April 29, 2011
Just in Time, Obama Changes the SubjectBy James G. Wiles
President Obama just did something only presidents can do: he changed the subject of our nation's political conversation. To his advantage, he and his handlers hope.
As American Thinker was one of the first to report, on Monday -- four days ago -- the President was well on his way to having a politically disastrous week. A lengthy article by Ryan Lizza in the May 2 number of the New Yorker had exposed wide disarray and division among the President, his advisors, and Hillary Clinton's State Department over the American response to the Arab Spring, especially the non-intervention in Iran's Green Revolution last year and the more recent decision to intervene -- sort of -- in Libya.
Ryan Lizza is the New Yorker's chief Washington correspondent. His reporting confirmed all the rumors about in-fighting and charges of sexism between the boys and the girls in the Administration over the whole idea of "liberal (or humanitarian) intervention."
R2P, as it's called, is a concept which originated during the Balkan and Rwandan genocides. It posits that the United Nations and the great powers have a "responsibility to protect" ethnic and racial minorities (and, sometimes, political dissenters) against violent repression by their own government. R2P is reviled by practitioners of realpolitik.
The rumor of in-fighting, the New Yorker reported, was true. The women policymakers, it said, wanted the U.S. to move. The men, most of them, didn't. The exception was the late Richard Holbrooke, who literally collapsed (and subsequently died) in a meeting with Hillary Clinton in which he was advocating a stronger American response. In the Obama White House, the New Yorker reporting also suggests, the most distinguished American diplomat of his generation couldn't get the time of day.
But it was the last paragraph of Lizza's story which had the real stinger in its tail.
Specifically, Lizza quoted an unnamed presidential advisor as saying that President Obama's foreign policy was based on "stealth and modesty." In particular, said Advisor X, it involves "'leading from behind,'" based on "two unspoken beliefs: that the relative power of the U.S. is declining...and that the U.S. is reviled in many parts of the world." nConservative blogs and talk show hosts pounced.
But the Lizza story quickly developed legs outside the conservative blogosphere. In the Week-in-Review section, the New York Times' David E. Sanger had chimed in with a piece describing Obama's policy as "Letting Others Lead in Libya." On the Monday morning the Lizza piece broke on the blogs, Eric Alterman in The Daily Beast posted an opinion piece headlined "Obama's Awful '70's Show Echoes Jimmy Carter."
Full stop: in a 48-hour period, the New Yorker, the New York Times, and The Daily Beast had all published highly critical pieces of President Obama's foreign policy in general and his response to the Arab Spring in particular. Somewhere, a dam had been breached. The whole story was acquiring critical mass.
It got worse. On Tuesday, Hugh Hewitt interviewed Ryan Lizza on his nationwide radio program and posted the interview on-line, urging his followers to read both the New Yorker article and the interview. On Wednesday morning, Terry Gross interviewed Ryan Lizza for a half hour on NPR's "Fresh Air." It went up on NPR's website.
The New Yorker piece -- and its devastating "leading from behind" quote -- had entered the mainstream media. The whole thing was, shall we say, about to metastatize.
Time to change the subject. And a topic was readily at hand,.
That very morning, the White House released the President's long-sought Hawaiian birth certificate. The President himself appeared at the podium of the White House Press Room to denounce the birthers and their enablers as "circus barkers." Then he left to see Oprah and talk it up some more. Donald Trump, meanwhile, was grandstanding on the subject before all available television cameras.
And the media herd went thundering off in another direction. Suddenly, it was all-Trump-all-the-time. As of Thursday night (helped, of course, by a terrible natural disaster across the Southeast), the Lizza story -- and "leading from behind" -- had disappeared as a political topic.
Nice move, White House. We'll see if it works. As American Thinker went to press, Charles Krauthammer's Friday column was posted on-line, addressing the Lizza revelations.
Its money quote: "[l]eading from behind is not leading. It's abdicating."
Stay tuned for the Sunday programs.