Sooner or later it is going to occur to Barack Obama that he is the president of the United States. As of yet, though, he does not act that way, appearing promiscuously on television and granting interviews like the presidential candidate he no longer is. The election has been held, but the campaign goes on and on. The candidate has yet to become commander in chief.
Take last week’s Group of 20 meeting in Pittsburgh. There, the candidate-in-full commandeered the television networks and the leaders of Britain and France to give the Iranians a dramatic warning. Yet another of their secret nuclear facilities had been revealed and Obama, as anyone could see, was determined to do something about it — just don’t ask what.
The entire episode had a faux Cuban missile crisis quality to it. Something menacing had been discovered — not Soviet missiles a mere 100 miles or so off Florida but an Iranian nuclear installation about 100 miles from Tehran. As befitting the occasion, various publications supplied us with nearly minute-by-minute descriptions of the crisis atmosphere earlier in the week at the U.N. session — the rushing from room to room, presidential aides conferring, undoubtedly aware that they were in the middle of a book they had yet to write. I scanned the accounts looking for familiar names. Where was McNamara? Where was Bundy? Where, in fact, was the crisis?
In fact, there was none.
As Cohen goes on to point out, of course, the “secret” Iranian nuclear facility that provoked the air of crisis in New York and Pittsburgh last week was something that the United States has known about since at least 2007, and something Barack Obama has known about since his first full briefing as President-Elect right after the 2008 Election.
Cohen also points out that by speaking out about the issue himself, Obama seemed to issue what some might call an ultimatum, even though the first eight months of his Presidency make it clear there really isn’t anything such as an ultimatum:
The trouble with Obama is that he gets into the moment and means what he says for that moment only. He meant what he said when he called Afghanistan a “war of necessity” — and now is not necessarily so sure. He meant what he said about the public option in his health-care plan — and then again maybe not. He would not prosecute CIA agents for getting rough with detainees — and then again maybe he would.
Most tellingly, he gave Congress an August deadline for passage of health-care legislation — “Now, if there are no deadlines, nothing gets done in this town . . . ” — and then let it pass. It seemed not to occur to Obama that a deadline comes with a consequence — meet it or else.
Obama lost credibility with his deadline-that-never-was, and now he threatens to lose some more with his posturing toward Iran. He has gotten into a demeaning dialogue with Ahmadinejad, an accomplished liar. (The next day, the Iranian used a news conference to counter Obama and, days later, Iran tested some intermediate-range missiles.) Obama is our version of a Supreme Leader, not given to making idle threats, setting idle deadlines, reversing course on momentous issues, creating a TV crisis where none existed or, unbelievably, pitching Chicago for the 2016 Olympics. Obama’s the president. Time he understood that.
Or, to put it another way, Obama has shown over the past eight months that he’s a pretty good Head of State but he’s failing as a Head of Government. Unfortunately, in the United States we need someone who can do both jobs at once.