Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Obama Persona

I haven't written much about politics or news events, because I don't pay much attention to them other than reading headlines and watching the PBS NewsHour. However, I did see Barack Obama's speech on ISIS last night and will take this opportunity to make a few comments.

I had high hopes for Obama based on his 2004 convention speech for John Kerry. In 2008 he was obviously a better choice than John McCain. But over time I have come to find him unbearable. It seems impossible to know, and it is therefore essentially irrelevant, what his true worldview may be. His speeches lack authenticity to the extent that they are carefully scripted, and are off-putting to the extent that they may accurately convey his thoughts.

Obama's speeches are always laced with words, phrases and thoughts that I find offensive. He is fond of invoking evil and American values and using religious language to make his points, and I find it jarring. His job isn't to combat evil, which, in my opinion, is primarily a social construct. American values are not something that the U.S. has a right to impose on others. And religion should be removed from all political speeches, because this is a secular country.

Even if you accept the premise that the U.S. has a responsibility to maintain world order, I don't think that Obama frames issues such as ISIS appropriately. There is always an allusion to potential attacks on U.S. soil and a suggestion that this must be prevented at all costs. I don't think, for example, that each American life potentially saved is worth, say, one billion dollars. Obama, as far as I know, never discusses estimates of potential American casualties that might result from inaction. Furthermore, he, and politicians generally, do not mention that prolonged attempts to stabilize parts of the Middle East may never succeed regardless of any actions we take. It always seems to come down to good guys versus bad guys and killing or destroying the bad guys. In this respect, Barack Obama isn't much different from George W. Bush.

In my view, the assassination of Osama bin Laden, while technically justifiable, was primarily a publicity stunt. As a strategic matter, it was irrelevant that bin Laden died, because he had no operative function at the time. It immediately became an Obama talking point used to highlight his leadership skills and effectiveness in bringing bin Laden to justice, despite the fact that there was no trial and that it violated Pakistani sovereignty. As in the case of countless drone strikes, Obama was the judge, jury and de facto executioner. Should he be applauded for actions like these?

One aspect of Obama's new initiative that disturbs me is that it may have been precipitated in part by public opinion. Apparently it isn't that big a deal if thousands of Syrians and Iraqis are dying, but the entire U.S. policy in the Middle East must change instantly when Americans become upset about the beheadings of two American journalists. It is true that Obama may merely be using this as an opportunity to present his plan, but I find the linking of major foreign policy initiatives to small-scale events that happen to have had an emotional impact on the American public inappropriate.

Whenever I see Obama speak, I sense that everything he says has been concocted. Is he religious? I don't know. Does he think that the American model of capitalism is good for the world? If so, I disagree with him. Does he think that America's unemployment problem will be fixed by providing people with better educations? If so, he is probably incorrect.

The overall impression I have is that Obama is a mask. He acts as if he is attempting to channel the beliefs of the American public and to speak for them, but is that his role? I don't think so. In the process he often seems to suspend critical judgment, which might show just how irrational the public is and how public opinion can be wrong. Obama almost seems to have an identity disorder that prevents him from voicing his own views, and this signifies to me a lack of responsibility, or at a minimum brings into question his suitability for the job. The president is supposed to make decisions, not seek consensus. He seems to search for the view least likely to receive strong public criticism and then promote it, rather than make his own analysis and convince others of its merits, and as a consequence many justifiably see him as a feckless president. He exhibits the kind of behavior that could be simulated by an algorithm that rates ideas based on their popularity - or the number of "likes" they get on Facebook. Such predictability indicates a weakness in originality, and, more seriously, a deficiency in understanding.

No comments:

Post a Comment