By Alan Caruba
A former British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, was once asked what he feared most and his answer was, “Events.”
Leadership is tested by things that happen over which neither a Prime Minister, President, nor any other national leader has any control. Bush43, as are all Presidents, was warned daily of potential threats, but until 9/11 Bush was into a relatively standard first term feeling his way with Congress on a few legislative initiatives.
History will record that Bush43 was up to the moment. People forget that, not only had he attended and received degrees from both Yale and Harvard, but had served in the Texas Air National Guard and qualified as a fighter pilot. This is no small feat. Moreover, he had experience in the business sector before becoming Governor of Texas. So, when 9/11 occurred, he had a lot of experience, knowledge, and resources to draw upon, including a father who had been President!
Bush made a strategic decision to expand the initial success in Afghanistan against al Qaeda to include the removal of a threat to the entire Middle East when he invaded Iraq, along with the British and other allies. Saddam Hussein had previously conducted an eight year war against Iran and had later invaded Kuwait. In retrospect, it appears to have been a good idea to rid the region of this destabilizing entity.
What was not anticipated, however, was the even greater destabilizing factor of fundamentalist Islam as personified by al Qaeda and the Taliban. It currently threatens the government of Pakistan. Until the entire world takes the Islamic jihad seriously and takes steps to tamp it down, “events” in the Middle East and elsewhere are going to continue to challenge peace everywhere.
In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina wreaked so much destruction over such a wide swath of Gulf States that surely no President could have anticipated it and clearly the federal government encountered levels of incompetence in Louisiana that were unforgivable.
Occurring while the Iraq war gave little evidence of a successful outcome meant that these two events rendered blows to Bush’s presidency from which it would never fully recover. The coup de grace came late into the last weeks of his presidency when the sub-prime mortgage crisis was precipitated by a run on U.S. banks that has not been fully reported upon to this day.
At this point President Obama has not been tested except by the appearance of incompetence among those he has chosen for his cabinet and as his White House advisors. They are generally ideologues and often radical in their views. The most reputable among them and the most welcome is literally a holdover from the Bush administration, Robert Gates as the Secretary of Defense. Other than Gates, the Obama administration is a re-run of the Clinton administration with none other than the former First Lady as Secretary of State. How bizarre is that?
The President’s primary response to the banking/housing crisis, the problems facing elements of the U.S. auto industry, and even the outbreak of swine flu has been to literally throw billions of dollars at them.
No one, other than Republicans, appears to be asking where this money is going to come from without drastically raising taxes; the worst option in a recession or depression. That leaves borrowing and even China has voiced concerns about its continuing investment in U.S. treasury notes.
Beyond borrowing and spending money, there are the unknown, frequently unpredictable, and often grievous “events” that lie in wait for this President.
The fall of the Pakistani government to the Taliban could literally set off a third world war. Attacks on U.S. cities would create panic and demands for retaliation. A sudden surge of illegal immigration from Mexico if its government collapsed or was unable to cope with the flu outbreak has already initiated demands to close the 2,000 mile border. Some close observers already regard Mexico as a failed state.
The pressures on a Democrat administration that wants to reduce the investment in the nation’s military, that wants to create a more open border immigration and an amnesty policy, that has launched a charm offensive with enemies such as Iran, that wants to impose a nationalized healthcare system, all could and would be derailed by “events.”
History records that it was only World War II and the mobilization of America that finally got the nation out of a decade-long depression, despite and often because of every effort made by the Roosevelt administration.
President Obama will discover what his predecessors did. There is no way to prepare for events that change public opinion overnight. There are only the time tested responses. That requires pragmatism, not idealism.
This President is going to be tested and, if his past is any indication, when events occur the choices he will have to make will likely prove unpalatable.