Monday, January 12, 2015

An epic failure of strategic stewardship

A few cliche's exist that apply not just to personal life, but to business and even international relations. 

- "If you want a friend, be a friend."
- "Half of life is just showing up."

One of the characteristics of our form of government is that the person who holds the Presidency is only a caretaker. Indeed, every person elected and appointed is only a place holder for the next person who takes the job. People come and go, but the nation endures.

The hard work of others is preserved and built on. When opportunities come up to add to the nation's wealth, power, security or prestige, you take it, secure it, and turn it over to posterity.

Likewise, if mistakes were made - you correct them. If previous office holders made errors or requirements change, then you fix and change as needed. You avoid, at all possible costs, huge errors that will take years to decades to fix.

Errors will be made, but there is no reason to make unforced errors - and we observed a big one this Sunday.

I was on travel most of Sunday, and in that time tried the best I can to understand what was going through the White House decision tree to bring us to where we wound up pulling a big zero on a historic march in Paris in support of one of the fundamental fruits of The Enlightenment, free speech.

There is so much here. If it were not for France, we would not have won our revolution. They are an occasionally difficult ally, but historically, the one after the UK that is the most important to us.

The lack of a significant presence in Paris is simply gobsmacking. The White House sent more people of more significance to a thief who was shot after attacking the police than they did for this?

I've spent a lot of time in France, and the French people are very much like Americans, they like Americans, and if you walk around their capital - there is pro-American paintings, statues, etc all over the place from the metro to their parks.

They are a proud, sovereign nation - so they will take their own path now and then, and that is OK. On balance though - for good manners if nothing else - we should have done better.

In the march, we had British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Jordan's King Abdullah II and Queen Rania were there. Heck, even President Bongo of Gabon showed up - not to any small bit of irony.

The USA? We have lame duck Attorney General Eric Holder there, but not in the march. On the streets, we only had our ambassador.

There is no other way to spin this. The United States has shown an exceptional amount of disrespect towards one of our closest and most important allies. This just feeds in to a growing feeling in the world that we can be relied on to always frustrate our friends and encourage our enemies.

This will not be forgotten, and will long outlast Obama's presidency.

Why did we do this? There are really only two reasons - both disturbing in their own way.

1. This was a case of nationalizing a point of personal pique. For some reason, perhaps related to this episode, Obama just does not care to expose his ego to possible injury in groups of other national leaders. He also does not like Europeans.

2. We have another example of the horrible national security brain trust he as around him. President Obama has never had good instincts concerning the care and feeding of our traditional allies. If they are giving him awards and praise from Oslo to the Tiergarten, he is fine. But showing support to them? No, there is some kind of blocking diode there. If he has good advisers who can help him work around his own biases and pre-conceived notions, he is movable. That is the function of a good staff. However, look who he has around him now. Instead of Hillary Clinton, Leon Panetta, Robert Gates, and James Jones - we have John F'n Kerry, Susan Rice, and Joe Biden who, along with the slum lord Valerie Jarrett, drown out any other advisers out there.

What can be done? Nothing really. We have Obama as President for another two years. We just need to catalog where he's made a mess and hope the next person will help repair the relationships.

It is what it is. President Obama and his rump national security advisers are what they are.

The bad part, what they do has the "Made in USA" stamp on it, and they have yet to fully take on board the concept of stewardship, unless ... well ... let's not go there.

UPDATE: Jake Tapper goes Salamander;
It is no small thing for the king of Jordan, a direct descendent of the Prophet Mohammed, to march in a rally prompted by the murders of people who mocked Islam as well as of innocent Jews -- all of whom were killed by Islamic extremists.

The United States, which considers itself to be the most important nation in the world, was not represented in this march -- arguably one of the most important public demonstrations in Europe in the last generation -- except by U.S. Ambassador Jane Hartley, who may have been a few rows back. I didn't see her. Even Russia sent Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

I say this as an American -- not as a journalist, not as a representative of CNN -- but as an American: I was ashamed.

I certainly understand the security concerns when it comes to sending President Barack Obama, though I can't imagine they're necessarily any greater than sending the lineup of other world leaders, especially in aggregate.

But I find it hard to believe that collectively President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Attorney General Eric Holder -- who was actually in France that day for a conference on counterterrorism -- just had no time in their schedules on Sunday. Holder had time to do the Sunday shows via satellite but not to show the world that he stood with the people of France?

There was higher-level Obama administration representation on this season's episodes of "The Good Wife" on CBS.

Photo credit to Brad Thor.

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