Obama’s Obituary for Gadaffi and justification for his ‘leading from behind’ policy

October 21, 2011

President Obama offered an obituary on Muammar Gaddafi which permits reflection on American foreign policy of “leading from behind”. It indicates the dilemmas of leadership within the context of the death of a political enemy

The snippet of his speech above also provides links to various other videos of the President and Colonel Gadaffi.

Mardell’s analysis for the BBC

Mark Mardell of the BBC offered a thoughtful critique of President Obama’s foreign policy based on his speech which had been made within hours of Gadaffi’s capture and death. Mardell speculated on why the President spoke as he did. It indicates the dilemmas of leadership within the context of the death of political enemy. What follows is an abbreviated version of his analysis:

Gaddafi’s death will be a relief to President Obama and his administration. That’s on the fairly simple grounds that he backed NATO action, called for him to go, and now he’s gone. In an awkward phrase, coined by an anonymous official, the policy was “to lead from behind.”

The road that led us to this day tells us a lot about Barack Obama’s foreign policy as a whole, and its sometimes uncomfortable mix of idealism and realism. [This policy] is driven by a sense that, particularly in the Arab world, the US must step back a pace, not be seen as a bully, always hectoring or imposing its will using physical force.

Even though they didn’t shout about it from the rooftops, American forces were deeply involved. The total cost to the US so far stands at just over $1bn. Without American involvement behind the scenes it probably couldn’t have been done.

A good deal of muddle

The perception of the American position wasn’t all deliberate. There really was a good deal of muddle. As so often Obama took a while to decide what to do. Crucial allies like the UK and France were kept in the dark as some argued for intervention to prevent a humanitarian crisis, while others said that America could not afford, in any sense, another military adventure in the Arab world.

Fear of moral failure

In the end it was fear of being judged a moral failure that drove the decision. The president was told that thousands could die in a massacre in Benghazi and he wasn’t going to be held responsible for that.

But if President Obama’s policy has been a success on its own terms, it leaves others in the US deeply worried. They don’t think their country should encourage, cajole, help and guide. They think it should [be seen] to lead in fact and in deed. There are others who think that backing the people in the Arab world, however quietly, is paving the way for jihadist regimes that will be hostile to American interests.

Dilemmas of leadership

Students of leadership may find it instructive to takes these seven short paragraphs and make sense of them by identifying the dilemmas facing President Obama as he offered his public statement on the capture and death of his political enemy.

The English edition of Aljazeera summarised quotes from around the world. The article concluded with the words of Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the US Congress:

“Libyans are safer now after Gaddafi’s death and the Arab world is breaking free. But never celebrate death of anyone, even bad people.”


Obama’s credit default crisis and the crucible of adversity

August 1, 2011

Leaders are said to be truly tested only in the crucible of adversity. We explore that crucible from the dilemmas it presented to President Obama and other leaders addressing America’s default crisis of July 2011

At the last moment

At the last moment [August 2nd 2011] a deal was struck. The treatment in the American media had a hysterical note to it. The possibility of a default was treated seriously although some commentators expressed the view that a deal was always going to be struck. The international finance markets had already factored that in to their actions. However, it was suggested that the President’s timing of the deal did seem to have been made to reassure stock markets opening in Asia.

Winners and losers

There have been attempts to simplify the issues into a series of winners and losers. At simplest, the Tea Party members of the Republican Party have been declared winners. President Obama declared a loser. A more nuanced view came from a discussant on Fox News who answered the question snappily. The big losers are The American people, she declared. The in-studio audience responded enthusiastically. The discussion host seemed a bit thrown.

Interestingly, the liberal-leaning UK newspaper The Independent, also offered a simple winners and losers evaluation, as did the BBC . The Independent also provided a pungent attack on the Tea Party members as destroying themselves in the longer term as well as screwing up the Republican chances at the upcoming Presidential campaign.

Leadership notions

The New York Times tackled the leadership issue:

Winning a debate on points isn’t a substitute for looking like a leader. It’s one thing to bemoan politics-as-usual when you’re running for the White House. It’s quite another to publicly throw up your hands over our “dysfunctional government” when you’re the man the voters put in charge of it. In fairness, the president’s passive-aggressive approach is a bipartisan affliction. The ostensible front-runner for the Republican nomination, Mitt Romney, took a deliberately hazy position on last week’s crucial House debate, preferring to flunk a test of leadership rather than risk alienating either side.

CNN and Foxy News takes

Watching from within the US I was struck by the wall-to-wall coverage on CNN and Fox News. Presumably viewers tune in according to their political preferences. CNN is more worthy. Fox, to an outsider like me, appeared like one of those Murdoch tabloid newspapers, overflowing with energy and uncomplicated reduction of complex issues to meet the editorial line.

I particularly enjoyed the sight of a Groucho Marx lookalike who wielded a giant electric saw, as he outlined how to cut spending by a trillion more dollars. In the UK, this style of entertainment would go down well with Sun readers, or (dare I note it?) with readers of the currently defunct News of the World.

If the 50 stations available to me in my hotel room are anything to go by, the American public has a limited choice in the presentation of news stories. The summaries expressed in the UK, even in the so-called ‘quality’ papers were for me a bit too close to the bumper-sticker views of the Fox presenters.

To be continued

Acknowledgement Image is from The Crucible of Leadership


Question for leaders: what’s the difference between special and essential?

May 24, 2011

It meant something during President Obama’s state visit to England, as a joint message with Prime Minister Cameron revealed.

The two leaders published the communication in the Times. It seemed to be at pains to address the increasingly aging notion of the special relationship between the two countries. Instead, the word was ‘essential’. How modern. Special is an emotion laden word. Essential is a cool word of functional management. Special has symbolic overtones. Essential doesn’t.

As noted by The International Business Times

The relationship between the U.S. and the U.K. however is much older and complicated than the one between the leader and the Queen. The referral of the countries mutual relationship as ‘special’ can be traced back to a phrase used to describe the exceptionally close political, diplomatic, cultural, economic, military and historical relationship in a 1946 speech by former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Since then, although both the United Kingdom and United States have close relationships with many other nations, the level of cooperation between them in economic activity, trade and commerce, military planning, execution of military operations, nuclear weapons technology and intelligence sharing is perceived as a unique one.

President Obama is strong at emotions when they are authentic. He is cautious when he has to wear his mask of command. He was the charismatic leader of his election campaign in Ireland yesterday [May 22nd 2011]. He was playing it for fun as well as for the votes back home with the Irish community. Today it was business as usual.


O’bama Birthing Mystery Solved in a Tiny Irish Hamlet

May 23, 2011

Research by Irish scholars has revealed the truth about President Obama’s birthplace. It was the little Irish hamlet of Ballymeenag.

Conspiracy theories about President Obama’s place of birth have been found partly confirmed. The President was conceived in the rural hamlet of Ballymeenagh in the Republic of Ireland, but was born after his family moved to Hawaii, and where his father changed his name from O’bama to Obama. The tiny hamlet, now uninhabited, should not be confused with the beautiful township of Ballymenagh, County Tyrone shown clearly in the image.

The vital evidence comes from a document found tucked away in the Book of Kells, presumably used as a bookmark by a student from Trinity college, Dublin. The priceless evidence recorded the time the O’bamas spent in Ballymeenagh in rural povery.

Decoy helicopters

The President is travelling to Ireland today in attempt to throw people of the scent by claiming lineage from the nearby township of Moneygall. He is accompanied by 500 personnel including decoy helicopters. Some of the 300 inhabitants have been practicing their welcome song

“O’Leary, O’Reilly, O’Hare and O’Hara,
there’s no one as Irish as Barack Obama.

From the old Blarney stone to the green hills of Tara
there’s no one as Irish as Barack Obama.”

Truth or fiction?

Not all the information in this piece has been authenticated with the rigour to be expected from a Leaders we deserve post.


Netanyahu, Obama and the masks of command

May 21, 2011

Dennis Ross

When leaders speak publically they often have to address more than one audience. This explains why they have to wear the mask of command. Even more complicated is when leaders meet to discuss the fate of nations

The meeting

The BBC reported the meeting this week [May 19th 2011] between the Prime Minister of Israel and the President of the USA.

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected US President Barack Obama’s call for peace with the Palestinians based on pre-1967 borders. After tense talks at the White House, a defiant Mr Netanyahu said Israel was prepared to compromise but there could be no peace “based on illusions”.

The video clearly shows each leader wearing a (metaphoric) mask of command. Their words said one thing. The body language of each suggested something different.

Beyond the masks of command

Beyond the masks of command were two humans struggling to deal with dilemmas requiring superhuman efforts. The complexities are evident. The issues are simplified even if wrapped up in a label such as the Israeli/Palestinian peace process. Mr Obama speaks to those advocating a tougher line with Israel, and those opposing such a line. Mr Netanyahu could be seen as addressing somewhat different audiences, including those in and beyond Israel supporting a policy based on the pre-1967 borders, and those opposed to any such changes. Sometimes the simplification is made into hawks and doves, but who are the hawks and who are the doves?

Among the key players: enter King Abdullah and Denis Ross

Other key influences were revealed at a meeting this week addressed by King Addullah of Jordan. The New York Times reported that

King Abdullah II of Jordan gave his assessment of how Arabs view the debate within the Obama administration over how far to push Israel on concessions for peace with the Palestinians.
From the State Department, “we get good responses,” the Jordanian king said, according to several people who were in the room. And from the Pentagon, too. “But not from the White House, and we know the reason why is because of Dennis Ross” — President Obama’s chief Middle East adviser. Mr. Ross, King Abdullah concluded, “is giving wrong advice to the White House.” By almost all accounts, Dennis B. Ross — Middle East envoy to three presidents, well-known architect of incremental and painstaking diplomacy in the Middle East that eschews game-changing plays — is Israel’s friend in the Obama White House and one of the most influential behind-the-scenes figures in town. His strategy sometimes contrasts sharply with that of a president who has bold instincts and a willingness to elevate the plight of the Palestinians to a status equal to that of the Israelis.

Easy for journalists to campaign

The highly respected English journalist Robert Fisk writing in the Independent has dismissed Obama as duplicitous and weak for failing to act decisively over the fate of the Palestinians. But it is easy for journalists to campaign as if there were no dilemmas of leadership. They do not have to offer strategies within the complex and extended processes involved in diplomacy and military adventures.

A more balanced view of the complexities of the situation was provided by Al Jazeera, quoting Mr Fisk as providing one strand of the argument.


Will Osama bin Laden be more influential after his death?

May 2, 2011

In earlier days, miliary leaders were rarely deliberately killed, even in battle. Other political and military advantages were weighed against such actions. A charismatic leader may have more influence dead than alive. It is not a matter of simple binary logic of ‘wanted dead or alive’

by Tudor Rickards

These gloomy thoughts occured to me on learning of the death of Osama ben Ladin by American forces in Pakistan last night [May 1st 2011]. I wondered about the ‘dead or alive’ dilemma as posed by some commentators.

Not simple binary logic

Like most dilemmas, it is not just a matter of simple binary logic. Once bin Laden’s location had been established, there were several options that had to be considered. Not all would have resulted in his death. If he had escaped an attack there would have been strengthening of his symbolic signficance to many unfavourable to Western overseas interventions however justified they might appear in the West. Or if he had been captured unharmed, there would be an extended process of establishing legal charges, and carrying out a sentence (I am presuming the process would have established charges of terrorism and mass murder against him). Such a process would have be long drawn-out, and likely to induce responses not all of which can be anticipated.

Bin Laden’s three assets

My point is this. Bin Laden possessed three powerful assets in pursuing his aims. He was enormously wealthy and he was able to present himself as a leader commanding loyalty to his cause and to himself. Great wealth can add to the social cachet of any individual. It can transform a nerd into a idealized business leader. It can reinforce self-belief into ego-mania. When the wealth is linked to a cause, the symbolic effect is heightened. And finally, if the individual fits the stereotype of a charismatic leader, bingo. He had the potential to become a revolutionary and charismatic leader. Such men are dangreous. But their violent removal is also beset with dangers.

Charisma

Shakespeare wrote how the evil that a man does lives after him, the good is oft interred with his bones. But Shakespearewas speaking ironically. It could also be argued that for followers, the charisma a man establishes lives after him. It is the wrongs which are oft interred with his bones.

To go more deeply

President Obama’s announcement (video)


Mubarak watch

February 5, 2011

The events of political turmoil in Egypt in the first two weeks of February 2011 are followed and evaluated for lessons of leadership and the management of change

Saturday February 11th Mubarak is gone. For Egypt there will now be a lengthy period in which the speed of change slows. Mubarak watch concludes. For status reports see
The Los Angeles Times
Aljazera
The Guardian/Observer

Friday February 10th

Friday mid-afternoon. Mubarak’s resignation announced. Much more to follow.

Mr Suleiman said Mr Mubarak had handed power to the high command of the armed forces.
“In the name of God the merciful, the compassionate, citizens, during these very difficult circumstances Egypt is going through, President Hosni Mubarak has decided to step down from the office of president of the republic and has charged the high council of the armed forces to administer the affairs of the country,” he said.

Thursday evening, the world’s media turned to Tahrir Square. News was the Mubarak would speak to the nation to announce his resignation. Crowds expecting victory. Then dismay as Mubarak offers little. Confusion. Anger. “God help Israel now ” one commentator remarked. Fears for the next 24 hours.

Thursday February 9th

Intelligent discussion on BBC’s Newsnight. Historians plus activist spokesperson from Cairo. Lessons from history: revolutions result in emergence of ‘the strong leader’. Overnight, news of further initiatives, strikes in various parts of Egypt said to be ‘spontaneous’. Newsnight tested proposition that the protest could not bring down the Mubarak regime. Not easy to reduce to a logical proposition. Practically, Mubarak authority has been seriously and irrevocably damaged. He has lost unconditional support of his powerful ally the United States.

Wednesday February 8th Overnight view is broadly that there had been renewed efforts (if only in numbers) by the protestors in Cairo yesterday. Worth checking on the country-wide situation. A wikileaks view assembled by The New York Times mostly confirms what has been written about Mubarak’s negotiaons for US aid in return for his claimed ‘stong’ policies maintaining peace in the region. He viewed the removal of Saddam as a huge mistake which he believed made his own continued rule even more critical.
Tuesday February 8th In search of a leader? Aljazeera reports freeing of Google executive Wael Ghonim, whose facebook page has been considered to have triggered off the protests in Cairo.

Monday February 7th Overnight news indicates that the situation in Cairo has reached an impasse. The New York Times suggests it presents a dilemma for the Obama regime. Stock exchange opening has been postponed for 24 hours, as the government attempts to sell $2.5bn in short-term debt.

Sunday February 6th Muslim brotherhood in talks. Aljazeera suggests these to be ‘critical’ to next stage of events in Egypt. US sends mixed messages regarding the need for Mubarak to oversee a smooth transition of power. Brief opening of banks reminds us of the financial crisis running with the political one.

Saturday Feb 5th Yesterday’s ‘day of departure’ is now evaluated as no clear tipping point. Around 100,000 rather than a million people were reported around Tahrir Square. The possiblity of a longer struggle is now firming up.

One of the leaders of the protesters, George Ishaq of the Kifaya (Enough) movement, told the BBC they intend reduce their presence in Tahrir Square, holding big demonstrations on Tuesdays and Fridays.
“Protesters will remain in Tahrir Square on all days of the week,” he said on Friday [4th Feb, 2011]. “But each Friday, there will be a demonstration like today.”

Friday Feb 4th This was the day announced in advance as the day when a million protesters would symbolically end the Mubarak regime. But the tone of reporting of a few days earlier has been somewhat muted. There is greater concern that there is more of a temporary condition of stalemate.

Another voice was raised in support of Mubarak, President Berlusconi of Italy, himself facing a struggle to survive politically. Like Tony Blair he considers the merits that stability of regime has brought to the wider Middle East.

Feb 3rd Situation is confused. Voice of America suggests that the Pro-Mubarak forces are gaining ground. The BBC however reports gains by the opposition demonstrators. What is clear that there have been fatalities acknowledged. Prime Minster Ahmed Shafiq broadcast an apology for the fighting, which has killed nine and wounded hundreds and promised an investigation. Tomorrow is the scheduled ‘day of a million protestors’.

Feb 2nd Reports a few days ago were talking of repid removal of the President from power. Now the tone is of more organized efforts to resist the revolutionary forces concentrated in Cairo. Jeremy Bowen of the BBC described events

Since I arrived a week ago I have seen no significant demonstrations for President Mubarak. But from the morning there were thousands of his supporters on Cairo’s streets, mobilised presumably by the ruling party, the NDP. The pro-Mubarak demonstrations were well organised, not spontaneous. Numbered buses unloaded supporters. Many placards looked as if they had been made by professional sign writers. Their opponents claim that they are paid to demonstrate. For an authoritarian leader like Hosni Mubarak, the sight of so many people in Tahrir Square calling for his removal must have been deeply humiliating. He will have wanted to reassert his authority over his capital city – and his supporters were given the job.