Politics & Policy

What Obama Could Learn from James Brown

As the world falls apart, the commander-in-chief bounces from putting greens to fundraising galas.

Obama should learn from the late, great Godfather of Soul. As James Brown once sang: “Get up. Get into it. Get involved.”

Obama is hopelessly lost, adrift, dazed, and confused. While he loves the presidency’s perks (e.g., a mansion, a limousine, and a 747), he seems eerily detached from events. As NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams noted on Tuesday, Americans have “the sensation right about now that our world is falling apart.” Yet Obama blissfully bounces from putting greens to fundraising galas as if things couldn’t be better.

Obama perplexed traveling journalists on Wednesday in Estonia. In a case of he said/he said, Obama explained his hope to “degrade and destroy” the Islamic State, as one would attack a malignant pancreatic tumor. But moments later, he aspired to shrink this terrorist group into “a manageable problem” — such as dandruff.

How could Obama contradict himself so thoroughly? Imagine Ronald Reagan saying, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” and then, within minutes, “Mr. Gorbachev, make this wall structurally unsound.” This never would have happened, because Reagan knew precisely what he believed. Obama’s muddled speech reflects blurry thoughts.

This Baltic blunder followed Obama’s notorious confession last week that, as regards trouncing the Islamic State, “we have no strategy yet.”

Is Obama so stunned by the IS successes that he only now can combat this backward band of head-chopping Islamic fanatics?

Not quite.

By Obama’s own timetable, his anti-IS blueprint is a year overdue.

“Al-Qaeda and other extremists have metastasized into regional groups that can pose significant dangers,” Obama said on August 9, 2013. “. . . They have the capacity to be destabilizing and disruptive in countries where the security apparatus is weak,” the president added. “. . .And so that requires us, then, to make sure that we have a strategy . . .” (Emphasis added.)

So, for the last twelve months, were these butchers off Obama’s radar?


“Obama was given detailed and specific intelligence about the rise of the Islamic State as part of his daily briefing for at least a year before the group seized large swaths of territory over the summer,” Catherine Herridge, Fox News’s chief intelligence correspondent, reported Tuesday. A former Pentagon official told Herridge that this information was “granular” and sometimes “exquisite.” According to this source, commanders “were ready to fire, on a moment’s notice, on a couple hundred targets,” but Obama dithered. Some targets were traced over a “long period of time” but eventually vanished.

Unlike his predecessors, Obama usually reviews his Presidential Daily Briefs (PDBs) alone, rather than discuss mortal threats to America with top national-security experts. Herridge’s source says that Obama does not generally ask questions or request additional information.

Similarly, the conservative Government Accountability Institute calculated in September 2012 that Obama had missed 56.2 percent of his PDBs between January 23, 2009, and May 31, 2012. In 2011, Obama skipped 61.6 percent of his PDBs.

Obama had blown off his PDBs for six consecutive days before the September 11, 2012, Benghazi terror attack and, unforgivably, for two days after Ansar al-Sharia killed U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stephens, diplomat Sean Smith, and former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods. Rather than consult intelligence officials as Benghazi smoldered, Obama jetted to Las Vegas for a September 12 fundraiser and campaigned in Colorado the next day.

Perhaps the president was equally diligent about the Islamic State.

The Wall Street Journal recently observed, “The breadth of global instability now unfolding hasn’t been seen since the late 1970s.”

How true.

On President Jimmy Carter’s watch, Communists seized Grenada and Nicaragua. Marxist insurgents menaced El Salvador and Guatemala. Cuban troops roamed Angola, Ethiopia, and Mozambique. Russia invaded Afghanistan.

Today, we have Islamic extremists frolicking in the swimming pool of America’s abandoned embassy in Libya. Thirty-five years ago, on November 4, 1979, Muslim fanatics seized the U.S. embassy in Iran. They took 66 Americans hostage and held 52 of them there for 444 days. This emergency consumed Carter until the last minute of his presidency. Iran freed the hostages literally during President Reagan’s inauguration, on January 20, 1981.

James Brown’s voice may have scared the ayatollahs who pondered upsetting Reagan: “Poppa don’t take no mess.”

Carter was not lazy. Throughout these international nightmares, he tried hard — he manned his desk and micromanaged everything.

“He once proudly proclaimed that he had read a huge, voluminous defense report down to the last page in the last appendix,” author Paul David Cook recalls in Presidential Leadership by Example. Carter “could not delegate a mid-level staffer simply to read the report and give him an outline of the major points covered.”

He also personally decided who could use the White House tennis court.

To his credit, Carter deregulated the trucking and airline industries and diligently led Israel’s Menachem Begin and Egypt’s Anwar Sadat to sign the Camp David Peace Accords.

Like Carter, Obama will be remembered for presiding while Earth unraveled. But unlike Carter, Obama has become disengaged and decreasingly interested in influencing an increasingly chaotic planet.

Simply put, Obama is Jimmy Carter without the work ethic.

— Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News contributor and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been amended since its initial posting.

Deroy Murdock — Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News contributor and a contributing editor of National Review Online.

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