Sunday, March 08, 2009

"Overwhelmed"

From Jim Geraghty at NRO's Campaign Spot. Every new administration--and president--goes through an adjustment process, but this is ridiculous. Mr. Geraghty notes that President Obama is "overwhelmed" by the demands of his new office, as reported by the U.K. Telegraph:

Sources close to the White House say Mr Obama and his staff have been "overwhelmed" by the economic meltdown and have voiced concerns that the new president is not getting enough rest.

British officials, meanwhile, admit that the White House and US State Department staff were utterly bemused by complaints that the Prime Minister should have been granted full-blown press conference and a formal dinner, as has been customary. They concede that Obama aides seemed unfamiliar with the expectations that surround a major visit by a British prime minister.

But Washington figures with access to Mr Obama's inner circle explained the slight by saying that those high up in the administration have had little time to deal with international matters, let alone the diplomatic niceties of the special relationship.

Allies of Mr Obama say his weary appearance in the Oval Office with Mr Brown illustrates the strain he is now under, and the president's surprise at the sheer volume of business that crosses his desk.

Equally disconcerting, the Telegraph goes on to say that the commander-in-chief has failed to "even fake an interest in foreign policy." That assessment came from a Washington "insider" with close ties to the administration.

This account is troubling, on a couple of levels. First, in regard to Obama's meeting with Gordon Brown, there is no excuse for the diplomatic faux pas. Both the White House and the State Department have permanent, professional protocol staffs who work these events on a daily basis. If the Obama team was unsure of how to "handle" a meeting with a British Prime Minister, all they had to do was ask.

Apparently, no one did, since Mr. Brown was not afforded the press conference or formal dinner that normally accompany a U.S.-British summit. Additionally, protocol experts could have prevented the embarrassment over those cheesy DVDs given by Mr. Obama to the British leader.

More disturbing is the notion that Mr. Obama is exhausted by his new job--only two months after taking the oath of office. True, the president entered the Oval Office during trying times, but he is not the only chief executive to face such circumstances. FDR inherited the worst economy in U.S. history; Ronald Reagan faced a severe economic downturn and an expansionist Soviet Union; George W. Bush confronted the twin challenges of 9-11 and war only nine months into his administration.

While each man used different approaches in facing their respective crises, all had something in common. To our knowledge, none complained about the burdens of office so early in their tenure. Each man understood that such comments would do nothing to resolve the challenges they faced, or enhance their reputation as a leader.

To be fair, none of these complaints have come directly from President Obama. But the Telegraph's sources are well-placed, lending credence to their account. So, it's not hard to imagine a new president and administration discovering that governance is far harder than campaigning.

It also seems clear that Mr. Obama and his advisers are focused on the economy, at the expense of everything else. But we also recall a famous maxim from President George H.W. Bush, who observed that "what you don't know about domestic policy can prevent your re-election; what you don't know about foreign policy can get a lot of people killed."

As President Obama is about to discover, his sabbatical from international issues will soon come to an abrupt end, with potentially disastrous consequences. His recent decisions on Iraq and Afghanistan were comparatively easy, following courses already established by the Bush Administration.

Now comes the hard part. North Korea is about to launch a long-range ballistic missile over South Korean and/or Japanese territory. Will he order U.S. forces to shoot it down, or allow the test to proceed and (possibly) jeopardize relations with our most important regional allies?

Mr. Obama also faces tough choices on Iran. Recent assessments indicate that Iran has the material and the technical know-how to build an atomic bomb within the next two years. Does he stick with the diplomatic track--despite years of failure--consider U.S. military options, or give Israel a green light to strike Iran's nuclear facilities?

But the list of potential crises doesn't end there. Is the administration prepared for a possible energy crises, in response to the Iranian nuclear issue, or as a separate issue? With oil still trading below $50 a barrel, countries like Venezuela, Iran and Russia would welcome a run-up in prices, generating billions more for their economies. Iran in particular could "manufacture" a crisis, leading to months of higher oil prices, at a time when our economy can least afford it.

If Mr. Obama is already overwhelmed by the requirements of his office, just wait a few months. His learning curve is just beginning.

4 comments:

Federale said...

Not so overwhelmed to party with has beens like Stevie Wonder. I think it is just priorities. Michelle wants to be a party animal and Baraka wants the reinforcement of associating with celebrities.

GeorgeH said...

Has the Glorious Leader gotten around to appointing a director of Protocol yet?
Has the State Department gotten one yet that he can borrow?

Max said...

There is also a report that the American Film Institute produced a list of classic films in response to "a 'special request' for the White House last month" ( http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1159627/To-special-friend-Gordon-25-DVDs-Obama-gives-Brown-set-classic-movies-Lets-hope-likes-Wizard-Oz.html ).

In other words, this was an attempt at a thought-out gift that involved at least a month of planning an corresponding to experts. Hopefully the Administration will learn about its resources before the next time.

Consul-At-Arms said...

There's also such a thing as "managing upwards."

Did no one in a protocol position at either the White House or State Department know that PM Brown was going to visit?

I hate to sharpshoot the guys/gals whose responsibility this was; I read the job description for State's protocol officer during last summer's bidding season and, despite protocol and ceremony being an interest of mine (perhaps rising to the level of a hobby), I'd take that job only if someone very senior to me asked me to do so (and if said senior official was someone I both liked and respected). It's the kind of job that'll make you lose your hair.

I've quoted you and linked to you here: http://consul-at-arms2.blogspot.com/2009/03/re-overwhelmed.html