Day By Day

Monday, April 04, 2011

Obama's Fantasyland

The great debate continues -- are the many and manifest failures of the Obama administration attributable to sheer incompetence, or are they informed by guiding principles?

Nile Gardiner, writing in The Telegraph, thinks it is the former. He sees "a clueless presidency adrift in a sea of confusion" of which the Libya misadventure is only the most recent instance. [here]. Steven Metz, over at the New Republic, disagrees. He strives mightily to discern within the seemingly random impulses generated from the White House a coherent strategy. He writes:
Put simply, Obama’s Libya strategy is designed to avoid the most undesirable outcomes rather than optimize the chances of a desired outcome, to do something without “owning” the conflict, to maintain maximum flexibility as the situation evolves, and to do all of this in the face of powerful constraints. The question is whether this strategy can actually work.
Read it here.

I will give Metz credit for ingenuity. He alone seems to have some idea of what is going on in Obama's mind. I, on the other hand, think the wise course is never to ascribe to conspiracy what can just as easily be explained as incompetence. At least I hope so. Responding to Metz' article Richard Fernandez notes that if he is right then Obama has fled the real world for a fantasyland of legal fictions.
In that strategic world, no matter the galaxy it inhabits, neither victory nor defeat exist.  It’s gone. Poof. Finished. Kaput. America can tag along on expeditions which it pays for, but cares not where it leads. Best of all, it isn’t war, repeat: it isn’t war. Therefore the President doesn’t have to ask Congress for permission to make it.
[S]uch a strategy, if accurately described by Metz may really represent the ultimate triumph of lawfare over common sense. Of fantasy over reality. Of the cartoon network over the news channel. Strategy becomes ultimately an affair of words, perceptions and formulations. There is no objective correlative between these fancy concepts and physical events like death, the occupation of cities, looting, curfews, the forced movement of persons or things of that sort.
But Fernandez notes fantasies are not innocuous. They do have real world consequences.
You may tell a man that if he feels a boot in his face or a bayonet in his gut to imagine it isn’t there. Unfortunately he still feels it, but so long as all the gunpowder and blood remain overseas, and only ink and talking points are shed domestically, then a boot isn’t a boot and a bayonet isn’t a bayonet.
Read the whole thing here.

So in the end it really doesn't matter whether the failed policies are attributable to incompetence or malfeasance. What matters is that the failures have real world consequences from which millions of people are and will be suffering. As I have pointed out in a number of posts, the objective state of the world became much better during the Bush presidency. I doubt that we will be able to say the same of his successor.

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