Senior Administration Officials Fail Geography

[h/t to Tom Anderson (@TomTomJAnderson) for tweeting about this.]

Is geography really that hard?  Apparently it is for the White House.  President Obama’s allegation that there are 57 states in our union is the best-known example.  But the administration can’t stop shooting itself in every part of the anatomy not yet occupied by a bullet hole.  Today’s fiasco is courtesy of an unknown “SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL”

Highlighted Excerpt from Telephone Briefing Senior Administration Official Fails Geography
Highlighted Excerpt from Telephone Briefing

Geography is inconvenient:

Map of the Middle East Senior Administration Official Fails Geography
Map of the Middle East (from Bing maps)

Not only do the two countries not have “an extensive border,” their borders do not touch at any point.  The nearest two points are at the narrowest part of Jordan.  Eyeballing the map, it looks like the two nearest towns are Al Qurayyat, Saudi Arabia and Dar‘ā, Syria.  Our pals at Bing Maps say that’s 147.8 miles (246.33 km, click the map for a larger image):

Saudia Arabia to Syria Route
Saudia Arabia to Syria Route

The Details

Before President Obama’s speech last night (September 10), two “senior white house officials” gave a background briefing conference call to the press.  By my count there are 9,970 words in this briefing.  More on that total shortly.  But think about that: a telephone briefing before what was announced as a major presidential address produced nearly 10,000 words.  That’s 40 double-spaced pages.

Which leaves this question: why did President Obama even give the speech?  If his handlers staff couldn’t describe the policy in 10,000 words, he probably wouldn’t have had much luck in far less time. According to Six Minutes (a site devoted to developing speaking skills), the average speaking rate is 163 words per minute.  That means this conference call lasted about an hour (61.166 minutes for you fussy folks).  I repeat: why did President Obama even bother to give the speech?

The 9,970 word total includes the descriptions of the White House representatives, identified as “MS. HAYDEN” and “SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL” (although from reading the transcript it’s apparent that there were at least two “senior administration officials” on the call)..  Questions from the press are identified only as “Q.”  Anyone who wants to go through the exercise of removing these references from the total word count should e-mail me.  I’ll be happy to send you a copy of the Word file.


In the larger scheme of things, minor errors like this should not matter.  But this administration seems to get both the big and little things wrong way too much of the time.  In today’s Wall Street Journal, Dan Henninger notes that President Obama really believes he

know[s] more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. … [and is a] a better speechwriter than my speechwriters (quotation from an interview by Ryan Lizza in the New Yorker, 2008).

Mr. Henninger goes on to make a recommendation:

If Mr. Obama still thinks he’s better than Susan RiceJohn Kerry, Chuck Hagel andJohn Brennan, then he and the nation supporting his anti-ISIS effort are being poorly served. He should fire them all and bring in people who know more about fighting terrorists than he does. Barack Obama admires Abraham Lincoln. Act like him. Appoint the best people and let them win it.

In the same issue (indeed, on the same page), Karl Rove adds a recommendation we can all endorse:

The president should shake up his White House staff. He is largely surrounded by sycophants who encourage his worst instincts and bury his better ones. He should start by showing the door to senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, his chief enabler.

Of all the recommendations Mr. Henninger made, the last one is least likely to be implemented.  After all, if he fires Ms. Jarrett, who will manipulate the sticks and pull the strings?


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