The publication of segments of former Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ book, “Duty,” as well as comments by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie about the George Washington Bridge lane closing scandal spark serious questions about President Obama’s leadership style.
I do not know Gates, but I dealt with him and his people during my time in the State Department. I was on the Soviet desk in State and he was in charge of the Soviet section in the CIA. He was very bright and respected by his co-workers.
Leadership has many definitions. Various factors include the individual and the environment in which one is operating. For example, leadership in the Marine Corps is far different from leadership at a large public university.
A number of factors combine to make up good leadership at the presidential level. First, I would list resolve. By that I mean that if a president makes threats, he must be prepared to follow through on them. It is essential that both domestic and world leaders know that the president says what he means and means what he says. While Gov. Christie has yet to face the international problems that have beleaguered Obama, Christie has shown a willingness to follow through; if he says he will do something, he does it. Unfortunately, Obama’s threats have become a joke in much of the world.
Gates depicts Obama as pragmatic at times but also as someone firmly tied to his left-wing ideology. This was particularly the case in Obama’s dealings with military leaders. He had little respect for them or their ideas and did not trust them.
Regarding the military, nothing is more important than the terrible prospect of sending American men and women into harm’s way. In many ways, this deals with the most damning component of Obama’s leadership style. We know from Gates’ book that Obama didn’t really believe in the surge but still ordered the military to carry it out. His dislike of the armed forces is further indicated by the freedom he gives young staffers to intervene directly in complex military matters — to call four-star officers directly. That’s a violation of military culture and an act certain to alienate the military, as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld did.
Another leadership factor is one’s willingness to stand up and be counted, as Christie did in his nearly two-hour press conference. There is a danger that if a president is too blunt too quickly, he risks “speaking too soon.” This is be especially dangerous when dealing with international affairs. Unfortunately, Obama has a habit of blaming others for his mistakes, the one exception being Obamacare. Instead of being transparent, he obfuscates and takes forever to do anything, as was evident in scandals involving the IRS, Benghazi and “Fast and Furious.”
One criticism made of Gates is that if he did not like the way Obama ran things, he should have resigned. Why he didn’t is a complex question that involves much more than specific policy disputes. Gates was able to keep relations with the military positive. No one in the White House was as capable of acting as a bridge between the two worlds.
I have no idea how Christie would perform as president. With one exception, Gates was complimentary of former Sec-retary of State Hillary Clinton. One hopes both of them would show more resolve and work positively with the military — and in the process be less willing to send American military personnel abroad to risk life and limb for policies they were following only for political reasons.