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Opinion

Obama's can't-do style

He -- and thus, America -- may mean well, but it's going to take more than that to address the world's issues.

January 04, 2010|By Robert J. Lieber

But other lapses have been more telling. These have included embarrassing leaks concerning Afghanistan policy, as the president weighed troop requests and carried out a protracted reassessment about what he had described in August as a necessary war. And allied leaders have begun more openly to voice their doubts. For example, Polish and Czech leaders expressed dismay at the reversal of the decision to deploy an anti-missile system on their soil. And after the U.N. speech, French President Nicolas Sarkozy acidly remarked that "President Obama dreams of a world without weapons . . . but right in front of us, two countries are doing the exact opposite. . . . What good has proposals for dialogue brought the international community? More uranium enrichment and declarations by the leaders of Iran to wipe a U.N. member state off the map."

And, most recently, there was the president's delayed public response to the Christmas Day attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound airplane. His remarks, delivered three days after the event, drew criticism -- both for the delay and for using the word "allegedly" in reference to the attacker's attempt to ignite an explosive device, and led him to follow up a day later with a more forceful statement.

To be sure, presidents typically face a steep learning curve during their first year. And given Obama's political skills, his handling of foreign policy could become more adept. Yet the impact of his operational style on policy remains considerable and arguably not well suited to managing two wars and an intransigent Iran, let alone a major foreign policy crisis of the kind that is almost certain to arise at some point during his term.

Robert J. Lieber is a professor of government and international affairs at Georgetown University. His most recent book is "The American Era: Power and Strategy for the 21st Century."

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