MIXED MESSAGES AND BAD OPTICS
CLOUD OUR EFFORT IN SYRIA AND IRAQ
“Well, if this guy wins, at least we’ll be getting a President who recognizes the power of symbolism to amplify his message and stir people’s emotions.”
It reminded me of Ronald Reagan who, as a former movie actor, well understood the interplay of evocative words and strong visual imagery.
Strange how, in his presidency, Obama is often quite thoughtless about the impressions that served him so well on the campaign trail. Sometimes it seems like he just doesn’t care about how things look.
The famous Styrofoam salute is a recent example. I’m pretty sure the President intended no conscious disrespect of his Marine guards by returning their salute with a coffee cup in his right hand. Probably it just didn’t occur to him to think about how he would be expected to comport himself as he got off the helicopter.
And that’s the problem: He didn’t think.
Yes, I’ve seen the photo of George W. Bush — the one where he’s making a very awkward salute while holding Miss Beazley, his Scottish terrier. Circulating that shot on Facebook was a nice attempt at deflection…
See? “W” was just as careless as Obama. Nyah-na-nyah-na-nyah-nyah.
…But really now, there’s a marked difference between a Styrofoam cup and a wiggling dog. The one situation neither equates to, nor justifies, the other.
Obama’s gaffe is just a small example of a much larger tendency. More and more I get the feeling that there’s no sense of priority in this administration. Or if there is, it has little to do with what’s really important.
In the middle of our air assault on the so-called Islamic State — you know, the action that’s intended to save us from those radical Islamist hoards even now planning their conquest of the American homeland — did Obama really need to be at the U.N. Climate Summit beating the drum for global warming?
Don’t worry, I won’t go off on a rant about how the polar ice cap has recorded a record increase. Ya wanna believe the earth’s getting warmer? Fine. (Of course, if you’d like my opinion of “global warming,” see my post of January 7.)
And yes, I do understand that a presidential appearance at a U.N. conference is scheduled months in advance.
But just at the moment when he’s finally giving the IS/ISIL/ISIS problem a level of attention for which the public and our military leaders have been clamoring — just when he’s desperately trying to assemble the broad international coalition he’s told us is essential to beating back this plague on humanity — just when his skinny little bottom ought to be planted in the War Room and his attention riveted — he couldn’t have sent Joe Biden to stand in for him at the climate-change follies? Just so the President didn’t have to take his eye off a very critical effort in the Middle East? Just so the relative urgency of things might be emphasized?
Like Al Gore wouldn’t have understood?
Granted, Obama also addressed the U.N. on the IS/ISIL/ISIS situation. But proximity isn’t the point. Appearance is the point.
And just to further obscure the Presidential focus, Obama leavened that U.N. speech with a reference to the unfortunate incident of Ferguson, Missouri…
“In a summer marked by instability in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, I know the world also took notice of the small American city of Ferguson, Missouri — where a young man was killed, and a community was divided. So yes, we have our own racial and ethnic tensions. And like every country, we continually wrestle with how to reconcile the vast changes wrought by globalization and greater diversity with the traditions that we hold dear.”
Painful as the situation in Ferguson was, can it really be compared with mass slaughter? Is it really analogous to attempted extermination of entire ethnic/religious populations?
On top of that, he offered a shout-out to a Muslim cleric of questionable repute, one named Sheikh Abdallah Bin Bayyah. This from the Washington Free Beacon…
“‘Look at the new Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies — Sheikh bin Bayyah described its purpose: “We must declare war on war, so the outcome will be peace upon peace,’” Obama said, quoting the controversial cleric.”
Controversial is the word, since the Beacon made note of the war-on-war sheikh’s support of Hamas as well as his…
“reported backing of a 2004 fatwa that advocated violent resistance against Americans fighting in Iraq.”
These are the kinds of mixed messages and odd impressions — what the media call poor optics — which we’ve witnessed since Obama’s ill-conceived bow to the King of Saudi Arabia. We’ve seen them in all the awkwardly scheduled parties, vacations and golf outings — as well as each time he’s appeared in a group shot with world leaders and he’s the only one waving to the camera.
Now they’re clouding his assault on IS/ISIL/ISIS which, in other respects, has gotten off to quite an impressive start. If the reports we see aren’t just Pentagon propaganda, our forces are doing significant damage to Islamic State resources. Whether the job can be completed successfully without American boots on the ground remains iffy, to say the least. But clearly we’re complicating life for IS/ISIL/ISIS, and that’s to the President’s credit.
(It’s like the operation to get bin Laden. Obama didn’t repel down the rope into that Pakistan compound, but he green-lighted the project, so he gets a check mark in the record book, and that’s as it should be.)
Perhaps the worst of his mixed messages is this silly business about the Islamic State being neither Islamic nor a state. That’s a questionable assessment at best (see my post of September 8), but I understand the diplomatic purpose behind it. He’s eager to draw other Muslim states into our coalition. To that end he was trying to paint the extremism of IS/ISIL/ISIS as a gross distortion of Islamic doctrine while mocking its claims on the loyalty of all Muslims.
But a proposition that might — emphasize might — fly in the Muslim world, has had a very different resonance at home. Here it leaves Obama looking naïve or, worse, deceptive. It stokes all those old anxieties about his long-standing Muslim attachments (see my post of September 3, 2013) and undercuts the already shaky public confidence in his leadership.
Candidate Barack Obama was candid about his objective in running for President. He told us that he wanted to change the United States fundamentally, and indeed, he has pursued that goal (Obamacare comes to mind in this regard).
Okay. So change is his top priority. I suppose that’s what explains the continual harping on this global warming nonsense.
And I do get it that he really really didn’t want further military engagement in the Middle East. No question he’s the reluctant warrior — as a current media cliché has it.
But we’ve set out to destroy the barbarous so-called Islamic State. The decision point has been passed. The bombs are falling. Isn’t this just a tad more pressing than other concerns on the presidential agenda?
Barry, it’s time to focus.
If the President needs an additional reason to focus on the objective at hand, he can ponder a recent claim by IS/ISIL/ISIS that it will drive the U.S. to its “death, grave and destruction”…
“Do not ask for anyone’s advice and do not seek anyone’s verdict,” Islamic State spokesman Abu Muhammad Adnani exhorted Muslims in the West. “Kill the infidel, whether he is civilian or military.”
Recent weeks have seen a spate of articles examining the strange detachment of the President. The Washington Post’s Michael Gerson carries this media speculation to its logical conclusion, asking if Obama is simply too detached to lead…
“He appears to be telling the media, his political critics and the world: You can criticize me, vilify me, challenge me; but you are powerless, at least, to change my tee time. It shows resilience. Yet there is a fine line between not giving an inch and not giving a damn.”
Check out Gerson’s observations at…
“It’s not just a matter of optics, it’s a matter of caring.”
Their on-air exchange included some other examples of the President’s less-than-attentive acknowledgements of the military…
From our Just-Because-It’s-Too-Dumb-to-Ignore Department…
The late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy is credited with one of those great quotes that sound deep but are deeply stupid…
“There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why… I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”
In light of a recent tirade by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., it must be noted that the son may have surpassed the father in vacuity, but he lacks the poetic flair. Carping about people who question the theory of manmade climate change, Junior vented his spleen on the wicked Koch Brothers, those evil Republican billionaires committed to destroying the world…
“I think it’s treason. Do I think the Koch Brothers are treasonous, yes I do,” Kennedy explained.
“They are enjoying making themselves billionaires by impoverishing the rest of us. Do I think they should be in jail, I think they should be enjoying three hots and a cot at the Hague with all the other war criminals,” Kennedy declared.