by Bret Stephens
Is there a method to President Obama’s style of leadership, his methods of decision-making, his habits of attention, oversight and follow-through? In recent months I’ve been keeping a file of stories that might suggest an answer. See what you think.
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“President Barack Obama went nearly five years without knowing his own spies were bugging the phones of world leaders. Officials said the NSA has so many eavesdropping operations under way that it wouldn’t have been practical to brief him on all of them.
“They added that the president was briefed on and approved of broader intelligence-collection ‘priorities,’ but that those below him make decisions about specific targets.”
— The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 28, 2013
“HealthCare.gov is the highest-profile experiment yet in the Obama administration’s effort to modernize government by using technology, with the site intended to become a user-friendly pathway to new health insurance options for millions of uninsured Americans.
“‘This was the president’s signature project and no one with the right technology experience was in charge,’ said Bob Kocher, a former White House aide who helped draft the law.”
— The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 28, 2013
“Tensions between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have grown sharply in recent months. President Barack Obama authorized the CIA to provide limited arms to carefully vetted Syrian rebels, but it took months for the program to commence. . . .
“One Western diplomat described Saudi Arabia as eager to be a military partner in what was to have been the U.S.-led military strikes on Syria. As part of that, the Saudis asked to be given the list of military targets for the proposed strikes. The Saudis indicated they never got the information, the diplomat said.”
— The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 21, 2013
“Besides the Syrian government’s gains, there was mounting evidence that Mr. Assad’s troops had repeatedly used chemical weapons against civilians.
“Even as the debate about arming the rebels took on a new urgency, Mr. Obama rarely voiced strong opinions during senior staff meetings. But current and former officials said his body language was telling: he often appeared impatient and disengaged while listening to the debate, sometimes scrolling through messages on his BlackBerry or slouching and chewing gum.”
— New York Times, Oct. 22, 2013
“On Saturday, as the shutdown drama played out on Capitol Hill, President Obama played golf at Fort Belvoir in Virginia.”
— Washington Post, Sept. 28, 2013
“For French President François Hollande, it seemed like the perfect response: a lightning-quick strike on Syria to punish the government for an alleged chemical weapons attack.
“But with President Obama’s surprise decision to ask Congress for a go-ahead on military action, Hollande has found himself embroiled in political controversy abroad and at home. Instead of vaunting Hollande as a warrior charging off to do battle, critics say he now looks more like a sidekick who was left in the lurch by his American ally.”
— Washington Post, Sept. 6, 2013
“The essence of Eisenhower’s hidden hand, of course, is that there was real work going on that people didn’t know at the time. If that’s true now, then Obama really is emulating Ike. If, on the other hand, he’s simply doing nothing or very little, that would be passivity, not hidden-hand leadership.”
— Eisenhower biographer Jim Newton, quoted in New York Times, July 15, 2013
“In polo shirt, shorts and sandals, President Obama headed to the golf course Friday morning with a couple of old friends, then flew to Camp David for a long weekend. Secretary of State John Kerry was relaxing at his vacation home in Nantucket.
“Aides said both men were updated as increasingly bloody clashes left dozens dead in Egypt, but from outward appearances they gave little sense that the Obama administration viewed the broader crisis in Cairo with great alarm.”
— New York Times, July 5, 2013
“The president had a truly disturbing habit of funneling major foreign-policy decisions through a small cabal of relatively inexperienced White House advisors whose turf was strictly politics. Their primary concern was how any action in Afghanistan or the Middle East would play on the nightly news, or which talking point it would give Republicans.”
— Vali Nasr, “The Dispensable Nation,” April 2013
“Mr. Obama’s reluctance to put American forces on the ground during the fight, and his decision to keep America’s diplomatic and C.I.A. presence minimal in post-Qaddafi Libya, may have helped lead the United States to miss signals and get caught unaware in the attack on the American mission in Benghazi. Military forces were too far from Libya’s shores during the Sept. 11 attack to intervene.”
— New York Times, Nov. 17, 2012
“For the people who go out, on to the edge, to represent our country, we believe that if we get in trouble, they’re coming to get us, that our back is covered. To hear that it’s not, that’s a terrible, terrible experience.”
— Gregory Hicks, former deputy chief of mission in Libya, on “60 Minutes,” Oct. 27, 2013
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Call Mr. Obama’s style indifferent, aloof or irresponsible, but a president who governs like this reaps the whirlwind — if not for himself, then for his country.
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Bret Stephens’ article was published in The Wall Street Journal.