Just after their widely reported meeting last week, Benjamin Netanyahu bluntly rebuked President Obama for demanding that Israel withdraw it’s borders back to where they were in 1967, telling Obama unequivocally that “it’s not going to happen.” The universal reaction was that Netanyahu had “taken Obama to school” on diplomacy. The word “smackdown” was used by several pundits. Not surprisingly, a few left-leaning journalists attacked Netanyahu – NBC’s Andrea Mitchell called the Israeli Prime Minister’s comments “rude” – but by and large, most objective observers agreed that Obama came out the loser.
But there is a more important lesson here. Because, regardless of where you stand on the relationship between America and Israel, this latest blunder by Obama proves once again that he truly is a “trainee president”™ – a dangerously naive novice in the grown up world of international power politics. One of the first rules of high profile negotiation is that you never publically announce an agreement unless and until you have first reached an agreement in private.
And you most certainly don’t make a demand as significant as the one Obama made of Israel without having negotiated the outcome in advance. Junior diplomats at the State Department know this. Remember the old lawyer’s warning: “Never ask a question if you don’t know the answer you’re going to get.”
The New York Times recently attacked me for pointing out Obama’s woefully short resume (see my post “Obama: Inexperienced. Inept. Indecisive.” – February 25, 2011). The Times editorial board claimed that Obama’s “decisive” action in giving the OK to the Navy SEALS in the Bin Laden mission “demolishes” the idea that Obama is not up to the job. Now, ignoring for a moment that “even a blind squirrel finds an acorn now and then” the reality is gradually coming to light that even in the Bin Laden mission, Obama had a terrible time “pulling the trigger.”
Thanks to the culture of Washington, D.C. – where gossip is the rule and being “in the know” is the most valuable currency – we now discover that there was a huge behind the scenes battle among Obama’s closest advisors. The story seems to be that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others advocated “taking out Bin Laden” as quickly as possible, but Obama and others like Valerie Jarret were filled with angst over the “political implications” for Obama’s reelection. Apparently, if was Leon Panetta who finally was able to maneuver around the dithering Commander-in-Chief until he had virtually no choice but to give the order.
As one of my astute readers pointed out, experience alone is not enough to qualify a person to be President of the United States – after all, Nancy Pelosi is “experienced,” if only in politics. But the kind of wisdom, maturity, and character that make a great leader cannot be developed without extensive experience, and most importantly in an executive capacity, where one’s decisions affect the lives of others.
Now, Obama might be forgiven for his embarrassingly insulting gifts to foreign dignitaries, but with as much at stake as there is in the powder keg that is the Middle East, let alone the economic issues we face, having a “trainee president”™ at the helm is like allowing a student pilot to fly a fully loaded jumbo jet…through a thunderstorm. When the going gets tough, we need an experienced pilot at the controls, not a grossly incompetent amateur.