Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Obama Goes to Washington

Obama was finally inaugurated as US President against all odds. As a mulatto with almost no constituency in the beginning, he forged ahead with hard work, intelligence and the force of his own personality; he smashed the discredited Republican Party and took down the Clinton machine in the process. The irony, of course, is that with his transition team he has effectively reinstalled a Clinton machine; he is THE DECIDER, but has seeded his junta with people wedded to their own competitive agendas.

While most Americans want him desperately to succeed, his cabinet and staff appointments do not auger well for his ability to pick his main subordinates. And that leadership ability is key to any successful enterprise, whether governmental, business or military. This appears easy, but it is not. Sometimes loyalty and brains conflict to the boss's discomfort.

His ability to fire incompetent, insubordinate, or morally challenged members of his team remains to be tested. Whether he has the executive tool box to determine when these conditions exist, remains part of his unknown executive equation. By all standards, he conducted a next to flawless presidential campaign, but this success and ruling the country are two distinct operations. Take GW Bush as your latest example of succeeding in one sphere, but failing badly in the other.

He has had problems beginning in Chicago with petty conflicts with Illinois Governor Blagojevich over which he publicly had to back down. Bill Richardson was improperly vetted and forced to withdraw as Secretary of Commerce. He has selected a recently reformed tax dodger as his Treasury Secretary which has cast pall over his forthright approach to clean government. By Obama selecting Geithner, he erodes his leadership by example. But his biggest ticking time is Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State – it is just a matter of time before her husband's escapades will damage his administration. His Attorney General selection, Eric Holder still suffers from moral turpitude for his role in Clinton's sleazy pardon of the fugitive Marc Rich.

Obama's national security staff especially has no change figuratively tattooed on their foreheads. The conventional wisdom is that there must be continuity in foreign policy. The last thing needed is to extend the self-destructive GW Bush/Neocon foreign policy. VEEP Biden, Hillary and Gates are certainly status quo proponents – they may change process, but not substance.

We will know soon if change is at hand; whether the Israelis put a ring in Obama's nose and whether the US will participate in the incarceration of Gaza. Israeli reps will soon be in Washington to replenish their basic load of ammunition, equipment and spare parts expended in the destruction in Gaza. Will the US again assent with no strings attached? Will the US pull all of its troops out of Iraq in 16 months? Will The US develop a more realistic policy in Afghanistan rather than just to reinforce failure with more troops? On all of the above, I remain skeptical, especially since he has chosen his national security team.

Obama enjoys big bang, big gang events. He has echoed Abe Lincoln in his inauguration; has duplicated Abe's train trip from Philadelphia to Washington, DC; made the Lincoln Memorial into a temple and lifts generously from Abe's speeches. He even took his oath on Lincoln's bible.

This is all presumptuous hoopla and should fade quickly... Obama ain't Abe by a long shot. For example, unlike Abe, he did not have to creep secretly into Washington for his first inauguration; he certainly did not have abolitionist John Brown at Harpers Ferry killing citizens; or pro-slavery Quantrill slaughtering people at Lawrence, Kansas. Most importantly, he is not faced with winning or losing a bloody civil war.

Right now Obama is a public relations one-pony show – an exceptional, inspirational orator. We will, however, watch hopefully whether he can take punches. The Reverend Wright embarrassment, sliming by Hillary, Palin and Bomb Bomb McCain were sweet caresses compared to perils he faces when his inauguration honeymoon is over.

As historians try to determine who was dumber, either GW Bush or the people who voted for him; and, as the English lexicon experts search for a new meaning to MISSION ACCOMPLISHED, Obama should be a sharp contrast. All America wishes him success. Colonel Robert E Bartos USA Ret.

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