What’s the saddest statistic of the political season? Here’s one contender: a Google search for the phrase “Obama ISIS buck pass” yields about 478,000 results.
That’s what happens when a president makes comments like the ones Barack Obama made during an interview on “60 Minutes.” There, he haplessly explained that Jim Clapper, director of national intelligence, acknowledged he’d underestimated how quickly ISIS could rise to threaten the Mideast.
True enough – but also misleading, and another unforced error for our clearly beleaguered president. Mr. Obama should have recognized that he had opened himself up to legitimate charges of buck passing.
But instead of facing the music – as John F. Kennedy did in the wake of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 – Mr. Obama all but hid behind his new press secretary, Josh Earnest.
“Everybody,” Mr. Earnest had to tell reporters, blew it on ISIS. But only the president, he went on, is “the one who takes responsibility for ensuring that we have the kinds of policies in place that are required to protect our interests around the globe.”
If only President Obama actually bothered to act like it. At the National Journal, Josh Kraushaar draws the only possible conclusion – that the ISIS flub is proof positive of a characteristic pattern of conduct. From Benghazi to Obamacare to the IRS and VA scandals, says Kraushaar, this president’s “time-tested strategy” is straightforward: “Claim he’s in the dark about his own administration’s activities, blame the mess on subordinates, and hope that with the passage of time, all will be forgotten.”
Not this time. The American people may be too harried and busy to wake up every morning upset about the foibles of our federal bureaucracies. But when they are forced to pay attention to foreign affairs, they want a good reason why. And, in the case of ISIS, the answer is deeply dissatisfying: The president was asleep at the switch.
Of course, there’s another explanation. Rather than falling prey to laziness or negligence, President Obama may have been too busy doing something else. In fact, the evidence is strong that another set of priorities has taken its toll on his ability to function as a competent chief executive.
Many have noted the rise of crony capitalism during Obama’s tenure. Few have pinned the blame on Mr. Obama’s own preferred style of patronage politics, wherein governance is a matter of doling out favors, subsidies, advantages and access to privileged friends and pliant underlings. That in itself is a full-time job – one that consistently requires a chief executive to take his eye off the ball.
George W. Bush’s neoconservative inner circle was once derided as a bunch of “Mayberry Machiavellis.” Barack Obama’s administration presents us with the portrait of Machiavellianism, Chicago-style. Both too casual and too corrupt, Mr. Obama has proven far more interested in fiddling with the levers of power than in steering the ship of state.