Once again, I am back to Jeffrey Goldberg’s article in the April issue of The Atlantic: “The Obama Doctrine.”
One thing that comes through loud and clear in the article is how often President Obama says, or Mr. Goldberg notices, he is frustrated, annoyed, irritated, or impatient with people who don’t agree with him. You get the feeling that President Obama really has a problem understanding how people can disagree with him. For example:
- “The president did not understand how ‘Don’t do stupid shit’ could be considered a controversial slogan. Ben Rhodes recalls that ‘the questions we were asking in the White House were “Who exactly is in the stupid-shit caucus? Who is pro-stupid shit?”’”
- “By 2013, Obama’s resentments were well developed. He resented military leaders who believed they could fix any problem if the commander in chief would simply give them what they wanted, and he resented the foreign-policy think-tank complex.”
- “‘That’s a weird argument to me …’”
- “As the questions unspooled, Obama became progressively more irritated.”
- “Obama didn’t much like my line of inquiry. ‘Look, this theory is so easily disposed of that I’m always puzzled by how people make the argument.’”
- “[H]e himself has found world leadership wanting; global partners who often lack the vision and will to spend political capital in pursuit of broad, progressive goals, and adversaries who are not, in his mind, as rational as he is.”
It’s not the specific subjects being discussed that are relevant here (you can find them in the article). It’s the attitude: “I’m smart. You’re not. I’m right.”
This attitude is especially interesting in connection with President Obama’s appreciation for what he sees as the foreign-policy realism of President George H. W. Bush. As I have mentioned, I recently read Jon Meacham’s biography of President Bush: Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush. In comparing Mr. Meacham’s book with Mr. Goldberg’s article, what is striking is how many times Mr. Goldberg talked about President Obama being frustrated, irritated, or annoyed compared with Mr. Meacham writing about President Bush. And Mr. Goldberg was just writing a magazine article, not a 600-page book.
It also calls to mind something Mr. Meacham mentioned in a talk he gave about his book at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs on December 4 of last year. President Bush told him that, if he had a few minutes to spare, he would call an emir somewhere and ask him how the weather was in the desert. Because, President Bush said, if you called the emir to ask about the weather when you didn’t need him, he would be more likely to help you when you did need him.
I don’t think many of us would see President Obama doing that. A couple of times in the article, Mr. Goldberg calls President Obama"Spockian" (Mr., not Dr.), which seems accurate. One can never see Mr. Spock calling an emir to ask about the weather in the desert. It is hot and dry, Mr. Spock would say. Why would you need to ask? President Bush understood why you would ask. I don’t think President Obama does. Which has perhaps made his foreign policy more difficult than it needed to be.