Friday, March 25, 2011

Dithering Heights

In today's NY Fishwrap, Op-Ed columnist Timothy Egan defended the POTUS 44 against the nattering nabobs of non-thinking: The Dumbos & The Teabaggers. Eags upholds a considered response as opposed to the shoot-from-the-hip nonsense of both St. Dutch and the Crown Prince of Stupid — the POTUS 43.

The older of the two boobs gave us the disaster with the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1982. After the two truck bombs, guided by suicide drivers, exploded and killed 220 Marines, 18 Navy personnel, and three soldiers, St. Dutch cut-and-ran in withdrawing all U.S. military forces from Beirut within 4 months of the bombing. Later, in 1986, a Berlin nightclub frequented by U.S. military personnel was bombed and our oxymoronic military intelligence determined that Libyan agents had planted the explosives. St. Dutch retaliated with airstrikes against the Libyan capital of Tripoli and city of Benghazi. The Libyan response came in 1988 was the destruction of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, in southern Scotland, en route to Kennedy Airport in New York. St. Dutch did not dither, proclaim his Dumbo/Teabagger admirers. No, he didn't. That gives scant comfort to the families of those who died in Beirut, in Libya, and in Scottish airspace. St. Dutch's chickens now are coming home to roost from the shores of Tripoli. (The Dubster's chickens from Iraq and Afghanistan haven't arrived yet.) If this is (fair & balanced) praise of cool deliberation, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap]
In Defense Of "Dithering"
By Timothy Egan

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Five years ago a young politician who seemed wise beyond his years was asked by Tim Russert what makes a great president. It was the kind of question that Russert, who could prompt more news in a single interview than entire cable operations do in a year, was so good at.

The politician took a thought breath before proceeding: “Obviously, most of the time it seems that the president has maybe 10 percent of his agenda set by himself, and 90 percent of it set by circumstance.”

Barack Obama: meet your 90 percent. The senator who so accurately predicted how events make the leader now finds himself a president trying to lead through those events.

In the process, despite a largely incoherent chorus of second-guessers, Obama has settled into a groove of reflective dithering before making his decisions. For the most part, it has served him well.

Think back to… oh, all of one week ago. The mercenaries of Muammar el-Qaddafi were closing in for the slaughter of people trying to take a breath of the same Arab Spring air going around Tunisia and Egypt.

Had Obama done nothing, as the Dennis Kucinich fringe Democrats and the Ron Paul isolationist Republicans would have it, the blood of many civilians would be filling the streets of Benghazi. Don’t forget: the regime had promised to chase its own citizens into closets and butcher them.

Or, had Obama put U.S. troops on the ground, as the imperious former Bush “diplomat” John Bolton insisted, a humanitarian mission would now be seen as another superpower invasion of an oil-rich Arab nation.

In his deliberative fashion, Obama ultimately saved countless lives in the short term, and will allow the rebels in Libya to own their revolution in the long term, if they can push ahead — a big if, of course. In the meantime, the economic and diplomatic noose will tighten around Qaddafi and the people he pays to kill on his behalf.

What Obama wanted to avoid, as he discussed during that same Russert interview, was the “messianic certainty” that led President George W. Bush to start a disastrous, trillion-dollar occupation of Iraq. In putting together an international coalition, backed by a United Nations resolution and the Arab League — all in record time — Obama also pulled off a nice bit of statecraft. And, had he used another day to reach out to Congress, there would be much less criticism at home.

Still, Republicans can’t cope with a president who tries to think before he leaps. Mitt Romney, who wakes most mornings in a groggy scramble to find his principles, faults Obama for the nuance of his Libya policy. How dare the president see shades of gray instead of black and white!

Newt Gingrich first criticized Obama for not imposing a no-fly zone, but now hits him for imposing a no-fly zone. You read that right. “I would not have intervened,” Gingrich said a few days ago. This followed a statement, barely two weeks ago, where he said he would intervene “this evening.” And he now calls the air strikes over Libya the worst foreign policy blunder in his lifetime.

Overstatement and misjudgment are Gingrich’s stock in trade — two reasons why he’ll never be president. He can always be counted on to fulminate on demand, with consistency the only casualty; the subject doesn’t matter.

The real problem for Republicans is that they are perplexed over what position to take on an issue that defies partisanship. So, Obama’s least-thoughtful critics attack him for thinking.

Ponderous deliberation, which doesn’t sit well in an age when we all move information with our thumbs, has been a hallmark of the Obama presidency from the beginning. His 90 percent of circumstances started on Inauguration Day, when Bush handed him the worse recession since the Great Depression, and continued through an oil spill that nearly poisoned an entire ecosystem.

During the spill, it was liberal cable pundits who wanted a president who could shout, emote and point fingers. Instead, he quickly negotiated a $20 billion escrow fund from BP that attempts to make whole those hurt by the spill. Similar success followed with the auto bailout, which saved General Motors, but cost Obama much of his early political capital.

There are certainly inconsistencies in the Obama approach to Libya. Why not help the protesters who are clubbed and jailed by our ally in Bahrain? “Why invade Iraq and not North Korea or Burma?” Obama asked in one of his books. “We can’t arbitrate a civil war,” he argued. As president, those questions are no longer Hyde Park parlor debates.

A poll just published by Reuters/Ipsos found 48 percent of respondents describing Obama’s military leadership as “cautious and consultative.” Another 36 percent chose “indecisive and dithering.”

I would argue that the combined 84 percent are basically saying the same thing — that this president is anything but impulsive. And next year, with an improving economy in a world where the United States is held in much higher regard, most people will probably choose a president who takes time to get it right, rather than one who is afraid to dither for a good outcome. Ω

[Timothy Egan writes "Outposts," a column at the NY Fishwrap online. Egan — winner of both a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 as a member of a team of reporters who wrote the series "How Race Is Lived in America" and a National Book Award (The Worst Hard Time in 2006) — graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in journalism, and was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters by Whitman College in 2000 for his environmental writings. Egan is the author of four other books, in addition to The Worst Hard TimeThe Good Rain: Across Time and Terrain in the Pacific Northwest; Lasso the Wind: Away to the New West; Breaking Blue; and The Winemaker's Daughter. Egan's most recent book is The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America (2009).]

Copyright © 2011 The New York Times Company

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