The White House seems more comfortable stage-managing the news than dealing with the uncomfortable crises that inevitably crop up.
President Obama returned last night from a week-long trip to Africa, seeking to position himself as part of the ailing Nelson Mandela’s legacy and generating strategic photo-ops. On the other side of the continent, Egypt is awash in revolution, with hundreds of thousands of protesters in Tahrir Square railing against the American-backed president, with some chanting slogans against the American passivity in the face of crisis. The Washington Post editorialized Tuesday: ”
For months, as the Morsi government has taken steps to consolidate power, quash critics and marginalize independent civil society groups, President Obama and his top aides have been largely silent in public. No effort was made to use the leverage of U.S. aid to compel a change of policy.”
While the president was in Africa, Secretary of State John Kerry spent time in Israel, using valuable political capital trying to jump-start peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians, at a time when few serious foreign policy analysts believes it has any chance of success – beyond garnering favorable press for trying. (The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg calls Kerry’s a “delusion of the foreign-policy elite” in his column today.) This, while the administration appears utterly feckless in neighboring Syria, where civil war worsens, chemical weapons-wielding dictator Bashar al-Assad strengthens his hold on power, and American influence dwindles. “The military situation in Syria is slipping away as the president ponders,” Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl wrote last week.
And on the domestic front, Obama was comfortably traveling on Air Force One when a Treasury Department functionary announced late Tuesday it would be delaying the mandate that businesses provide health care for their employees– a crucial component in the health care law that is shaping up as the main legacy of his presidency. Rather than give a speech explaining the delay, and informing the public about how this could affect their health care options, the administration dropped the bombshell news right before the July 4 holiday weekend.
The administration is facing a crisis of competence. At a time when trust in government is already at an all-time low, the events of this past week illustrate the limits of this president’s power. The White House seems more comfortable stage-managing the news than dealing with the uncomfortable crises that inevitably crop up. (If there’s anything to learn from the Benghazi crisis, it was the administration’s attentiveness to detail in how to avoid blame in the aftermath of the crisis, but a lack of focus in how to react as the crisis was occurring.)