The new narrative among political pundits is that President Obama finished 2014 on an unexpected high note that will carry over into the new year. Yet as I argue in an essay now up on Fair Observer’s website, this view overlooks the leadership dysfunctions and management problems that have long plagued the Obama administration and which will surely trip it up going forward. The president has done little to suggest that he will fix the policy-making machinery inside the White House that has been widely criticized as chaotic and excessively centralized.
Nor does Mr. Obama recognize how deficient his leadership skills are. Leon E. Panetta, the Democratic Party’s elder statesman who served as his second Pentagon chief, highlighted this inadequacy in the memoir he published last fall, particularly what he calls the president’s “most conspicuous weakness” – “a frustrating reticence to engage his opponents and rally support for his cause.” Obama, he added, sometimes lacks fire, preferring instead to rely “on the logic of a law professor rather than the passion of a leader.” As a result, Obama “avoids the battle, complains, and misses opportunities.”
Just before the memoir’s release, a senior administration official conceded Panetta’s point, acknowledging that the president’s leadership style was “much more that of the lawyer than the CEO.” Indeed, as I’ve noted in earlier posts (here and here), Obama’s detachment from the policy process and his inability to build personal rapport with counterparts and allies continue to bedevil his administration.
Recent testimony of this was contained in a series of media accounts that laid bare the tensions existing between the White House and Capitol Hill Democrats. A New York Times report in August, for example, noted that “nearly six years into his term, with his popularity at the lowest of his presidency, Mr. Obama appears remarkably distant from his own party on Capitol Hill, with his long neglect of would-be allies catching up to him.” The extraordinary public grumbling by Senate Democrats after the disastrous mid-term elections only reinforced this view.
All of this does not bode well for the president. A Washington Post columnist notes that “As he looks toward his final two years, Obama is looking toward a Congress with few friends, and many enemies, on both sides of the aisle.” The foreign policy implications of this are stark. As one observer argues, Obama’s domestic weakness sends…
“… a message to allies and rivals alike around the world that the president will not necessarily be able to keep any promises that he or his team might make. He will not be seen therefore, as credible when he asserts plans or proposes initiatives that require Congressional funding or approval.”