Say what you like about Blair, but nothing seems to grind the man down - not the barrage of abuse at home; nor, even, working on the most intractable conflict in the world. Here he is putting the case for optimism with bushy-tailed verve and clarity. Note the defence of Obama (and the careful contrast with his predecessor) around six minutes in:
Slate's Jacob Weisberg provides a bracing counterblast to the oddly pervasive idea that Obama has wasted his first year in office:
This conventional wisdom about Obama's first year isn't just premature—it's sure to be flipped on its head by the anniversary of his inauguration on Jan. 20. If, as seems increasingly likely, Obama wins passage of a health care reform a bill by that date, he will deliver his first State of the Union address having accomplished more than any other postwar American president at a comparable point in his presidency. This isn't an ideological point or one that depends on agreement with his policies. It's a neutral assessment of his emerging record—how many big, transformational things Obama is likely to have made happen in his first 12 months in office.
Following this week's announcement on Afghanistan I suspect we'll see the beginnings of a recovery in the president's popularity ratings. As and when healthcare reform passes, and the jobs situation improves, Obama's numbers will climb quite steeply.
OK so this isn't a match for the all-time Bidenism but it's still pretty good:
(Biden) told a story about being driven to Camp Bondsteel, the home of American peacekeeping troops in Kosovo, and seeing, standing together, “a female colonel, a black captain, a white sergeant and, literally, a Hispanic private.”
This is from James Traub's portrait of the Veep in the NYT (Biden seem to have cooperated with a few of these pieces; he has a pro-active personal spin strategy). Biden seems to be extremely happy in his work. The relative unity and absence of warring factions within Obama's team is one of the less remarked but most impressive features of this White House.
As John Rentoul has been consistently pointing out, the coverage of the Iraq war inquiry has involved much prejudice, myth and redundancy dressed up as news. For instance, the glee with which reporters jumped all over Sir Christopher Meyer's evidence might have given you the impression that he hadn't said all this before, when of course, by his own admission, it was all in his memoir. Members of the inquiry could have saved a few hours by reading it. In fact they might have bought a few more books and saved themselves an inquiry.
One prominent characteristic of the coverage is selective amnesia: anything happening that might be construed to fit the anti-war, anti-Blair narrative is leaped upon, any fact from recent history that doesn't is forgotten. Here's an example from the Observer today:
Ricketts, a former chairman of Britain's powerful joint intelligence committee, has already given explosive evidence to the inquiry alleging that officials in London knew even before Bush came to office in 2001 that there were "voices'' in Washington calling for Saddam to be removed from power.
How explosive! I'm surprised this isn't bigger news around the world. Then again, maybe I'm not.
(Ps that excitable intensifier has been sheepishly deleted on the online version of the report.)
Jonah Lehrer quotes from a case report of a 48-year-old man who, after suffering brain damage, became a "confabulator": someone who constantly, compulsively makes up stories:
SB would claim, first thing in the morning, to have fictitious business appointments, when in fact he was attending a day centre, and would frequently dress for dinner in the evening in the mistaken belief that guests were coming. He would also attempt to take cups of tea outside, saying that these were for his foreman, who had discontinued employment with him several years earlier. During the interview, his memory was confabulatory even for events an hour earlier and he would sometimes claim to have been engaged in imaginary business appointments when in fact he had been undergoing psychological tests... His confabulations were not limited to his former business life, for when questioned about holidays or outings over the previous few days, he would again report events that bore no relationship to actual happenings.
This was SB's perpetual tragedy: he told lies without knowing that he was lying. Although his mind had mostly recovered - his memory problems and "inappropriate actions" had largely disappeared* - he would always be left with this terrible symptom, spinning fictions but thinking they were facts. It's not that he wanted to deceive - he just couldn't help it.
Sounds like someone we know.
Obama's first state dinner (in honour of the Indian Prime Minister) was gatecrashed by this charming couple...
The Washington Post headlines this story on Obama's decision-making process "Obama goes with head, not with gut". This is fine as a headline, but of course it's not either/or. A better way to put it might be that the way to Obama's gut is via his head. He's the kind of person who has to think everything through before really feeling it. As I say, that doesn't mean his conviction isn't as strong as George Bush or anyone else; it just means he gets there by a different route.
WaPo quotes Allan Lichtman, a "progressive historian":
"I think the Obama we've seen as president is a very different Obama
than we saw during the campaign. He doesn't seem to be connected, he
doesn't seem to have the passion, he doesn't seem to be conveying the
grand and inspiring vision".
Perhaps Mr Lichtman watched a different campaign to me. For most of it, Obama was in cerebral, cool mode; he would only ramp up into inspirational for big speeches, or at certain critical stretches of the campaign. Indeed he was constantly attracting the same kind of criticism Lichtman makes now, particularly in the weeks before his Jefferson-Jackson speech in Iowa, and during the dog days of his long battle with Clinton in the winter and spring of 2008.
Andrew Sullivan is excellent on the strengths (and political vulnerability) of Obama's temperament:
In today's populist, emotional climate, coolness is a virtue in getting things right. Especially when it has been rarely more important to get things right - from Afghanistan to climate change to health insurance reform.The paradox is: in today's populist, emotional climate, coolness can be eclipsed in the political drama, and thereby rendered moot. In many ways, Palin is the extreme counter-example. She plays a short game of around ten minutes in duration. She deploys no substantive policy content and no interest whatever in actual government. But she channels pure emotion, identity and rage very effectively.
Or, to use a more decorous phrase, act in bad faith?
To my mind the answer is clearly no, however you phrase it. He was guilty of bad judgement: disastrous judgement in fact. That ought to be enough to condemn him, if condemning him is what you wish to do. But the persistent allegations, or implications of dishonesty are absurd. You don't even have to believe in Blair's essential decency to see this. As Daniel Finkelstein patiently explains, for Blair to lie about WMD would have indicated an instinct for political self-destruction not previously apparent:
You see, if he didn't believe there were WMD he would have been proposing going to war knowing that it was extremely likely that none would be found. He would be proposing a course of action he thought likely to lead to political disaster for him. Why would he do that?
(Photo: Pete Souza/White House)
Clive Crook highlights a recent remark of Henry Kissinger's, on the president's progress:
"He reminds me of a chess grandmaster who has played his opening in six simultaneous games," Kissinger said. "But he hasn't completed a single game and I'd like to see him finish one."
Now, putting to one side my ambivalence about the character and record of Mr K and notwithstanding my defence of Obama from those who prematurely complain that he hasn't achieved anything, I have to admit: that's pretty good.
Tuesday will see Obama, if not finish a game, then at least make a very bold move. We know that he will announce a big troop increase in Afghanistan, in the context of a comprehensive strategy. We're told he will talk about "finishing the job" which may sound a little Bush-like (MoDo will be pleased) but is probably a necessary framing of a war about which many Americans, not to mention Britons, are deeply uncertain.
Leaving aside the really important - and to me at least, fairly unknowable - questions, of whether this strategy will work, and if so how long it will take to work, let's stick to the shallow stuff: how will this play out politically in the short term? My feeling is that is that it will provide Obama with quite a significant boost, one that's perhaps underestimated right now. Here are three reasons why.
First, the answer Obama and his team have arrived at will be applauded not only by his supporters but by the right, for the most part, albeit softly (as short-term politics, this is actually the easier option). The brickbats will come from Obama's left. So this announcement will position Obama squarely in the centre ground, which is where voters generally like to see their presidents.
Second, we'll see the benefits of all that "dithering". Unlike Bush's wartime speeches, usually vague and full of generalities, Obama's address and associated communications will be coherent, detailed, and closely argued. Obama will seem entirely in command of this frighteningly complex issue. That's reassuring (doesn't mean he'll be right, but as I say that's for another day).
Third, I suspect we will see the "conviction" that everyone's been asking for shining through. Those who argue that Obama is too cerebral to be certain of anything have got it wrong. You have to be capable of some serious conviction to run for president after 18 months in the Senate. No, Obama can do certainty, he can do vision - it's just that he only does that stuff after careful, exhaustive deliberation. Just because he uses his brain doesn't mean he can't make up his mind.
So I think this announcement will give Obama some real political momentum. Suddenly, all the anxieties about the length of time taken over this decision will disappear. The president will be taking the game to his opponents.
As John Rentoul says, the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq war is - entirely predictably but entirely misleadingly - being reported by the British press as a search for a "smoking gun" (the cliche du jour). As if, after all the previous inquiries, FOI requests and torrid memoirs, this inquiry will turn up a hitherto unknown memo or conversation which finally proves that Tony Blair hypnotised the intelligence services and took the country to war because of his lust for blood and oil.
Rarely can a war have been debated so openly and thoroughly before, during and after. Yet the media persist in suggesting that there's some giant secret that "explains" everything. They're only setting up themselves up for disappointment, the little darlings.