In the New Yorker Ryan Lizza (The Consequentialist):
Obama’s reluctance to articulate a grand synthesis has alienated both realists and idealists. “On issues like whether to intervene in Libya there’s really not a compromise and consensus,” Slaughter said. “You can’t be a little bit realist and a little bit democratic when deciding whether or not to stop a massacre.”
Brzezinski, too, has become disillusioned with the President. “I greatly admire his insights and understanding. I don’t think he really has a policy that’s implementing those insights and understandings. The rhetoric is always terribly imperative and categorical: ‘You must do this,’ ‘He must do that,’ ‘This is unacceptable.’ ” Brzezinski added, “He doesn’t strategize. He sermonizes.”
Unlike his immediate predecessors, Obama came of age politically during the post-Cold War era, a time when America’s unmatched power created widespread resentment. Obama believes that highly visible American leadership can taint a foreign-policy goal just as easily as it can bolster it. In 2007, Obama said, “America must show—through deeds as well as words—that we stand with those who seek a better life. That child looking up at the helicopter must see America and feel hope.”
In 2009 and early 2010, Obama was sometimes criticized for not acting at all. He was cautious during Iran’s Green Revolution and deferential to his generals during the review of Afghanistan strategy. But his response to the Arab Spring has been bolder. He broke with Mubarak at a point when some of the older establishment advised against it. In Libya, he overruled Gates and his military advisers and pushed our allies to adopt a broad and risky intervention. It is too early to know the consequences of these decisions. Libya appears to be entering a protracted civil war; American policy toward Mubarak frightened—and irritated—Saudi Arabia, where instability could send oil prices soaring. The U.S. keeps getting stuck in the Middle East.
Nonetheless, Obama may be moving toward something resembling a doctrine. One of his advisers described the President’s actions in Libya as “leading from behind.” That’s not a slogan designed for signs at the 2012 Democratic Convention, but it does accurately describe the balance that Obama now seems to be finding. It’s a different definition of leadership than America is known for, and it comes from two unspoken beliefs: that the relative power of the U.S. is declining, as rivals like China rise, and that the U.S. is reviled in many parts of the world. Pursuing our interests and spreading our ideals thus requires stealth and modesty as well as military strength. “It’s so at odds with the John Wayne expectation for what America is in the world,” the adviser said. “But it’s necessary for shepherding us through this phase.”
A couple of points arise. First, 'leading from behind' is a contradiction in terms that sounds like an attempt to rationalize failure to lead as adjutment to American decline (which Lizza seems to realize).
Second, how does one reconcile
The one consistent thread running through most of Obama’s decisions has been that America must act humbly in the world.
"The rhetoric is always terribly imperative and categorical: ‘You must do this,’ ‘He must do that,’ ‘This is unacceptable.’ ” Brzezinski added, “He doesn’t strategize. He sermonizes.”
The reality is that Obama came to the job with the doctrine of "acting humbly in the world" that was ideological, not a realist realization of American decline. And on more than one occasion he has revealed considerable ignorance and shalowness. PowerLine (Obama as political historian):
That is bound to induce a sense of superiority.
Barack Obama is a creature of the modern university and therefore an amazingly shallow man. I have written about his historical howlers in the New York Post column "Anti-terror oops," in the Weekly Standard column "The Kennedy-Khrushchev conference for dummies," and in the Power Line post "Obama veers into the Daily Ditch."Yet Obama has been impressed with his own brilliance and audacity (ability to "lower the oceans"?). This is a result of sailing smoothly and rapidly up through the political process, protected by the media, without much effort and challenges and without any record of achievement whatsoever (I prefer to refrain from explaining why), essentially just speechifying.
Obama's historical ignorance could be a full time beat for somebody who does this work for a living, and it tells us something truly important about Barack Obama. His ignorance is as broad as it is deep [NB: There have been economics and foreign policy too]. Not that you couldn't deduce that on your own from his performance on the job.
That is bound to induce a sense of superiority.
It would be easy for Obama, under the circumstances, to expect that sheer speeches about America's humility and "engagement" would be enough for the world to be as ecstatic about him as the American public and act in accordance to his preferrences. It must be a terrible shock that, instead, he was interpreted by both America's enemies and allies--correctly, I think--as lacking in substance and seriousness, and weak.
Christopher Dickey (Obama's Middle East Head Spin):
Surely President Obama can do better than that. Or perhaps not. The drama—the tragedy—increasingly apparent at the White House is of a brilliant intellect who is nonetheless confounded by events, a strategist whose strategies are thwarted and who is left with almost no strategy at all, a persuasive politician and diplomat who gets others to crawl out on limbs, has them take big risks to break through to a new future, and then turns around and walks away from them when the political winds in the United States threaten to shift. It’s not enough to say the Cabinet is divided about what to do. Maybe the simplest and in many ways the most disturbing explanation for all the flailing is offered by veteran journalist and diplomat Leslie H. Gelb: “There is one man in this administration who debates himself.” President Obama.
I suspect that the imperative language may well reflect the gap between belief in his own brilliance (I don't know if Dickey is serious or facetious) and persuasive power and the catastrophic consequences of his policies (or lack thereof).
These patterns of behavior and their consequences have been on horrifying display in the blood-drenched streets of Misrata, Libya, where the population has begged for more support from NATO and the United States. But they did not begin with Libya, or with the surprise uprising in Tunisia in January or the stunning fall of Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak in February. They were evident from Year 1 of the Obama presidency in his excruciating deliberations over the Afghan surge, in the hand extended ineffectually to Iran, and the lines drawn in the sand, then rubbed out and moved back, and further back, in the dismal, failed efforts to build a Palestinian peace process. But in Libya the crisis of American tentativeness has grown worse almost by the day. Muammar Gaddafi holds on, despite Obama’s demand for him to leave, and the civilians that the Americans, their allies, and the United Nations vowed to protect are being slaughtered.
UPDATE: I recommend JoshuaPundit (Obama's Real Easter Message)