Obama a Hesitant Crisis Manager

Conservatives have often complained about Rahm Emanuel’s now well-known maxim.  Emanuel once famously said that one should never let a serious crisis go to waste.  “A serious crisis,” Emanuel explained, is “an opportunity to do things you couldn’t do before.”  Now that the U.S. has finally taken some action in Libya, it might be time for conservatives to hope President Obama follows his former chief of staff’s advice on our country’s other pressing concerns.

President Obama has spent his first two years trying to enact laws (ObamaCare, cap and trade) to address crises (health care, global warming) that most of the public not only doesn’t regard as “serious,” but doesn’t believe exist.

But the Obama administration has wasted many opportunities afforded by legitimate crises.  From the turmoil in the Middle East to the federal budget, the President has been indecisive, distracted, disengaged, and derelict in the face of our country’s most serious challenges. 

As the Middle East continues to erupt, the U.S., along with the U.K. and Fance, at long last launching air strikes against Libya on Saturday, and as the earthquake-tsunami-nuclear crisis continues to unfold in Japan, where is the leader of the free world?

He’s in the midst of a five-day trip to Chile, Brazil, and El Salvador. 

The Obama administration deliberated for weeks about whether or not to establish a no-fly zone in Libya.  Finally, at the end of last week, the administration agreed to ready plans to enforce a no-fly zone after the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution authorizing member countries to use “all necessary measures to protect civilians.”

Leading up to last week, and ultimately the military action against Gaddafi, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron both showed public frustration with Obama’s lack of leadership on Libya.  And there are reports that Obama’s indecisiveness on the Middle East had exasperated Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who, a Clinton insider said last week, “is not happy … dealing with a President who can’t decide if today is Tuesday or Wednesday, who can’t make his mind up.”

It’s not only Libya where this administration has been indecisive abroad.  After months of delay, Obama finally announced in late 2009 his decision to deploy 30,000 troops to Afghanistan.  But then he severely undercut that decision by announcing a date for withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country.

On the domestic front, the President has been very vocal on a few issues.  He has used harsh words to condemn Republican efforts to defund the likes of Planned Parenthood and National Public Radio.  The Obama administration last week said it “strongly opposes” a House bill that would permanently defund the liberal news organ.

And he hasn’t hesitated to weigh in on state-level clashes over Republican efforts to control state spending for public employees.  Obama described Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to cut state government spending as an “assault on unions.”

But Obama has been derelict in tackling the federal deficit.  Last week, Rep. Paul Ryan (R.-Wis.) said Obama is “punting” on the budget deficit and “ignoring the problem.”  Obama has been AWOL on budget talks, refusing to engage Republicans in Congress.  Senate Minority Whip John Kyl said, “He may have been talking to [Democrats], but he has not been talking to Republicans.”

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy said the White House simply hasn’t been serious about resolving the issue.  “They enlisted the vice president to be a negotiator.  He came in for one meeting, then the vice president left the country. … How serious are they about solving this problem?”  The notion that Obama is indifferent to or indecisive about the major issues facing the country and the world is only reinforced by images of him playing golf, filling out NCAA basketball brackets, and hobnobbing with Hollywood celebrities.  Obama has had 61 golf outings during his two-plus years in office.  He has hit the links twice already this year in Washington, D.C.

The liberal press berated President George W. Bush for taking vacations, to Camp David and to his Texas ranch.  Keith Olbermann once compared Bush to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who, he said, was on holiday when Hitler invaded parts of Europe.

But no one could argue that Bush was indecisive or aloof.  Unlike Bush, Obama reached the presidency without experience as a “decider”—without ever having been an executive who had to make the difficult final call on an important issue that affected millions of lives.

Obama had a hard enough time making decisions when he was in the legislature.  During his time in the Illinois State Senate, Obama was famous for voting “present” when difficult votes needed to be cast.  When tough decisions were called for, Obama very often decided not to decide.

The Audacity of Hope served as President Obama’s 2008 campaign manifesto.  It is ironic, then, that it’s been Obama’s lack of audacity in executing many of the duties of the presidency that has become one of his defining characteristics.  It’s leaving many Americans without hope that our current crises can be resolved with Obama in the White House.