of Diehl’s paper to explain Obama was merely making use of his “charisma.” Now he is getting around to those relationships. There is this jaw-dropping bit of spin:

The change from a year ago is stark. In his widely broadcast address in Cairo last June, Obama called Israeli settlements in the occupied territories “illegitimate.” By contrast, he met last week at the White House with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for two hours, urging him privately to freeze Jewish settlement construction.

What relationship is Obama making use of there? If this is Obama’s idea of a forging bonds with foreign leaders (condemning his country, reading the prime minister the riot act, twice snubbing Netanyahu during his White House visits), our foreign-policy apparatus surely is guilty of gross malfeasance. Then the blind quotes are trotted out to — surprise, surprise — ding George W. Bush and explain how Obama’s newfound personal diplomacy is vastly superior to his predecessor’s:

“Obama is not the sort of guy who looks for a best buddy, and that’s very different than Bush,” said a European diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly about perceptions of U.S. leaders abroad. “Sometimes being too personal is not a good thing. You can make mistakes.”

No, Obama is the sort of guy who returns the Winston Churchill bust, gives Gordon Brown and the Queen of England cheap-o gifts, bows to dictators, and slams the elected prime minister of Israel. Completely different. But even the Washington Post must concede that Obama has not forged really any productive relationships with world leaders:

Obama, who was an Illinois state senator just four years before he was elected president, knew few world leaders upon taking office. Since then, he has developed mostly arm’s-length relationships with fellow heads of state, including many from developing countries that previous presidents largely ignored or shunned to protect U.S. relationships with more traditional allies.

Let’s get real — Obama has not really used his charisma to promote anything but himself:

Republican critics say the approach has unsettled the United States’ best friends, and failed more than succeeded in promoting American interests on some of the most far-reaching foreign policy challenges of the day.

Obama’s direct appeal to the people of China and Iran[ Did we miss this? Was he championing democracy at some point?], for example, has produced little change in the attitude of their governments, showing the limits of a bottom-up approach when it comes to dealing with authoritarian countries. Middle East peace talks remain moribund after the administration’s so-far-unsuccessful attempts to end Israeli settlement construction or to persuade Arab governments to make even token diplomatic gestures toward the Jewish state.

As Simon Serfaty of theCenter for Strategic and International Studies notes, “He is beginning to face a crisis of efficacy.” In other words, despite all the reverential treatment by liberal elites, Obama has yet to develop effective ties with allies or used public diplomacy to further American interests. His infatuation with dictatorial regimes, his embrace of multilateralism, and his willingness to kick allies (e.g., Israel, Poland, the Czech Republic, Britain, Honduras) in the shins have left America more isolated and rogue states more emboldened than ever before. An assessment from Der Spiegel put it this way, recalling Obama’s Cairo speech (which the Obami still laud as an achievement of some sort):

The applause for Obama’s Cairo speech died away in the vast expanses of the Arabian Desert long ago. “He says all the right things, but implementation is exactly the way it has always been,” says Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal.

Obama’s failure in the Middle East is but one example of his weakness, though a particularly drastic and vivid one. The president, widely celebrated when he took office, cannot claim to have achieved sweeping successes in any area. When he began his term more than a year ago, he came across as an ambitious developer who had every intention of completing multiple projects at once. But after a year, none of those projects has even progressed beyond the early construction phase. And in some cases, the sites are nothing but deep excavations. … Obama can hardly count on gaining the support of allies, partly because he doesn’t pay much attention to them. The American president doesn’t have a single strong ally among European heads of state

Perhaps less time spent crafting stories for the Post and more time working on a viable foreign policy built on American interests rather than Obama’s ego would be in order.

Read Less

Re: Graham Crumbles for Nothing

When Lindsay Graham decided to support cap-and-trade — a position not even some moderate Democrats can stomach — I observed that this was not only bad policy but also bad politics. And sure enough, moves like that and his support for now Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor have spelled trouble for him. This report explains:

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham’s public support is collapsing in South Carolina — driven by a wholesale revolt among the GOP electorate and a steady erosion of his support amongst independents.

Already consistently loathed by a solid third of GOP voters, Graham’s recent leftward bent — including his co-authoring of a controversial “Cap & Tax” proposal supported by President Barack Obama and liberal Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) — has him locked in a “terminal free fall,” according one prominent Republican consultant.

“A chunk of the GOP has always detested him, but in the last month a damn has broken,” said the consultant, who was granted anonymity to discuss the impact of two recent polls that were conducted in South Carolina (one allegedly by Graham’s own advisors). “More Republicans now oppose Sen. Graham than support him. Independents are also deserting him in huge numbers.”

This contradicts the favorite narrative of Democrats and their media handmaidens, namely that in order to stay relevant, Republicans must compromise with Obama, move leftward, and adopt policies at odds with conservative principles. It turns out that doing so alienates not only Republican voters but also independents, who themselves are not enamored of Obama’s leftist agenda. Graham won’t face the voters until 2014, so he has time to recover. But his example may serve as a warning to other Republicans: mimicking Obamaism is a losing proposition.

When Lindsay Graham decided to support cap-and-trade — a position not even some moderate Democrats can stomach — I observed that this was not only bad policy but also bad politics. And sure enough, moves like that and his support for now Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor have spelled trouble for him. This report explains:

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham’s public support is collapsing in South Carolina — driven by a wholesale revolt among the GOP electorate and a steady erosion of his support amongst independents.

Already consistently loathed by a solid third of GOP voters, Graham’s recent leftward bent — including his co-authoring of a controversial “Cap & Tax” proposal supported by President Barack Obama and liberal Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) — has him locked in a “terminal free fall,” according one prominent Republican consultant.

“A chunk of the GOP has always detested him, but in the last month a damn has broken,” said the consultant, who was granted anonymity to discuss the impact of two recent polls that were conducted in South Carolina (one allegedly by Graham’s own advisors). “More Republicans now oppose Sen. Graham than support him. Independents are also deserting him in huge numbers.”

This contradicts the favorite narrative of Democrats and their media handmaidens, namely that in order to stay relevant, Republicans must compromise with Obama, move leftward, and adopt policies at odds with conservative principles. It turns out that doing so alienates not only Republican voters but also independents, who themselves are not enamored of Obama’s leftist agenda. Graham won’t face the voters until 2014, so he has time to recover. But his example may serve as a warning to other Republicans: mimicking Obamaism is a losing proposition.

Read Less




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