For the sake of argument imagine that on any given issue the only consequences that you need to be concerned about are the political consequences. You don’t need to worry about economic consequences in the case of an ill-considered economic policy. You don’t need to worry about adverse reactions from other countries or foreign organization as a result of foreign policy decisions. And so on. Just the electoral political implications. I think that’s a much better if over-simplified explanation for the president’s words and actions than Peggy Noonan’s explanation:
A man who personally picks drone targets, who seems sometimes to enjoy antagonizing congressional Republicans, whose speeches not infrequently carry a certain undercurrent of political malice, cannot precisely be understood as soft.
But we focus on Mr. Obama personality and psychology—he’s weak or arrogant or ambivalent, or all three—and while this is interesting, it’s too fancy. We are overthinking the president.
His essential problem is that he has very poor judgment.
And we don’t say this because he’s so famously bright—academically credentialed, smooth, facile with words, quick with concepts. (That’s the sort of intelligence the press and popular historians most prize and celebrate, because it’s exactly the sort they possess.) But brightness is not the same as judgment, which has to do with discernment, instinct, the ability to see the big picture, wisdom that is earned or natural.
Mr. Obama can see the trees, name their genus and species, judge their age and describe their color. He absorbs data. But he consistently misses the shape, size and density of the forest. His recitations of data are really a faux sophistication that suggests command of the subject but misses the heart of the matter.
Take the president’s decision to oppose ISIS/ISIL with bombs, support for imaginary Syrian moderate rebels, and non-existent allies who will commit troops to the campaign but not “boots on the ground”. I think the complete package of the president’s views inclusive both of rhetoric and practical steps can only be recognized when viewed solely through the lens of domestic electoral politics.
The president must do something. The bloody heads of Americans and Brits beheaded by ISIS form an unassailable argument. Failing to react forcefully to those provocations won’t pick up seats in Illinois, New York, or New Jersey. Those seats are already solidly Democratic. Lack of a forceful reaction might lose seats in Louisiana, Iowa, and Alaska. The merits of the threat posed by ISIS just don’t warrant a committed response. Consequently, a response that falls short of a committed response is the best possible political judgment.
As I have said before, I don’t fault the president for not wanting to commit troops to Iraq and Syria because I don’t think the threat to the United States posed by ISIS/ISIL warrants it. My sole complaint is that the president does not appear to be willing to assuage the concerns of the American people and sell his plan to them.