Sunday, April 01, 2012

Obama and the Expectation Gap

I'm listening with one ear to a C-Span panel by the authors of Bending History, a (first-draft) account of Obama foreign policy. I'm hearing talk of the Obama expectation gap, and the problems he faces by not being able to deliver on his campaign. Sounds persuasive to me, with the qualification that, when did a Presidential candidate not overpromise?  Every incumbent--if he is to survive--has to dial down enthusiasm to reality

But here's a wrinkle that may not apply  to everybody: I suspect that Obama really believed his promises.  It would be a mark of his inexperience that he translated his own rhetoric into (seeming) reality, and that he was surprised as everyone else when  he got into office and got mugged by the facts.  It would explain, for example, is proclivity to tackle everything, thereby scattering his resources and accomplishing--well, not  "nothing," but probably less than he might have been able to accomplish had he been more selective.

It would also explain some of the pattern of bonehead errors that have so marred his record.  Perhaps the most glaring is his oft-expressed conviction that Republicans would Be Reasonable and Behave Like Gentlemen--which set him up to be tossed into the ditch over the Debt Limit.    In today's show, one of the panelists (I'm not clear which) offers an eerily similar account of Middle East policy.  Thus in a bold departure from the recent past, Obama decided to turn down the flames of ardor for Israel and to reach across the chasm to Arabs.  The fabled "Cairo speech" was a masterpiece of sorts--along with so many other listeners, I liked it a lot.  Yet apparently it set his popularity in Israel down into single digits.

And here is the irony.  Per our commentator, the Arabs didn't really want Obama's friendship: they wanted him to deliver Israel.    So setting fire to his political capital with Israel did them more harm than good.  And they  appear to understand the point: his popularity in Arab countries is now down in the low double digits.

So "making nice" is not just pointless or fatuous: it's a calamitously misdirected strategy that ends up throwing you back behind the line of scrimmage.

I'm one who laments this, for his sake and for ours.  But I don't think it marks him as a sissy: no sissyhood from the sponsor of targeted assassinations.  I do think bears the stain of amateurishness.  Which leads to the tantalizing question: has he learned from his mistakes, and can he reprogram fast enough, not just to get reelected, but to perform more effectively if he does?   My own guess is that the message has got through to him--this guy did not just fall from the turnip truck, and one of his more appealing characteristics is his capacity to acknowledge blunt reality.   But insight alone is just the beginning.  Politics is a blood sport at least as much as bullfighting, and merely knowing that the bull is out to gore you--that alone is not enough to keep yourself off the point of his horn.

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