The big lie that Obama can't lead is crumbling
Prizing bravado, we’ve undervalued President Obama's brand of quiet competence.
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Compare Obama’s stealth with his predecessor’s search for bin Laden. George W. Bush was embarrassingly gullible dealing with the Pakistanis. According to Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer and senior adviser to four presidents on the Middle East, Bush 43 was too easily “dazzled” by Pakistan’s former president, Pervez Musharraf.Skip to next paragraph
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In 2002, Mr. Musharraf assured Washington that bin Laden was almost certainly dead. Later, Musharraf’s government hinted to the Bush administration that bin Laden was on a kidney dialysis machine, half dead in a cave in Afghanistan.
In his book “Deadly Embrace,” Mr. Riedel quotes former Afghan Foreign Minister Abdallah Abdallah saying, “Musharraf skillfully played the American administration, throwing ‘dust in Bush’s eyes.’ ”
Good taste is another facet of leadership. Contrast the way the Bush administration orchestrated a public trial and execution of Saddam Hussein, turning it into a vulgar spectacle, with Obama’s shrewd refusal to publish photos of bin Laden’s body. His announcement of bin Laden’s death was restrained and sober, not at all celebratory – the right note to conclude a sensitive military operation. Obama’s later visit to ground zero was a fitting bookend to a sad chapter in United States history.
Obama’s hawkish critics chide him for allegedly “sitting on the sidelines” during recent uprisings in Yemen, Tunisia, Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, and Syria. Take it from someone who has reported from across the Middle East: Sitting out potential Arab civil wars isn’t abdication of leadership; it is wisdom.
And yet, when facing near-certain humanitarian disaster, Obama wisely and rapidly put together a broad NATO coalition to deal with the Libyan revolt while keeping American involvement to a minimum – no boots on the ground and no dead Americans.
It’s true that Obama hasn’t made tackling the debt a priority. But when Republicans controlled the White House and Congress for much of the past decade, US debt exploded. On that issue, the public will have to lead.
A friend, a center-right voter, told me recently, “The reason I voted for Obama is because he has no hatred in him.” In another era of divisive bitterness, Lincoln preached, “[w]ith malice toward none, with charity toward all.” It’s worth noting how closely Obama’s philosophy of leadership approaches that.
Walter Rodgers, a former senior international correspondent for CNN, writes a biweekly column.