“Obama’s Flip-Flop Leadership Style”

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Ooh, did this writer nail it. From Dilip Hiro via TomGram. His critique of Obama focuses on foreign policy, but his opening remarks are valid across the board:

Irrespective of their politics, flawed leaders share a common trait. They generally remain remarkably oblivious to the harm they do to the nation they lead. George W. Bush is a salient recent example, as is former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. When it comes to foreign policy, we are now witnessing a similar phenomenon at the Obama White House.

Here is the Obama pattern: Choose a foreign leader to pressure. Threaten him with dire consequences if he does not bend to Washington’s will. When he refuses to submit and instead responds vigorously, back off quickly and overcompensate for failure by switching into a placatory mode.

In his first year-plus in office, Barack Obama has provided us with enough examples to summarize his leadership style. The American president fails to objectively evaluate the strength of the cards that a targeted leader holds and his resolve to play them.

Obama’s propensity to retreat at the first sign of resistance shows that he lacks both guts and the strong convictions that are essential elements distinguishing statesmen from politicians.

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  1. NOTaREALmerican

    Ok, I’m really going out on a limb here, but I predict a near 99% victory for the Republicrat Party this November. The peasants will – once again – choose the best to lead them into the glorious future.

  2. Awesome

    Actually, Obama’s first step is to hold a press conference where he mocks the previous leader’s ability to work with the foreign leader.

    See his stance on Chinese currency manipulation while in the Senate.

  3. CaitlinO

    “The peasants will – once again – choose the best to lead them into the glorious future.”

    Uh-huh. And how did those choices in 2000 and 2004 work out for the country?

  4. lambert strether

    I don’t think I got the memo. Hiro writes:

    [Flawed leaders] generally remain remarkably oblivious to the harm they do to the nation they lead.

    Remind me again what the President has to do with the national interest?

    * * *

    Meanwhile, by focusing on the shallow notion of leadership, rather than our decaying institutions — I’d like a President, not a “leader” — Hiro reinforces the problem. If I want to understand about “leadership,” there are plenty of books in what we laughingly call the “Business” section airport bookstores I can read…

  5. steelhead23

    Gee, I thought fine universities like Harvard were supposed to teach leadership skills. First Yale gives us Bush the Lesser, now we get Obama the Wimp. We need better colleges.

    1. Externality

      We have many excellent colleges. Unfortunately, the New York and Washington establishment summarily dismiss presidential candidates and Supreme Court nominees who did not attend Harvard, Yale, or, more recently, Oxford (Clinton). Obama recently nominated Elana Kagan, who studied at Princeton, Oxford, and Harvard. The political and media elites assume that anyone who could not get into Harvard, Yale, or Oxford is in some way deficient, and unworthy of serious consideration.

      What is wrong with graduates of Stanford? Boalt Hall law school at UC Berkeley? MIT? Cal Tech? Columbia University?

      1. Externality

        Just to clarify, Bill Clinton went to Georgetown, Oxford, and to Yale law school. Hillary went Wellesley, and to Yale law school.

  6. Steveb

    The author says Obama lacks guts and strong conviction, and retreats at the first sign of resistance. That seems correct. And he says Obama is like Bush and Blair. I have never heard Bush accused before of a lack of guts and conviction. Seems like a bit of fuzziness here.

    1. Pepe

      Obama, like Bush and Blair, is apparently oblivious to the damage he causes.

      Obama is also a coward, and/or lacks principles.

      You’re mashing the two together.

  7. Tao Jonesing

    While I can’t disagree with the analysis of Obama’s negotiating tactics (I’ve said the same thing for months with respect to domestic issues), I don’t see how they say anything directly about his leadership style.

    Clearly, Obama has one play in his negotiations handbook: 1. talk tough, drawing a line in the sand; 2. unnecessarily offer a massive concession in the opening bid; 3. settle for something far less than demanded in step 1; and 4. declare victory.

    If you only focus on steps 1-3, you might infer that the man is weak-willed, a flip-flopper. But if you focus on the fact that he ALWAYS uses this one play and ALWAYS declares victory, well, maybe he actually is getting what he was really after. Maybe he isn’t trying to put lipstick on a pig when he declares victory. Maybe he actually achieved the objectives he set out to achieve. In the meantime, he has mollified his base by talking tough and “trying” to bring about change. It takes a pretty good leader to get your followers to accept the unacceptable (e.g., a health insurance mandate without a public option).

    I felt similarly about Dubya. The guy was so consistent in achieving results that seemed to be the opposite of his stated goals/beliefs that I was forced to conclude that the results were what he always intended, that he wasn’t stupid and naive.

    Too many people focus on what a leader says and fail to compare it to what the leader actually does. When there is a big difference between the two, you have to focus on the actions and not the words. That’s the only way you’ll be able to tell where the leader really wants to take you.

    1. Doug Terpstra

      “Maybe he isn’t trying to put lipstick on a pig when he declares victory. Maybe he actually achieved the objectives he set out to achieve.”

      Continuing, even escalating W’s agenda, Obama is worse in the sense that he pulled a calculated bait-and-switch. It’s gut-wrenching, “say it ain’t so, O’,” but you know it is.

      This Nobel Peace Prize laureate of recently threatened Iran, not very diplomatically with “the continued presence of all options on the table”. And to back it up he’s begun a massive naval buildup in the Persian Gulf, accroding the the DebkaFile: http://www.debka.com/article/8794/. As Cynthia noted above, this is about as Orwellian as it gets, a truth stranger than fiction.

      1. curlydan

        we must have 90% of our Navy in the gulf because I’ve been reading about these massive buildups since about 2005.

    2. Vladimira Lenina

      Yes, sure. This is the ‘he is playing chess in eleven dimensions’ story line. It’s not true, but it helps deceiving yourself so you can continue to believe and adore your hero.

      1. reskeptikal

        Not admiration Vladimira. Read again. Winning all the time? Every argument? hmm…?

  8. ChicagoSpaceMan

    Blah, blah, blah…..

    He has domestic deliverables: Health Care Reform, Finance Reform, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell… (I wouldn’t call that “failure of objectively evaluating the situation”)

    Not perfect, but more than Palin would accomplished.

    “By now, from Afghanistan to Honduras, Brazil to China, global leaders large and small increasingly sense that the Obama administration’s bark is worse than its bite, and though the U.S. remains a major power, it is no longer the determinative one. The waning of the truncated American Century is by now irreversible”

    There is only so much you can expect from foreign entities in this day and age. Words can only matter so much. Who the F*** cares what other leaders do?
    WTF? What are we supposed to do nuke um all?
    We don’t own the planet. Nor do we deserve to.

    But, we still live like rich f***ing pigs over here.

    Instead of worrying about intimidating other nations into submission (or writing stupid articles about it) perhaps the we should use our luxury position to actually contribute to the world with something or more permanence.

    Whaaa, whaaa, Obama, whaaa, whaaa…

    People in China commit suicide after working all damn day and night making our f***ing iPads. Great!!! “But, but, they should bow before us at our every whim! We are AMERICA!!” Well, they’ve got their own freakin’ problems, OK. How is it a problem they are economically developing?

    Regarding Israel…Frankly, the joke is on Israel in the long run. And it is a bit sad really considering the historical context of it all.
    Obama or any president for that matter can’t help there.
    Yeah,yeah, we support them, blah, blah, but tell me this…why they hell would any sane person choose to live in the desert and be involved in a perpetual, bloody , vicious fight????
    If the fundamentalists had any sense, they wouldn’t bother getting the good ole USA involved. America will tire eventually of the wars in the Middle East, just like Vietnam. The Muslim/Palestinian community is not going to disappear.
    People had better make friends, because there really isn’t any other alternative. I guess if you like violence….keep at it?
    I hate to use the word hopeless, but sometimes…

    But, then again, hey, if true Zionists feel soo strongly over a couple hundred square miles of dry,salty,sand and dirt, that’s their call. Netanyahu can have all the fun he wants! Keep up the strong posturing! It’s not in my backyard! Good luck to ya!

    “Blame no one, expect nothing, and do something…epic”

    1. lambert strether

      Yeah, Palin could never have made failure to buy junk insurance subject to IRS penalties; Palin would never have been able to whip for TARP, ratifying all of the Paulson bailout; Palin would never have been able to normalize torture… And on and on and on, until Obama loots Social Security on behalf of Pete Peterson’s golfing buddies, which Pail wouldn’t have been able to do either.

  9. Cynthia

    If Obama is an eleven-dimensional chess player, as his worshippers like to envision him as, he is playing with the smoke and mirrors of an Orwellian propagandist, not with the skills and talent of a string theorist.

    In fact, Obama is such an Orwellian propagandist that he’s as predictable as clockwork in that just about everything he says will happen runs counter to what actually does happen. So when Obama said that BP will pay for all the cleanup cost from its catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf, what will actually happen is that BP will be totally off the hook for this and the American people will be paying for BP’s mess either in the form of higher taxes or higher gas prices or a mixture of the two. Nothing has changed about Obama. He’s still deep in the pockets of Corporate America, so he’ll continue to make certain that BP’s profits remain privatized and its losses remain socialized. He’s the human equivalent of a Swiss pocket knife for America’s most kleptocratic-crony capitalists.

    So the American people need to lay off their little blue soma pills long enough to see the blindingly obvious truth that Obama is not only a neoconservative warmonger who chooses war over peace, but he’s also a neo-liberal corporatist who chooses corporate profits over protecting our workers as well as our environment. So when tea partiers say that Obama is a peacenik socialist, what they oughta be saying is that he’s a hawkish corporatist. I guess this makes tea partiers Orwellian propagandists, too.

    1. Thomas

      If I didn’t know you were right…I would call that fantastical hyperbole…
      But, sadly, all of it is spot on.

    2. sgt_doom

      Thanks, Madam Cynthia, for stating what should be the obvious!

      I mean, after all of Obama’s most anti-worker, anti-labor and anti-union appointments possible, fundamentally the same kind of appointments Dick Cheney would have made had he stolen the election, how any brainless clown possibly considers Obama to be an authentic Democrat, for even one measly second, beggars belief!

      Doesn’t anyone ever gread Glen Ford (blackagendareport.com), Glenn Greenwald (salon.com), Chris Hedges (truthdig.com), and most crucially, a fellow by the name of Matt Taibbi (a k a, The Taibbi, of rollingstone.com)????


  10. Paul Tioxon

    Poor enlightened Wall Streeters, can’t wait for the president to strangle the last Goldman Sachs Investment banker with the intestines of the last BP oil exec. Can’t wait for him to crash the entire Israeli government on kibbitz tour bus like the Russians managed to do to Poland. What’s a simpering, Machiavellian to do with 309,000,000 people in the 21st century. Remember the choice is change, meaning revolution, where when you wake up the next day, your world has completely changed with no going back and progress, where incrementalists move forward where ever the obstructionist are worn down, so that when you retire, the world will different from the one you toiled in, and there is no going back. Our bellies are obese so don’t count on revolution soon. Maybe after a few million more disgruntled college educated types run out of 99 weeks of benefits.

  11. Dikaios Logos

    Interesting take, but I’d like to see the longer version of this argument. I’ll put Hiro’s latest on my reading list. I am fan of some of his other books, including, “The Longest War” and “Between Marx and Mohammed”, about the Iran/Iraq War and Central Asia. With his knowledge of those hot spots, I don’t find it heartening that he has this tone now.

  12. Vidal

    When your resources are constrained you have to triage your engagements. Instead of a litany of failures, I see a consistent hierarchy of issues for the administration. Using his maximal strength to get some kind of health care reform was the first priority. China’s participation at the nuclear summit was more important than the currency issue. Shifting US engagement with Israel, as demonstrated by testing the waters, is going to require significant time and effort. And all of this while realizing that the “casino economy” has gotten out of hand. In only one year in office, to say that this first set of engagements constitute complete failure when a new geo-political architecture is being constructed completely short sided. The hand is weaker but the game is not done.

  13. Tortoise

    I am cynical so I guess I do not expect much from any politician. With these low expectations and standards in mind, I find Obama the best president we had the last quite a few years. Sorry, it is not much praise and yet some readers may this it too much. (Sure, Bush II was sooooo much better! And Clinton was a true man of conviction. So was Bush I. Should I continue?) As for lack of conviction, let us be realistic — a president can do so much. This is not a parliamentary democracy and Obama is not the undisputed despot of a party (heck, I am not even sure there is a party behind him — the Democrats have never been much of a party).

  14. Glenn Condell

    Barack Obama is the greatest disappointment in history.

    He does dress nicely though, and even Tony Blair can’t match him for making hogwash plausible and shit smell nice.

    He’s not the Messiah, he’s the Manager and as far as his handlers are concerned, he’s doing his job. He will decorate the top table afterwards if he pays his cards right, and will like Clinton amuse us for years pretending to be sorry about those elements of his legacy that just happened to enable massive wealth transfer, loss of privacy, resource exploitation and environmental degradation, further militarisation and expansion of Israel, etc.

    The noble brow will furrow, the voice deepen imperceptibly into that curiously admonishing tone, like the pastor at Sunday School lecturing the children, and the great man will express regret at not quite reaching the summit, as if he ever left the foothills.

    1. DeniseB

      We elected a 47-year-old man who had no experience leading anything, managing anything, caring about anything. He basically had no accomplishments in his life except self-promotion. There wasn’t a single bit of evidence that he could take charge or use power effectively or be bold or creative. And it was apparent in the debates that he had wasted none of his time on learning about policy. No one should be surprised at the way he is governing. He’s an amateur in well over his head.

      Of course, there was always the possibility that he would rise to the responsibilities of the office. I hoped that he would when his election was inevitable. But, sadly, he is not a leader, not a manager, and is committed to nothing. Too bad he didn’t start smaller – like maybe a manager of a department in a law firm. But like all narcissists, he knew he was above that.

  15. jal

    Every time that I hear Barack Obama speak I compare his style etc. with that of the alternative … and recall the saying “Careful with what you wish for”

  16. cvtu

    Obama is right. A little bit of modesty on the world’s stage won’t do you as a nation any harm. Quite the contrary.

  17. LoveFreedom

    It is difficult for me to be so eloquent as most of you, but I will do my best.

    We came to the US 24 years ago from the former USSR.
    It is hard for me to admit, but this country is going down. Down for me means socialism. I’ve been there, I’ve experienced it, it does not work.

    Unfortunately, Ayn Rand was right. She described what is happening now very well in late 40s, early 50s. She actually predicted it.

    We need a serious change in this country, we need to get back to the foundation, the Constitution.

    Obama is a commie. We need to get reed of him ASAP. Bush was not much better though, growing government as there is no tomorrow.

    I am wondering how many people read “The Virtue of Selfishness” by Ayn Rand?

    1. kievite

      Wow !

      You are surprising me Comrade LoveFreedom.

      I thought that anybody who who used to know and was forcefully fed by “Socialist Realism” books would never enjoy Rand bizarre exercises in the same direction (is plagiarism right work here?). Replace her capitalist entrepreneur with the director of new tractor factory who tries to overcome stiffing bureaucracy around him and you will get perfect parody on Soviet literature. Actually both have Nietzschean overtones.

      As for Obama as a commie, I would suggest that Obama while close to members of Politburo of CPSU, he is probably less close then Bush II (who had tremendous synergy in heavy drinking habits, being unable to express himself in native language and early loss of mental sharpness which make it impossible to speak without teleprompter — typical traits of Politburo members).

      Still your great insight misses the real similarity. Members of Politburo were pathologically compulsive careerists without any real convictions, who actually serves as patsies of military-industrial complex and were probably less believers in the communist doctrine that a typical Republican congressmen, sending wifes for shopping to Paris and sons/daughters for education to Oxford.

      But you need to work on the style of expressing your great insights: writing after taking too much Stoli can be too logically twisted, despite being wonderfully emotional :-)

      1. LoveFreedom

        kievite, have you actually read her books? I mean other than Atlas Shrugged and Fountainhead?
        Many of my liberal friends who hate Ayn Rand have never read her books.
        Or “we need to pass the bill to find out what’s in it”

        1. Scott Brown

          Okay, so the comments are mostly stuff seemingly informed by Fox News and Alex Jones. How disappointing. Yeah, Obama is a corporatist. Thanks for telling me something most thinking people knew during the campaign. You do remember our other options, right? And then LoveFreedom drops the whiny lie from Fox News and hate radio about “we need to pass the bill to find out what’s in it.” Um yeah, that tells me where you get your info.

          “After commenting that discussion of health care reform had been focused on ‘the controversies within the bill, the process about the bill,’ she said in full, ‘But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of controversy.'”



    2. DeniseB

      I worked with many immigrants from Russia during my career. They all ranted about Socialism and loved Ronald Reagan and Bush Jr. Funny thing, though – they all brought their parents over and put them on SSI. Perhaps you can help me understand this.

  18. JimS

    “The peasants will – once again – choose the best to lead them into the glorious future.”

    Ah, so should we then disenfranchise these “peasants”? Is democracy too much for ordinary folk to handle? I thought that was a neocon position, but I guess I was mistaken.

    The cynicism in comments here is sometimes stifling.

    These so-called peasants have sound instincts. They are waking up to the fact that something is really wrong with this nation–and any long-time reader of this blog could hardly disagree! The sad fact is that the American public is more uneducated now than at any other time in our history, and it doesn’t know how to think about what is happening (whether this lack of education is incidental or deliberate is a question I’d love to debate but won’t); thus the Tea Party, which is angry but not really sure about what, and so is easily led astray by demagoguery (or what passes for it these days).

    “A house divided cannot stand.” Is the rift between right and left so deep and absolute that we can’t talk to each other? If it is, we have no hope; perhaps the American experiment was always doomed to failure after all.

    Or perhaps we could turn off the propaganda machines and debate each other rather than our talking points. Isn’t compromise what America is built upon? Compromise is impossible if you don’t even understand where the other guy is coming from.

    On Dilip Hiro’s article, I’ve held to hiss conclusion for a while now. Social & intellectual trends and a lethal does of hubris appear to have converged on this decade and finally borne the fruits of dishonesty, incivility, and ignorance that are tipping the scales. Particularly ignorance–an uninformed public cannot be expected to make informed decisions.

  19. Blurtman

    Obama is pap for the simpleton masses. As he will be viewed as just another corporate sell-out, the despondent masses will slink back to their hovels, and abandon all hope. And that’s the plan afterall.

  20. mikefromArlington

    haha. You all are f’in full of yourselves. It’s like listening to Fox and Friends.

    This guy has negotiated major sanctions with countries that never wanted to play in the past, arms reduction deals, has Pakistan working with us and now Bibi is coming back to DC with his tail between his legs. This is under 2 years.

  21. Blurtman

    And those Wall Street indictments are rolling in, oh yeah. Eric Holder, Covington & Burling corporate attorney, indeed.

  22. purple

    Americans are perpetually hysterical about their position of dominance in the world. Though the US ruling class is far more powerful than it was in 1975 (forgot the USSR ?). What are the holdouts ? North Korea and Cuba ?

    If immigration flows change , then there is something for the US ruling class to worry about. But if anything, it seems like brain drain from the developing world is intensifying – in the name of immigration ‘reform’.

    More simply put, almost no one is permanently immigrating from the US to China (excepting Jim Rogers), whereas there are waiting lists a mile long of people wanting to immigrate from China to the US.

    If that changes, the America century is over. But it won’t. Asians , specifically Chinese, now immigrating will be every bit as American as WASPS in a generation.

  23. Ignim Brites

    “Obama’s propensity to retreat at the first sign of resistance shows that he lacks both guts and the strong convictions that are essential elements distinguishing statesmen from politicians.” Cannot really say that W lacked guts and strong convictions. But aside from that Obama has been doubly ill-prepared to be President. First he had an Ivy League education and secondly he has had a fawning, idiotically historist (we are the ones history has been wait for), press. Obama has an extremely difficult foreign policy problem. Most of his supporters want the US to be the big, but loved, kahuna. So they mistook foreign opposition to Bush as opposition to his policies. While there was plenty of opposition to Bush’s policies most of it was driven just by the desire to get America off the stage. It isn’t even the case of being anti-American. It is simply a natural desire for the limelight which means cutting down the big tree. Secondly, most of Obama’s supporters in the LSM are so obsessed with the “mess” that Bush made that they cannot begin to think that maybe Bush won the GWOT. Consequently, even if we have a less than satisfactory outcome in Afghanistan and even in Iraq, we can withdraw because the menace of Sunni fundamentalist terrorism is defeated. Sure there is still Shiite terrorism but we have Sunni allies to help contain that. The Obamani need to learn the lesson Reagan taught. It is amazing how much you can accomplish if you don’t care who get the credit. But it is unlikely they will because they are the champions, they are the champions, they are champions, of the world. Weird.

  24. ep3

    uh…simple answer. because he is a puppet for these elites that control things. he’s acting only in the best interest of the people with money and power & corporations.

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