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Saturday, December 31, 2011
PRESIDENT OBAMA’S RESET BUTTON
The following is an editorial by James A. Ward, CAPT, USN (ret.)
President Obama is no ‘appeaser’, just ask Osama Bin Laden. Or just ask the rich who do not pay their fair share. Charles Krauthammer concluded in his piece entitled “The wages of appeasement” that Mr. Obama is a weak President appeasing Russia and Iran. In 2008 President Obama decided upon a policy of resetting relationships with Russia and Iran because his predecessors failed to forge positive relations between America and these two adversaries. The President sent Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with a symbolic reset button. In 2008 many reports predicted Mr. Obama’s charisma, superior intellect and presence would guide him as solver of America’s major problems.
A Google search returned over four million hits on the subject of Obama’s appeasement. There is a great deal of buzz on this matter with many believing President Obama is an ‘appeaser’. As Mr. Krauthammer rightly points out Russia and Iran have not responded positively to the reset button Secretary Clinton delivered to start the new relations. This week the Iranians are conducting naval exercises and threatening to shut down the Straits of Hormuz to disrupt the world’s oil supplies. This is tantamount to a political slap in the face to the President’s offer to shake hands with Iran without pre-conditions. The U.S. Navy has had to respond to the threat.
Is the President appeasing Russia and Iran or is there a leadership trait that could provide another explanation? Missing from the discussion of Mr. Obama’s appeasement is a look at previous President’s engagement policies with hostile states. Two recent examples are the engagement policies of former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to establish positive relations between the U.S. and North Korea. North Korea, like Iran, was involved in nuclear development and the engagement provides insight. Each President’s initiative provided a reset in relations (albeit with conditions). The United States provided a billion dollars in incentives (oil and aid), but they failed to reform the relationship with North Korea. Kim Jun Il played both presidents masterfully, making deals, taking treasure from them and then breaking his promises.
But is Mr. Obama acting in appeasement or is something else in play? Certainly Mr. Obama could genuinely believe he has the best way to bring Iran into line. As a charismatic leader he has shown the ability to sway large numbers of allies to follow his lead. Look at the coordinated international stimulus and military action in Libya. Sociologist Max Weber defined charisma as a quality of an individual by which they are set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural powers, superhuman, exceptional. The values of the charismatic leader are important. Their self-belief can be high so they believe they are infallible, able to sway their followers into the way and means they see as best. The follower’s perceptions are vital to this relationship. In this case Russia and Iran are not followers of Mr. Obama’s charismatic leadership and are not swayed by it to change.
When President Obama or former President Clinton meet people the followers often describe the experience as a life changing event due to their aura, passion, and vision. Oprah Winfrey, in describing the traits of power players, found the key to their influence is charisma, an aura of personality that draws people in and holds their rapt attention. Oprah states, “Charisma is as seductive as it is elusive; its powers are hard to resist and equally hard to pinpoint.” In the case of relations with Iran and Russia President Obama believes that his reasoned abilities will persuade, but he is blinded by an overreaching self-belief of infallibility. The President believes he can sway Iran into following his guidance. His inflated self-belief leads him to the misguided confidence that he can change the Iranian and Russian relationships. But the Iranian threats and military actions this week belie this belief.
What the President needs is a reset button for his over-reaching self-belief, not for changing Iran. For our country’s sake let’s hope that President Obama gets a reality check on his abilities and comes to the place where he can indeed impact the course of relations with Russia and Iran. The other option is that in several years we will add his name among those of President’s Bush and Clinton as the appeasers of newly nuclear nations.