Searching for leadership post-Obama
We’ll be lucky if we survive the Obama Administration as a world power. This, unless we soon learn how to 1) be more pragmatic in our domestic politics, and 2) find the kind of leaders that have literally “saved us” during the biggest historic “turning points” of the years since WW II.
Obama was the voter correction to G.W. Bush’s failed Iraq policy; however, it also gave us an “empty suit” – a man who had never had a real job – or any national security experience. And it shows every day. The worst thing we could have done to ourselves was to re-elect him in 2012.
In fact, we have had only three or four truly great presidents since WW II:
The great World War II president was Harry S. Truman, who had the courage – more accurately the courage – to drop two atomic bombs on Japan and end the war in the Pacific, saving a million or more U.S. serviceman from death or wounding and changing the course of history for Asia and Japan.
Dwight D. Eisenhower knew how to get things done, and we should thank him every time we get on the interstate. During WWII, of course, he planned D-Day and quickly won the war in Europe – changing the course of history for a whole continent, perhaps the world.
John F. Kennedy deserves positive mention because of his vision for the space program.
Johnson and Nixon. They got us – and kept us – in an intractable, decade-long, so-called “limited” war that we refused to win, despite being able to. As a result, we lost it. One Democrat and one Republican – and both were retarding influences in American world leadership.
Carter. A Southern Democrat who brought lots of political riff-raff with him. His election was a voter reaction to Nixon and the Watergate scandal; and in this respect was similar to Obama as a reaction to G.W. Bush’s protracted war in Iraq. Despite the spin he is still putting on it, Carter was a disaster as a president.
Ronald Reagan was our last truly great leader; he played Gorbachev like a pipe organ, challenging him to open the Soviet society. “Glasnost” was the beginning of the end for the Soviet Union, together with the SDI program causing them to spend themselves into oblivion. The Soviet Union imploded, realigning Eastern Europe, and we have Reagan’s tenacity to thank for it.
G.H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton: While two administrations, these were, primarily, a dozen more years of post Cold-War prosperity – thanks again to Reagan. From a domestic political standpoint, however, there were two interesting dynamics:
- Clinton was elected because Ross Perot took 20 million votes away from Bush.
- Clinton sold out the liberal left with his “triangulation” to the right.
The 2000 Al Gore – G.W. Bush election: Recall that Gore won the popular vote, but the Supreme Court gave the election to Bush in a dispute over the election in Florida. Nevertheless, the great leadership opportunity for G.W. Bush – and unfortunate failure – came as a direct result of 9/11.
Rather than invade Iraq, he should have delivered a “master stroke” on 9/12, as the fires were still raging at the twin towers and the Pentagon. The targets should have been the so-called “ungoverned regions” of Afghanistan bordering Pakistan, and the means of delivery should have been waves of B-52’s and hundreds of cruise missiles. The key question: Should we have also used a series of “small” nukes? I believe so, and also that no one – absolutely no one – would have had the “standing” to criticize us for doing it.
Sure, it was dumb to invade and occupy Iraq, perhaps even dumber to stay there – especially after Saddam was dead and WMD was ruled out – with a contrived policy of “democracy”. However, it was just as dumb for us to leave the military and political vacuum in Iraq – as Obama did – because it caused the total chaos we have in the Middle East today.
Here are the political lessons from our years since WW II:
- Radical Islam is every bit as evil and dangerous to us – and the rest of the civilized world – as was Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany.
- The recent demographic trends in America favor the Democrats – Republicans haven’t yet figured out how to “message” the rapidly enlarging Hispanic population.
- Republicans and Conservatives insist on further diminishing their influence by factionalizing the party while Democrats and Liberals most always vote as a block.
- We desperately need new policies that address what we do when/if we are attacked again on the scale of 9/11 by a terrorist/radical group; and the policy should expressly address the risk to radical factions, governments and regions – including their sponsors, overt or covert – of a “measured” nuclear response.
- Above all, we sorely need real leadership in the White House, and it can come from either party, except Republicans have a traditional expertise in national security matters – albeit the reputation was seriously damaged during the G.W. Bush Administration.
What are the leadership qualities of a truly great president, one with the “stuff” of a Truman, Eisenhower, or Reagan?
- Someone who has – proactively and successfully – “run” a large, human and resource intensive organization.
- Experience with a budget and real cost/benefit constraints.
- A long-term vision of what they will accomplish.
- A realistic perception of the dangers of true evil – a fact of life since time began.
- Persuasive and trustworthy.
- Honest about mistakes; doesn’t blame others.
- A well-developed sense of humor.
Can we find this person in Congress? Maybe at one time in our history, but probably not in today’s world – Congress is an embarrassment for us all. Nor does Congress – witness Barack Obama – develop the kind of leadership skills we desperately need in the White House. We have several very good people as state governors and many others in the virtually untapped private sector – let’s look there!
Daniel Gallington served in senior national security policy positions in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Department of Justice and as bipartisan general counsel for the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.