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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Judging by the way he holds his cards so close to his vest, President Obama must be an awfully good poker player. Here we are halfway through his second term, and few observers can claim to know with any precision exactly what he thinks about critical matters of war and peace.

Or what he might do if push came to shove, an eventuality he appears entirely determined to avoid.

Obama often appears disdainful of the theatrical aspects of the presidency. He avoids playing dress-up. No aircraft carrier landings or make-believe ranching for him. Pretty much all the time, the president carries himself as the middle-aged husband, father, former law professor and professional politician that he is. He avoids confrontation whenever possible.

Even when he speaks out on issues of critical national importance, Obama can sound kind of dorky. Witness last week’s qualified endorsement of CIA Director John Brennan. Brennan had been forced to apologize to Congress because (apparently unknown to him) agents spied on Senate Intelligence Committee staffers investigating what the Bush administration euphemistically called “enhanced interrogation.”

“Even before I came into office,” Obama said “I was very clear that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, we did some things that were wrong. We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks. We did some things that were contrary to our values.”

We tortured “folks?”

Mr. President, you invite folks to picnics or welcome them to Jimmy Buffett shows. You torture “terrorist suspects,” “prisoners,” or “captives.” Calling them folks makes it sound like no big deal.

Which may be exactly what Obama intended. Because the other folks he talked about were the CIA agents who did the waterboarding.

“It’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had,” the president said. “A lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots, but having said all that, we did some things that were wrong.”

Just not wrong enough to get too upset about.

Even Obama’s closest aides, it appears, often can’t tell what he’s thinking. According to David Remnick’s vivid account of Vladimir Putin’s metastasizing authoritarianism in The New Yorker, former U.S. ambassador Michael McFaul still can’t figure out if the president’s a “realist” or an “internationalist” in foreign policy. That is, should the United States favor national self-interest or promote democratic values around the world?

Both, basically. Obama gives ringing speeches endorsing democracy, but in practice acts with cool calculation. McFaul himself made a show of meeting publicly with anti-Putin activists. He lasted only two years in Moscow.

Another example: A while back, the president explained to CBS This Morning why arming “moderates” in Syria’s civil war was a bad idea.

“When you get farmers, dentists, and folks who have never fought before going up against a ruthless opposition in Assad,” he said, “the notion that they were in a position to suddenly overturn not only Assad but also ruthless, highly trained jihadists if we just sent a few arms is a fantasy.”

“Folks” again. But almost cynical this time.

Then soon afterward Obama asked Congress for $500 million to arm and train “appropriately vetted” Syrian rebels.

So was the president craftily calling Republicans’ bluff, as he’d done by asking Congress’ permission to bomb Bashar al-Assad’s regime in 2013? Permission Obama didn’t really want and knew he couldn’t get, given public resistance to yet another Middle Eastern war.

If so, why repeat the gesture? Could Obama be hearing footsteps, as they say in the NFL? That is, listening to the rising chorus from New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd to Darth Cheney that wants a manly, decisive president who’s more enthusiastic about starting wars?

Indeed, before that drunken cast of Dostoyevsky characters under Putin’s sponsorship shot down a Malaysian passenger jet in eastern Ukraine, murdering 298 innocent civilians, it had become common to hear GOP partisans wish we had a president more like the virile Russian.

“Putin decides what he wants to do and does it in half a day,” Rudy Giuliani declared. “He makes a decision and executes it quickly and everybody reacts. That’s what you call a real leader.”

Dowd even wrote a snarky column about Obama the girly-man based on a remark he’d made about hitting singles and doubles in foreign policy instead of more masculine (to Dowd) three-run home runs. She appeared not to grasp the metaphor: Like baseball, foreign policy requires patience. Nobody can hit three-run bombs unless somebody gets on base.

The problem, of course, is that foreign policy isn’t poker, football or baseball, and it has a definite theatrical aspect whether Professor Obama likes it or not. Perceptions of character have a way of becoming reality; and the perception of weakness can become the most dangerous reality of all.

AFP Photo/Jewel Samad

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  • Dominick Vila

    Could it be that Obama referred to the people that were tortured in Gitmo and at the destinations of the “renditions” because none of them participated in 9/11, and because many of them were simply fighting those who invaded their countries, violated their sovereignty, imposed a system of government they objected to, were constantly attacking their spiritual beliefs, and were determined to undermine their culture, traditions, and way of life?
    Dissecting a person’s language to find flaws is a sign of desperation, when there is nothing meaningful or real to criticize. He could have called them people, insurgents, or “freedom fighters”, like we did when we addressed those fighting Soviet oppression, but he chose “folks”. So what?
    Are we so arrogant that we can’t even conceive the fact that others enjoy their independence as much as we do, and that invading someone else land is likely to elicit resistance? Think about how we would react if the tables were turned and we were on the receiving end. Would we throw rose petals at the path of Chinese or Russian occupiers? In such hypothetical scenario, should patriots fighting to expel the occupiers
    be considered terrorists or freedom fighters? Needless to say, the occupiers would refer to them as terrorists, and would do everything possible to eliminate them. Do we share that animus?

    • Theodora30

      I disagree strongly. Language carries powerful emotional signals and the word “folks” has an informal, casual implication. I wondered when I heard it if Obama has deliberately chosen to copy Bush’s use of that term in order to downplay the harshness of his actions.

      Republicans are masters at this kind of language manipulation. For example they tested terms in market research groups to make their push to turn things like schools, SS, and Medicare over to Wall Street and came up with the term “privatize”. Dems coul shave easily countered with the term “profitize” but instead allowed the Republicans to frame the debate and started using their terminology. Read Frank Luntz to find out just how pervasive this tactic is – and how successful.

      • Theodora30

        Just looked up the title of Luntz’s book “It’s not what you say: it’s what people hear.” That says it all.

        • Carolyn1520

          It’s widely known republicans are the masters of manipulation. It’s how they have managed to get their flock to vote against their own self interest. However, it apparently hasn’t worked on the majority of voters.

        • BillP

          Unfortunately Theodora you are too correct on this issue. All you have to do is look or listen to quotes from the Republic/Conservative people. They just repeat the same phrase over and over and over. It doesn’t have to make sense or be the truth.

      • jmprint

        When a person has not been charged with a crime he is no different then you, I or a T-Party member we each have our own ideology. Folks is appropriate, as the definition is a kind of people.

    • sigrid28

      I took “folks” in the president’s speech to mean,”people just like us,” in wartime, whether he referred to the individuals who underwent rendition or the members of the CIA who tortured them. All are “folks,” the president’s choice of words implies, “people just like us.” As an American literature teacher, to me the term captures the humility to identify with the broken humanity behind all of these actions and reactions, the way Walt Whitman merged the North and the South of the Civil War he witnessed and wrote about in all of his works. The blood of both sides he calls “a uniform hieroglyphic,”

      And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,
      Growing among black folks as among white,
      Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same,
      I receive them the same.

      And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

      Critics in our greatest traditions of American literature have said all modern poetry is an argument with Walt Whitman–our brave, odd, ebullient spokesman. President Obama used the word “folks” in exactly the same way Whitman did in this famous passage from “Leaves of Grass,” and that’s good enough for me.

      • Dominick Vila

        Thank you for the concise and eloquent explanation of something that only journalists and demagogues desperate for something to report or criticize can find offensive or troubling. From a strictly political perspective, he should have referred to them as “insurgents”, but I really can’t understand how the people who had no problem with terms such as “enhanced interrogation techniques” can suddenly make such a big deal out of a President referring to other human beings as “folks”. Thanks again.

    • latebloomingrandma

      I guess that’s what we Democrats get when we fail to elect the perfect actor to play the President.

      • jmprint

        Another reason I respect our President. A La N a t u r a l, no phonies here.

    • mike

      Another post full of dung, dom.
      How can anyone, even Dom, know what Obama is thinking when Obama himself has no earthly idea what he is doing. He leads from behind, he finds out the problems of his administration in the newspaper.
      Polls today show just how poor a job he is doing, not one poll, but all polls.
      As to Putin, just remember what Obama said to Medvedev about flexibility after the 2012 election.
      Syria red line in the sand!!
      He is only good at fund raising, and even that isn’t what it once was.

  • AlfredSonny

    In the eyes of the greedy and gullibles, Obama is 100% wrong. In the eyes of the caring and non-gullible people, Obama is at least 51% correct.

  • AlfredSonny

    Republicans are proving that there are people who think through their wallets instead of their middles.

  • AlfredSonny

    Wouldn’t America be a nicer place to live in had Republicans discontinue behaving like Hamas?

    • jmprint

      They are acting like Hamas, while trying to overthrow our democracy, but after they land the white house, they will act like Hitler.

  • FT66

    Unfortunately the writer of this article missed many points. Just for a reminder, President Obama campaigned many times in 2007 & 2008 that he wants to do things differently. He is the man of CHANGE. How could he had continue to do the same thing and continue to carry this title? If things could had remained the same, one war after the other, I think the writer of this article could be complaining now asking: Where is the CHANGE. Is the writer trying to sell the “W” word (war) to people? Unfortunately, people are not with him on this. They have rejected any war and don’t even want to hear the word crossing their ears. One question to the writer: Does it mean to him, authorising wars where people’s kids go to die or killing innocent people, treasure going to waste, is that what it means being TOUGH and not WEAK? Pres. Obama is on the right path. Anyone who sees him weak, must put themselves on the frontline to go and fight in wars of what they think make their President look tough.

  • Aanna1123

    So, what you’re saying is you don’t like the word ‘folks’. LOL, weak article!

  • longtail

    If the “perception of weakness” means not attacking every country during their civil wars, wasting taxpayer money and American lives then I’m all for it.

  • Carolyn1520

    What’s wrong with “folks”? We all know who was tortured.
    I’ve heard republicans criticize him for this and it carries no weight because they criticize him for everything.
    In terms of getting upset about torture, the pro and con sides have already been established.
    This man is anything but weak. He maintains a demeanor of grace under fire daily.

    • Steve Hatcher

      And democrats criticize republicans for everything. grow up.

      • Carolyn1520

        Rightfully so. They’re morons.

        • Steve Hatcher

          Maybe so, but both sides say the other is moronic. BTW, I use “folks” all the time, and have all my life.

          • Carolyn1520

            Then why pick on my comment and tell me to grow up. That was uncalled for. lol
            It can’t be disputed that this president has had more than his share of criticism and disrespect simply because of who he is. Even when he does something the right agreed with before he agreed with them, they find fault. It would be laughable if it wasn’t so destructive to the greater good and the best interests of the country at large.
            So have a good day! 🙂

  • Elliot J. Stamler

    Today, Virginia’s senator Mark Warner distanced himself from the president; other prominent Democrats are doing the same. The president’s poll’s stink. Many Democrats, including me, an Obama-voter, have just wearied of his laid-back, no-drama, professorial mind back which will send the GOP back probably into control of Congress. This is not the first time that your writer, Gene Lyons, has written an article thru his rose-tinted ideological glasses…he is as usual, WRONG. The president is regarded as largely FECKLESS when it comes to foreign and defense policy as well as often on other things. I like Obama personally; I voted for him; I donated to him; but to me, always, country before party. His is not the personality and outlook we need in the White House….from the moment of his reelection he has demonstrated he is the Obama we viewed with horror in his first debate with Romney. Tragic for him…and for us.

    • jmprint

      Is it because you keep hearing the right’s lies and constant parroting, or is there an instance you would like to elaborate.

  • howa4x

    Due to the interconnection of economies around the world and shifting alliances what O’Dowd wrote about is a hero worship fantasy. Maybe she yearns for a macho president like Bush that invaded with abandon, any country he wanted to. To her that is a president with a constant erection, or jones-ing for a fight. Obama was elected to disengage from 2 disastrous wars, not start more. Syria is a quagmire and we all learned from the Viet Nam war you don’t jump into a civil war. The opposition in Syria was never solid and under it there were deep divisions. We jumped into Libya and helped topple the evil wacky Kaddafi, but look at the vacuum of power it created. Now Libya has descended into a clan war and the central government evaporated. One that couldn’t even protect our embassy and our Ambassador. Syria could become that over night. Iraq was a place we spent trillions in trying to construct a civil society and functioning army. Look what is happening there. Sectarian issues created a Shia government that excluded the Sunni population, Now the Sunni’s struck back with a vengeance and the Iraqi army, one that we spent all that money and equipped ran away from the fight. So are we supposed to go back in and save what? Afghanistan will have the same result. Are we going to have a land war with Russia over Crimea, or Boko Haram in Nigeria?
    The reality is the public has no appetite for it , only the pundits do. And that is the issue. It is talking heads that don’t drill down into any issue making unrealistic statements to a dumbed down electorate, and that is the problem any president with a thinking brain will face.

    • plc97477

      The talking heads are not the ones who will be sending their sons and daughters to fight the talking heads battles.

  • Eleanore Whitaker

    How is THIS president weak? Has he not challenged at every turn the GOP attempts to refuse to accept healthcare reform? Has he not also done the impossible by dealing with the capture of bin Laden for which his leadership has not been given credit for masterminding?

    This president doesn’t have Cheney’s puppet strings attached. Does a swagger and a drawl prove superior leadership? Since when?

    President Obama’s style is misunderstood by all of those who much prefer him to fit their preconceived stereotype…a dependent, weak, unintelligent bi-racial male fit only for the dirty work to be thrown his way by spoiled Big Daddy’s bois who couldn’t do Obama’s job if God demanded it.

    It’s time to stow those deliberate veils of “weak president” and “inferior leadership.” When you compare the accomplishments in 5 years of this president, it would take 10 generations of Big Daddy’s Bois to achieve what President Obama has with common sense, high minded morals and goal orientation.

    What precisely was the goal of the prior administration except to turn the US into the United States of TexASSES?

    • jmprint

      Exactly! And Hitler Cruz can taste the power already, he is drooling!

      • Eleanore Whitaker

        Cruz is pretty “ignernt.” He’s another poster boy like Bush was. Cruz’s only value to the GOP is his connections with his birthplace…Alberta Canada. If Texas doesn’t get Keystone firmly in place, there will be hell to pay. The problem for Texas is that it is so far behind the times from the standpoint of energy. Texas hates that the northeast is home to tens of thousands of solar energy companies. One of Texas Big Energy companies in my state (NJ) Public Service Gas and Electric just announced that it’s following First Energy and installing solar panels on various poles throughout NJ…this ought to get really interesting.

        How will they be able to beat the prices for solar energy by NJ solar energy giant “Trinity Solar?” and that’s just one solar company with half a million customers in NJ alone.

        • jmprint

          Good info, love it thanks.

    • latebloomingrandma

      What confuses me is how can Obama be “weak”, (unlike Putin), and yet a tyrant and dictator (like Putin) all at the same time!?!

      • Allan Richardson

        Because logic has nothing to do with Republican talking points.

      • Eleanore Whitaker

        It’s called the GOP Biblical “speaking in tongues”…albeit…forked tongues. When I was a Republican (for 33 years) all I ever heard at any GOP meeting were aggressive, strident, militant male voices, chests puffed out, index fingers pointing, blaming and delegating dirty work.

        Today’s GOP isn’t reflective of conservatism as most of us recall it. It’s a Greedheaded Gold rush to get rich quickest and to get it while they can.

        The antidote to the GOP’s Draconian strategies is simple…Corporations who don’t hire or create jobs in the US get zip in tax exemptions and subsidies. If they move headquarters offshore, they no longer are American corporations and therefore no longer entitled to American tax dollars.

        And, if the most profitable corporations refuse to give employees who also contribute to those corporate tax subsidies, annual cost of living wage increases, they should not be allowed to raise the prices on their goods or services one dime.

  • jmprint

    Cautious sometimes may appear to be weak. I admire President Obama for being cautious, after all his decisions impact all of us, unlike Cheney who only cares that the impact affects his financial future.

    • ps0rjl

      So true. Cheney really wanted to invade Iraq to get Halliburton and in turn himself very lucrative no bid contracts. A plus for him would have been to control the oil fields. May he rot in hell.

      • jmprint

        That is why he is so upset with the President, because he wants another chance at those wells, that’s why he is pushing his kid into politics. She is clueless!

  • jointerjohn

    President Obama’s manner is about thirty-five years out of style. Recall Gerald Ford and Jimmie Carter, very mild-mannered and cool in their rhetoric. Today we have become more coarse and expect our leader to rant like he is on the Jerry Springer Show. We have confused macho bravado with strength. Although I don’t recommend it, I’ll betcha that if the President came on television today and threw a shit-fit about something, anything, his public approvals would rise at least ten points. That is a sad indictment of us, not of him.

    • latebloomingrandma

      OR——he would be called the angry black radical Muslim he always was. We all know he can’t win,no matter what.

  • ExRadioGuy15

    “Perception of weakness”? This is one of those times where I can call out the National Memo for repeating GOP talking points. Only Fascist psychopaths/sociopaths with an oppressive government agenda (aka, the GOP and Libertarians) consider the President “weak” on foreign policy. The simple fact of the matter is that the President is handling foreign policy matters better than every GOP President did since Eisenhower.

    Has anyone else seen the Democratic and Republican “clouds” from the NBC News article regarding what members of each party would put on a protest sign? Here’s a link to it:

    While there are three terms that can be found in both “clouds”, the GOP cloud is full of Fascist “gaslighting” propaganda, showing that the Republicans’ Fascist gaslighting propaganda campaign is not only still in effect, but working quite well. How sad…

    Meanwhile, the Democratic “cloud” contains ACTUAL problems that the GOP Congress refuse to address with legislation.

    As usual, the truth, facts, logic, reason and common sense of political matters proves the Republicans and Libertarians completely incorrect and that GOP Progressives and Moderates are left with fear, ignorance and cognitive dissonance as the reasons they keep spewing the ridiculous “false equivalency” argument. They do that for two reasons: first, to try and make themselves feel better about the fact that their party is corrupt, Fascist, greedy, incompetent, insane and five other things, none of them good; second, to justify continuing to vote GOP 🙁 ssmdh

  • charles king

    I know exactly Where? our President is coming from. he is using (Critical Thinking) because he has found out about our Democracy and What? a sham that has been used on the People of the World, I know I have been fooled cause I always have believed in Democracy but I find out that many of our States are governed by Plutocracy if not all of them. I am a (85yrs young) Korean War Veteran Who? has always throught, BY the People, OF the People,and FOR the People, not some but All the People shall rule the world. I have lived in the State of Pennsylvania all my life and I am just finding out in the last two years that this state is runned by some White duds Who? call theirselves (Commissioners) spells out Who? is OKed and WHO? is NOTed. People, find out Where? is our Democracy and make sure WE keep our VOTE Alive because the system is trying to squash it. the VOTE is still Supreme so Look out for those Greedy Capitalistic Pigs Corporations Owners, Plutocracts(Commissioners), MONIES controled Representives, Republicans and Democracts ETCS. KICK THEIR SORRY A**** OUT OUT OUT because they are a bunch of losers for any Nation. Thank You Are The magic words in my book. I Love Ya All. Mr. C. E. KING

  • bhaggen

    Perception of weakness? Obama and his jihad administration just got punked by Hamas Sunday. Pity the fool.

  • Chalrley Walker

    The DixieCrat/RepubliBIGOTS are outraged for two reasons:
    1] There is a black man in the White House.
    2] There is a black man in the White Houses who knows, understands and follows the Constitution. This president does not accept the NeoCon attitude that “What is good for General Bullmoose, is good for the U.S.A.” and whatever is momentarily perceived good for the U.S.A. is not often good for the world.”