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Shhh, Mr. President
When world already thinks you’re weak, saying as much on live TV is probably a mistake.

President Obama departs the White House, August 29, 2014. (Win McNamee/Getty)

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Jonah Goldberg

Yesterday at his news conference, the president said he doesn’t have a strategy yet for the Islamic State. The blowback required the White House to send out his spinners like a farmer sending out his sons in search of a wayward hog. Personally, I don’t care that the president doesn’t have a strategy for the Islamic State — yet. One of the downsides of leading from behind is that it by definition allows problems to fester and become more complex. (“In other news today, six people burned to death as firefighters watched another building burn to the ground as part of Fire Chief Obama’s ‘firefighting from behind’ initiative.”)

How to deal with the Islamic State right now is a very tough question, particularly if you’re Barack Obama. What bothers me is his decision to announce to the world he has pretty much no idea what he’s doing. Taking your time to formulate a strategy, even — especially! — a strategy necessitated by your own mistakes and inattention is entirely defensible.

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But when the world already thinks you’re weak, vacillating, and overwhelmed, saying in the pithiest way possible that you’re weak, vacillating, and overwhelmed strikes me as a mistake. But hey, what do I know, I’m just a guy transporting a dingo across the continent.

Of course, if Obama was a Chess Master who sees ten moves ahead, this would all be an elaborate rope-a-dope. Like Michael Corleone, he would wait for his enemies to show themselves and reveal their motives. China is suddenly testing our resolve in the Pacific? “Excellent,” Obama says behind tented fingers. The Russians are calling our bluff? “Ahhh . . . the game is afoot.” Egypt and the U.A.E. are writing us off as a paper tiger? “Just as I expected,” quoth the Chess Master to his briefer. The Germans can’t be counted on to stay loyal? “Of course. Of course.” The Poles have made it clear they consider the U.S. an unreliable, even dangerous ally? “I am disappointed I was so right about them all along.” The Iranians pour Hezbollah into Syria? “Rouhani’s a pimp. He never could have outfought Ahmadinejad. But I didn’t know until this day that it was Khamenei all along.”

The Chess Master was testing our friends and exposing our real foes. Like the sea snake that guy in Gladiator described, Obama let his prey nip and bite at him and now, in a shockingly mixed metaphor, the Venus fly trap snaps shut for the Labor Day Massacre.

The reality, alas, is that Obama is — and has always been — out of his depth on the international stage. Given the prestige of the presidency and the incredible institutional forces behind the office, particularly when a liberal is elected, it takes time to burn through all of the political capital that comes with the job. But Obama has been throwing that political capital on an Oval Office bonfire like so much kindling on a clean and safe Anchorage night. In yet another metaphor that threatens to burn out the dilithium crystals, the credibility inferno is reaching China Syndrome proportions (“You should have said ‘literally’ a lot! Literally means ‘pay attention to how smart my metaphors are.’ Wheeeeee!” — Joe Biden). For a depressing but brilliant analysis of this meltdown, see Bret Stephens’s piece in the new Commentary coincidentally titled “The Meltdown.”

Remember the famous SNL clip where Phil Hartman plays Ronald Reagan? He’s an amiable dunce in public, but get him behind closed doors and he’s a master strategist? Well, maybe that stuff about Obama being the liberal opposite of Reagan is true. Out in public, he seems like he’s the Chess Master (though I never saw it). But get him behind closed doors and he’s in the chair next to Biden shouting “I can spin faster than you!”

Lightworkers Aren’t Funny!

Speaking of Saturday Night Live, Kyle Smith had an excellent piece in the New York Post a few days ago. I will quote at length:

At last, we know the reason why comedy writers don’t make fun of President Obama much.

It turns out the man is completely unmockable.

We learn this from Jim Downey, the longtime “Saturday Night Live” specialist in political japery. “If I had to describe Obama as a comedy project, I would say, ‘Degree of difficulty, 10 point 10,’” the writer says in the expanded new edition of the “SNL” oral history book, “Live from New York.”

“It’s like being a rock climber looking up at a thousand-foot-high face of solid obsidian, polished and oiled,” Downey says. “There’s not a single thing to grab onto — certainly not a flaw or hook that you can caricature. [Al] Gore had these ‘handles,’ so did Bush, and Sarah Palin, and even Hillary had them. But with Obama, it was the phenomenon — less about him and more about the effect he had on other people and the way he changed their behavior. So that’s the way I wrote him.”

Got that? The charter Choom Ganger, confessed eater of dog and snorter of coke. The doofus who thinks the language spoken by Austrians is “Austrian,” that you pronounce the p in “corpsman” and that ATMs are the reason why job growth is sluggish. The egomaniac who gave the queen of England an iPod loaded with his own speeches and said he was better at everything than the people who work for him. The empty suit with so little real-world knowledge that he referred to his brief stint working for an ordinary profit-seeking company as time “behind enemy lines.” The phony who tells everyone he’s from Chicago, though he didn’t live there until his 20s, and lets you know that he’s talking to people he believes to be stupid by droppin’ his g’s. The world-saving Kal-El from a distant solar system who told us he’d heal the planet and cause the oceans to stop rising. The guy who shared a middle name with one of the most hated dictators on earth.

Nope, nothing there to mock. No way to get a grip on this polished, oiled obsidian. So comedy writers didn’t and mostly still don’t. Jim Downey isn’t in dereliction of his comedy duty to take down the high and the mighty, or so he begs you to think. He’s just too obtuse to see Scrooge McDuck quantities of comedy gold when they’re sitting right in front of him.



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