Wednesday, December 09, 2015

The President's Oval Office address, and his personal approach to terrorism

Sunday night's address from the Oval Office was measured, rational, and expressed a steadfast commitment to confronting ISIS and terrorism generally.  What it did not do was say anything new.

The biggest flaw in the speech was his turn to his standard comments on gun control early on.  Yes, we support severe restrictions on gun sales here including no assault weapons, as well as thorough background checks, and the elimination of all of the virtually unregulated gun shows.  The problem is that many American people do not.  In fact, many members of the President's own party do not, including by virtue of years of his voting record, Bernie Sanders.  The President may as well have just turned the volume down on the rest of what he had to say for many of the listeners, and one would presume that he would have wanted them to listen.

President Obama seems to have a super sized view of himself.  Just being President does not mean that people will feel buoyed every time he speaks.  A good example of that is his insistence on using the term ISIL when almost no one else in the world or in this country does, except obviously everyone in his administration by executive fiat.  That has been an unnecessary rub here for a long time.  It was pointed out in a simple letter to the editor a few days ago in the NYT by a Philip Berkowitz of New York, who wrote, "What strand of professorial precision(or political correctness) requires this?"  It is unclear that anyone can explain it as anything other than a nit pick exercise of presidential power. What's the point?

During this troubled period in the Middle East, President Obama had his "red line" fiasco that put a huge dent in his credibility in that region, and his complete intransigence, until just six months ago, about giving all aid to Iraq for fighting ISIS to the corrupt central government.  Yes, it is still obviously corrupt and highly partisan.  The Sunni tribes and the Kurds know that well.  It is not yet clear whether Obama gets it even now.

One other thing to note.  Whether in sports, or business, or politics, or government, saying the word strategy is mostly vacuous.  Saying that word implies nothing specific.  It says to the listener that "we have a plan but we not going to tell you about it", or "we have no idea what we are doing and are still trying to figure something out", or "you are not smart enough to understand what we are doing."  We did not count how many times Obama used "strategy" in his speech, but it was more than a few times.

It goes without saying, we hope, that President Obama is a huge breath of fresh air compared to the racist megalomaniac Donald Trump and to most of the Republican presidential field.  Yes, some are lame, but some could be dangerous as Trump stirs the pot for them and they can choose to sample it when they choose. Yet, we still need to hold Obama accountable, to be sure that the embarrassment to the U.S., Trump, does not lead Obama to think that, in comparison, everything he has done is on track.


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