President Obama’s critics routinely dismiss him as “feckless,” but most have long records as feck-ups. And what’s wrong with pivoting? (More)
Maybe I’m biased. Squirrels do enjoy a graceful pivot, after all. For example, our back paws can pivot 180° so we can run up and down trees. I suppose you could call that feckless, but it seems a lot more sensible than being stuck in Árbol Squirrel and unable to climb down to get food, or stuck on the ground and unable to get back home to at the end of the day. We also applaud when humans pivot gracefully, as you can see here:
So when the New York Times offered what they called A Rare Public View of Obama’s Pivots on Policy in Syria Confrontation, I figured it would be good news:
Over the last three weeks, the nation has witnessed a highly unusual series of pivots as a president changed course virtually in real time and on live television. Mr. Obama’s handling of his confrontation with Syria over a chemical weapons attack on civilians has been the rare instance of a commander in chief seemingly thinking out loud and changing his mind on the fly.
Well sure. That pretty much fits one of the most common definitions of intelligence:
The ability to use memory, knowledge, experience, understanding, reasoning, imagination and judgment in order to solve problems and adapt to new situations.
Most of us don’t think of rocks as ‘intelligent’ – unlike squirrels and at least some humans – because we can’t observe them adapt to new situations. Rocks just sit there being, well, rocks. Rocks are useful if you want to build a wall or a bridge, but you’ll be waiting a long time for a rock to design a new wall or a new bridge.
So the Times story was good news. Until it wasn’t:
But to Mr. Obama’s detractors, including many in his own party, he has shown a certain fecklessness with his decisions first to outsource the decision to lawmakers in the face of bipartisan opposition and then to embrace a Russian diplomatic alternative that even his own advisers consider dubious. Instead of displaying decisive leadership, Mr. Obama, to these critics, has appeared reactive, defensive and profoundly challenged in standing up to a dangerous world.
For good or ill, and there are plenty who argue both points of view, Mr. Obama represents a stark contrast in style to George W. Bush. The former president valued decisiveness and once he made a decision rarely revisited it. While he, too, changed course from time to time, Mr. Bush regularly told aides that a president should not reveal doubts because it would send a debilitating signal to his administration, troops in the field and the country at large.
I guess his critics like leaders with the intelligence of rocks. And if President Obama is “feckless,” then what is a “feck?” Is it like a “gruntle,” which humans apparently need to avoid being “disgruntled?”
It turns out that “feck,” at least in that sense, means the “efficacy, force, value, or return” of one’s efforts. Which is better than its other sense. Although I guess Oliver North thinks President Obama is ‘feckless’ in that other sense too, since North said the president has “a flaccid, Low-T, impotent foreign policy.”
In fact, I think the president’s critics have confused those two meanings of “feck.” President Obama campaigned in 2008 on promises to turn over security to local units in Iraq and Afghanistan, and bring our troops home. He did in Iraq and is doing that in Afghanistan. He said he would kill or capture Osama bin Laden if given a chance, even if that meant going into Pakistan, and he did. He said he would keep Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi from massacring his own people during the Arab Spring, and he did. All of that seems pretty effective to me.
President Obama also said he would not interfere with the internal politics in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, after the Arab Spring uprisings, and he hasn’t. The U.S. has a long history of fecking with other people’s governments. The Banana Wars of the early 20th century, Iran and Guatemala in the 1950s, Chile in 1973, and Iraq in 2003 are but a few examples. In each case, U.S. leaders displayed the intelligence of rocks … and each turned into an ugly, tragic clusterfeck.
Yes, President Obama pivots. That’s not “feckless,” except in comparison to macho, “Bring ’em on” posturing and Codpiece Day declarations of “Mission Accomplished.” Fact is, almost every one of President Obama’s critics had a hand in or celebrated those Bush-era feck-ups.
In the real world, agile and adaptive intelligence – the ability to pivot when conditions change – is far more effective than a bulging, rock-hard … mind.
Good day and good nuts.