That CINC-ing Feeling

Barack Obama’s revival tent rhetoric stirs his followers’ emotions. But in them there is a disturbing lack of the usual tools of leadership that may indicate a disqualification to serve as commander-in-chief. 

Great leaders have to be great communicators, not just orators. Throughout history, they have used more than mere appeals to emotion. From Caesar to Churchill they have all given context and weight to their speeches by showing they have a command of the facts, of history and of literature.

Obama’s speeches are devoid of these essential tools. Why? Apparently because he lacks the knowledge and understanding to employ them.

Obama gained national attention with his speech to the 2004 Democratic National Convention. It was a purely emotional appeal, borrowing style from Martin Luther King, Jr. Instead of “I have a dream,” Obama incanted “I believe.”  

His campaign speeches are equally devoid of substance and historical reference. In his response to the president’s State of the Union address Obama said, “I believe a new kind of politics is possible, and I believe it is necessary. Because the American people can’t afford another four years without health care, decent wages, or an end to this war.” 

What this “new kind of politics” is and how Obama will create it are left to our imagination. Last month, in his stock condemnation of Washington he said, “It’s a Washington where decades of trade deals like NAFTA and China have been signed with plenty of protections for corporations and their profits, but none for our environment or our workers who’ve seen factories shut their doors and millions of jobs disappear…”  Is he naïve enough to believe that all our trading partners — including totalitarian regimes such as China and kleptocracies such as Saudi Arabia — will adopt American environmental and labor standards if only we ask them to? 

Of the facts, Obama has little grasp. He insists, for example, that there was no al-Queda presence in Iraq before we decided to invade it. But Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was in Baghdad as early as June 2002 and was confirmed operating there in September 2002. By the time of the invasion, al-Queda was deeply embedded in the Sunni Triangle, its operational organization having been established in the six months we fiddled and diddled at the UN before the invasion. 

Obama’s judgment — what little we know of it — lacks a foundation in history and evidences no understanding of how the levers of American power can be pulled to move the world. 

Does he really believe that the war the terrorists and the nations supporting them are waging against America will end with a retreat from Iraq? Or does he understand how our withdrawal from Beirut in 1984 and our retreat from Somalia emboldened our enemies? Has he read any of bin Laden’s or Zawahiri’s screeds bragging of how Islam defeated America in those instances?

What do we know about Barack Obama?

We know he often ducks responsibility, as he did when — having voted earlier that day — he absented himself from the Senate when it voted on Sen. John Cornyn’s resolution condemning the infamous “Petraeus/Betray Us” ad. We know that when he does vote on national security matters, he gets it wrong. He voted against the bipartisan Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act bill last month, one of only 29 senators voting in the negative.

We can learn much about a man by what he reads, what influenced him in his youth. Obama’s youth — as much as we can learn about it — is in his early memoir, Dreams from My Father. Obama was born in August 1961, the “memoir” published in 1995 when he was thirty-four. 

Dreams reads like an historical novel by Leon Uris or Alex Haley. It is a long string of recounted conversations, written as if he recalled them verbatim, including details of what people wore, how they sat and what weather was while he was growing up in Hawaii and Indonesia, and in his early career in Chicago. Dates to place them in context are not provided. 

We can learn a lot about a man by discovering what he read and what influenced his mind in his formative years. Churchill said, “Study history, study history. In history lies all the secrets of statecraft.” Has Obama studied history? If so, he does not value it enough to mention it. In Dreams, Obama mentions only one book that influenced him, the autobiography of black radical Malcolm X. Obama writes, “Only Malcolm X’s autobiography seemed to offer something different. His repeated acts of self-creation spoke to me; the blunt poetry of his words, his unadorned insistence on respect, promised a new and uncompromising order, martial in discipline, forged through the sheer force of will.”

What does Obama know about the military? In Dreams the only reference is in a conversation with a young man named Kyle who had been considering an Air Force career and then rejected it because the Air Force would never allow a black man to fly a plane. Obama disagreed but Kyle won the argument by asking, “Yeah, well…how many black pilots you know?” Apparently, Obama didn’t know of any, not even the Tuskeegee Airmen or their most successful member, four-star Air Force General Daniel “Chappie” James.

And how does Obama define the “change” mantra of his campaign?  In Dreams he writes that in 1983 he decided that he’d do his job as a community organizer by pronouncing the need for change: “Change in the White House, where Reagan and his minions were carrying on their dirty deeds. Change in Congress, compliant and corrupt. Change in the mood of our country, manic and self-absorbed.” 

Every president is challenged by our adversaries soon after he takes office to take the measure of the man. In April 2001, just three months after his inauguration, George W. Bush was challenged by the Chinese. Patrolling in international airspace off China, a Navy EP-3 reconnaissance aircraft was intercepted by a reckless Chinese pilot who collided with the US plane which was then forced down on Hainan Island, its crew held hostage to an American apology. 

President Bush reacted weakly, obtaining the release of the crew after expressing regret at the death of the Chinese pilot. China has grown ever more aggressive since then. As Chris Wallace joked, we know that Hillary’s experience in answering the Red Phone consists entirely of saying, “Wake up, Bill. It’s for you.”  But the fact that she’s no better than Obama is no comfort.

What would a President Obama do if Russia does to Poland what it did to Estonia last year, interrupting the nation’s government and economy in a highly effective cyber war attack? What would he do if the Musharraf government falls and a radical Islamic regime takes over Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal? How would he react to the next terrorist attack against America?

If he is as ignorant and unmindful of history as his novelized “memoir” indicates, if his understanding of the world is as shallow as his speeches, Barack Obama will fail disastrously. Investigating that failure, Congress will have to modernize the mantra of Watergate. For Obama, it will be, “What didn’t the president know, and when didn’t he know it?”