Do You Know Me? Obama's Belated Second Meeting With General McChrystal

See, the problem with President Obama doing things like jetting off to Copenhagen to lobby for the Olympics – besides the fact that it’s kind of degrading for the President to wade personally into that sort of thing – is the things he isn’t doing. Now, I don’t think the president has to personally do everything; a major part of the job is making decisions and delegating their implementation. Bill Clinton once remarked that the worst mistakes he made as president were all when he was tired. I prefer a president who gets a good night’s sleep, gets some exercise and takes vacations to clear his head, etc; it’s more important for the head of state to have good judgment and perspective than to be showy about being a workaholic.

But some parts of the job you shouldn’t blow off, especially when they involve making the most serious sorts of decisions, and when you then end up procrastinating those decisions on the grounds that you need more time to figure out what to do, as witness this NY Times report about him finally preparing for a videoconference with our commander in Afghanistan today:

General McChrystal has not spoken with Mr. Obama since submitting his grim assessment of the war a month ago and has spoken with him only once in the 100 days since he took command of all American and NATO forces in Afghanistan. The lack of direct communication has generated criticism and fueled suspicions of strains between the White House and Kabul.

Mr. Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, made a point of speaking with his Iraq commander roughly once a week at the height of the war there, a habit that forged a close working relationship between them even if it effectively bypassed the normal chain of command. Mr. Obama’s aides said he relied on General McChrystal’s advice but did not feel the need to duplicate Mr. Bush’s personal engagement with battlefield generals.

Note the distinction here between the actual George W. Bush and the disengaged Bush of myth, who was supposedly uninterested in listening to his commanders in the field. But that’s neither here nor there. The point is, while Obama certainly gets briefings from his senior national security people and written reports from the field, there’s still a lot to be said for regular communication with the man on the ground, if you think an active war is a priority. Gordon Brown, no right-winger by any standard, doesn’t sound like he’s as flummoxed as Obama:

When asked on Sky News if he was prepared to commit more British troops, Brown said “we will do whatever is necessary.”

Obama’s delay in making up his mind about McChrystal’s recommendations is a direct consequence of not keeping his finger more firmly on the pulse of the situation. Somehow, there is time for the head of the SEIU to visit the White House weekly, apparently including regular face time with the President, but not for the head of the military operation in Afghanistan. A curious set of priorities indeed.