Obama’s image as leader is at stake

June 27, 2010


— Two departures from the Obama administration go a long way toward illuminating what is important — and what is not — in determining its political fate.

The firing of Gen. Stanley McChrystal and the resignation of budget director Peter Orszag represent the most significant fraying in the top levels of the government since Barack Obama took office 17 months ago.

Obviously, they are not similar. McChrystal was canned after being called back from Kabul and given a brief hearing at the White House because he and his aides had been monumentally indiscreet in discussing, in the presence of a reporter, their views on the shortcomings of the president and his national security team.

Of his own volition, Orszag announced his pending retirement as the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. He wasn’t pushed; he jumped, looking for shorter hours and a bigger paycheck.

When I say these departures show us what is really important in the judgments about Obama that will be forthcoming — first in the midterm elections in November and then in 2012 — this is what I mean:

As forecast by his campaign, Obama has staked almost everything in his reputation as commander in chief on the conduct of the war in Afghanistan. He staged a long and heavily publicized review of the war strategy, concluded it by adding 30,000 more U.S. troops to the struggle, set a mid-2011 deadline for beginning a withdrawal, and picked McChrystal as the commander to carry out the task.

That choice — recommended by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who fired McChrystal’s predecessor — has now backfired, but the president insists the change of command does not signal a change of strategy. His fingerprints are still indelibly on the war.

Instead, he has turned back to Gen. David Petraeus, the hero of President George W. Bush’s Iraq surge — which was opposed by Obama — and handed him the mess that is Afghanistan.

At some point in the future, a nuclear Iran may pose an even greater challenge for Obama. But for now, and likely in 2012, he will be rated on national security by what happens in Afghanistan.

Why is Orszag’s departure equally significant? Because he has been at the intersection of three domestic concerns as important in their way as Afghanistan is in its realm: health care, the budget and the economy.

The OMB director provided much of the intellectual firepower behind Obama’s approach to health care legislation. He shaped the budgets that have become increasingly the center of debate between Democrats and Republicans. And he has been a central voice on overall economic policy.

Those topics loom large on the agenda for the next two elections. On all of them, Obama is walking a fine line. He has tried to finesse some of the issues in health care by phasing in his proposals and by avoiding the direct approach of a “public option” or expanded Medicare. Similarly, on the budget and economy, he has called for stimulus measures but also promised spending restraint and ultimate fiscal discipline. In Afghanistan, too, he is trying to have it both ways, sending in more troops but still standing by his vow to begin a withdrawal.

All of these measures — and the men behind them — are controversial. And over all of them looms the issue of Obama’s leadership. As the latest Pew Research Center poll confirms, none of the president’s actions so far at home or abroad have damaged his overall approval numbers — which remain just below 50 percent.

What has changed dramatically is the perception of him as a leader. The number describing him as a strong leader has dropped from 77 percent in February 2009 to 53 percent in the latest Pew poll — perhaps in part because of the futility of the federal response to the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster.

Firing McChrystal was a strong action, but it will benefit the president only if Petraeus has one more miracle in his pocket. What a gamble.

— David Broder is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group. davidbroder@washpost.com


Richard Heckler 7 years, 8 months ago

President Obama is wayyyyyyyyy too concerned about bi-partisanship. Republicans do not give a damn and haven't for 30 years.

President Obama should have replaced Robert Gates for brother Bob is a war monger. He'll never end the war. He is among the Bush familiy of politicians.

CIA Veteran: How Robert Gates Cooked the Intelligence

An interview with the most interesting witness senators won't hear from this week.

— By Daniel Schulman


Stuart Evans 7 years, 8 months ago

with as much reading as you do, I'm surprised that you still think there is a difference between Repub. & Dem. politicians.

Sean Livingstone 7 years, 7 months ago

The Republicans like to give themselves a different name... and say that there isn't a difference... ultimately, we all know that tea party = Republicans, the so-called Independence = Republicans... just paint brush them, and repackage them, just because George Bush tarnished the Republican brand for many years for not having his own heads. I like Bush.... but he listened too much to those folks around him, and led to his unpopularity. Where was McCarthy when most of the Bush's civilian military advisors had no military experiences? I don't know. Don't cover up a tainted good with new brand name while using the same raw materials. Enjoy.

c_doc77 7 years, 7 months ago

When it comes to matters of foreign policy, there really is no significant difference. The nuanced differences between the "parties" (factions), generally speaking, is proving to be less and less. Different rhetoric, different special interests (sometimes), and slightly different philosophic approaches to accomplish the same basic goals.

If the practical differences between Republicans and Democrats was as great as they, for their own benefit, make them out to be, you would never have politicians switching parties. Its a game in which the dueling factions take turns capitalizing off of the mistakes of each other - which is fine as long as no one challenges the power structure. Its like pro wrestling basically.

Stuart Evans 7 years, 8 months ago

the media didn't find him. he was cherry picked for this polarizing role.

akuna 7 years, 7 months ago

"Obama and crew are all booted out and replaced by strong conservative thinkers. "

Yeah, because the Republicans of the past 40 years have done wonders. They've stripped away many of our rights (in the name of patriotism and religion) and raised the national debt by 10 trillion dollars to 11 trillion. Gotta love these conservatives.

There is no such think as a strong conservative thinker on the fiscal end of the spectrum. They all want to spend money because that creates tangible benefits for their constituents, which makes it easier to get re-elected. Show me an actual fiscal conservative and I may vote for him/her.

There are plenty of social conservative thinkers, but they are a dangerous lot. They don't come close to understanding the founding principles of our country. They just want to inflict their ridiculous religious ideals on the populous. Show me a social conservative and I'll show you a confounded hypocrite that doesn't deserve anyone's vote.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 7 years, 7 months ago

Akuna, I could not have said it better myself. I am greatly afraid of both the religious rite, they are only a few steps from the doctrine of the muslim taliban. And the apathy and self-righteousness that created the Third Reich, well, since I mentioned it, there is someone out there on this blog who will quote some chapter and verse about how anyone who mentions Hitler is automatically discredited. Great fertile ground for the repeat of a historical nightmare.

akuna 7 years, 7 months ago

What are you talking about Tom? I have tangible number to back the fact that the Republican's couldn't balance a budget to save a country. What do you have? Speculation and paranoid thinking - your two best friends these days.

akuna 7 years, 7 months ago

Sorry Pilgrim... I'm not so pathetic that I monitor comments all day long like you.

You can read this http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/forumy/2006/01/patriot-games-terrorism-law-and.php

or this http://www.antiwar.com/roberts/?articleid=8434

or this http://mccarthyism.tribe.net/thread/5daa0a45-022a-4861-bacd-520b30115d20

or this http://www.capitolhillblue.com/artman/publish/article_7779.shtml

Just a few for you to read Pilgrim2. I'm not going to do your homework for you anymore than that.

uncleandyt 7 years, 7 months ago

You don't have to say "it" any more times, I'm good, I gotcha.

Sean Livingstone 7 years, 7 months ago

The long slow ride to the bottom didn't just start with Obama... it began with Ronald Reagan. The baton was passed over to Bill Clinton, and then George Bush made it worst. Everyone contributed to the mess... but Ronald Reagan laid the foundation.

cato_the_elder 7 years, 8 months ago

Broder writes an entire column just to bootleg in one Pew Research Center poll that's not as unfavorable as others are to Obama's alleged "leadership" abilities, and then blames the precipitous fall in Obama's poll numbers primarily on the Gulf oil spill. In so doing, he naively proves once again that there are indeed two Americas - the narrow, parochial one inside the Beltway, and the much larger one without.

Liberty275 7 years, 8 months ago

I wonder if the generals laughed because jimmy carter was inept too?

jayhawklawrence 7 years, 8 months ago

I am curious about which of our Presidents over the last 40 years was "qualified for the job" as Tom likes to say.

It might lead to some humorous banter.

Maddy Griffin 7 years, 7 months ago

Nancy-Tom is the only one qualified because he is the only one with ALL the answers which he unfortunately won't share.I just want to know where all the fiscal conservatives were when BushCo.was taking the budget from surplus to massive debt while lining the pockets of all his cronies. Nancy=Tom was probably getting paid big time.

Maddy Griffin 7 years, 7 months ago

As far as we know, so far. Time will tell.Halliburton did make the parts that failed on the Deepwater Horizon.And the tax cuts only benefited the upper 2%.

BorderRuffian 7 years, 7 months ago

It's always someone's fault. Halfway through his presidency, shouldn't Obama be more solidly grounded on what he himself is doing than on continuing this useless laying off of blame? He's POTUS, for crying out loud - it's about time for him to "president" up and git it done.

Jabber 7 years, 7 months ago

A nation cannot be taxed into prosperity and you are a complete fool to think so.

Godot 7 years, 7 months ago

Pray for our coast, as the "smart" people are in charge.

"Why does neither the U.S. government nor U.S. energy companies have on hand the cleanup technology available in Europe? Ironically, the superior European technology runs afoul of U.S. environmental rules. The voracious Dutch vessels, for example, continuously suck up vast quantities of oily water, extract most of the oil and then spit overboard vast quantities of nearly oil-free water. Nearly oil-free isn't good enough for the U.S. regulators, who have a standard of 15 parts per million -- if water isn't at least 99.9985% pure, it may not be returned to the Gulf of Mexico.

When ships in U.S. waters take in oil-contaminated water, they are forced to store it. As U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, the official in charge of the clean-up operation, explained in a press briefing on June 11, "We have skimmed, to date, about 18 million gallons of oily water--the oil has to be decanted from that [and] our yield is usually somewhere around 10% or 15% on that." In other words, U.S. ships have mostly been removing water from the Gulf, requiring them to make up to 10 times as many trips to storage facilities where they off-load their oil-water mixture, an approach Koops calls "crazy."

The Americans, overwhelmed by the catastrophic consequences of the BP spill, finally relented and took the Dutch up on their offer -- but only partly. Because the U.S. didn't want Dutch ships working the Gulf, the U.S. airlifted the Dutch equipment to the Gulf and then retrofitted it to U.S. vessels. And rather than have experienced Dutch crews immediately operate the oil-skimming equipment, to appease labour unions the U.S. postponed the clean-up operation to allow U.S. crews to be trained."


Obama is a complete failure as a leader of the US; he is quite successful in inplementing the agenda of a far left ideological movement that does not even begin to entertain the best interests of the country as whole.

BorderRuffian 7 years, 7 months ago

I liked the headline, "Obama’s image as leader is at stake." Pity that that's all he ever had - image. We need a whole lot more than politically correct and great image and lofty sounding words.

Mike Ford 7 years, 7 months ago

hey tom, hows your infomercial business going? and yes you still suck as a customer.

Mike Ford 7 years, 7 months ago

you claim to know everything, figure out who views you as an impossible customer....

Mike Ford 7 years, 7 months ago

you claim to know everything, figure out who views you as an impossible customer....

jaywalker 7 years, 7 months ago

I think I'd have to read Orszag's departure as burn-out or exhaustion related. Having to deal with those three Herculean tasks in 18 months would put the screws to anyone. Can't agree with Broder on this column.

puddleglum 7 years, 7 months ago

but bush was the best, he picked up right where his dad left off. g..W. bush almost had everything figured out and running smoothly, if we only could have given him another 6 years, we would all be okay.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 7 years, 7 months ago

I think sara palin ought to be our next president. A real boon to the tea bag industry, who wil undoubtedly give millions to hear her lame and disjointed public speaking events that many are shelling out millions to hear. sara has it all down pat, you betcha!! But more important, it will make us realize what we had with Obama, and then you will really hear the whining and knashing of teeth as our republic goes completely down the toilet. Chopsticks and egg foo yong, anyone??

cato_the_elder 7 years, 7 months ago

Beobachter, I'd be happy to. With regard to our economy, just for starters Obama should have advocated:

  1. The elimination of the capital gains tax, which would have jump-started our economy overnight.

  2. Reducing the corporate tax rate, which is the second highest in the world (soon to be number one if Japan follows through with its presently-reported plans to cut its current rate).

  3. Further reducing personal income tax rates beyond those rates existing under previous legislation commonly referred to as the "Bush tax cuts."

  4. Eliminating the Estate Tax.

  5. A much, much smaller "Stimulus" bill, free of pork and designed to accomplish putting people to work on privately-contracted projects that actually accomplish something for the common good and are not simply welfare payments to public employees. One excellent example would have been the construction of a serious fence over our entire southern border with Mexico, the cost of which has been estimated at $4 billion - a drop in the bucket when compared with Obama's Porkulus legislation - and would have provided many, many people with good jobs until the economy were to have turned around. Obama's legislation has created very few, if any, jobs in the private sector, which is the economic engine that has made this country what it is today.

  6. Dramatically cutting non-essential federal spending and entitlement programs, and raising the age to qualify for receipt of social security.

  7. Allowing GM and Chrysler to take Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which is precisely what Chapter 11 was designed for.

  8. Postponing any debate on whether or not Americans should be shoehorned into socialzed medicine until such time as our economy is again robust (which it would have become much more quickly had he advocated those steps I have outlined).

  9. Overhauling immediately the Mineral Management Service, which should have been a no-brainer given the number of committed environmentalists who supported his election and their previously-expressed views on what was seriously wrong with that agency. Instead, he remained in bed with those whose actions the government was supposed to have been closely regulating (and, especially, BP) as much as or more so than the Bush administration was.

Why didn't Obama do any of this? Those of us who understood who he really was and what his intentions actually were know full well. Many Americans who naively voted for him and now deeply regret their votes are finding out.

uncleandyt 7 years, 7 months ago

Why didn't Obama do any of this? Maybe he did and they just haven't told you yet. Maybe The Communists won't let him. Maybe he did the odd-numbered ones, and we haven't been told, and The Communists wouldn't let him do the even-numbered ones. Maybe I'll explore the possibility that I don't know what I'm talking about.

purplesage 7 years, 7 months ago

I notice the military still give Barry O the salute - more than they would give Clinton. The best thing one can say about Obama is he makes Clinton look good.

If you hire a general to do a job, he should be allowed to do it. Johnson and Westmoreland should be adequate evidence of that one. Or maybe Truman and MacArthur.

And General McChrystal should have been far more "discreet".

RKLOG 7 years, 7 months ago

Don't get all wrapped up in the numbers. If the nation really is down to a below 50% support margin, then why would David Broder have to tell us this? Wouldn't we already be aware of this massive loss of support? I don't believe that these number reflect anything other than a normal base left over from a frenzied election. It doesn't mean Obama is slipping anymore than any other elected leader would under these circumstances. And it certainly doesn't reveal any gross support for any other party out there. And when you are as high ranking as McChrystal is you go through the chain of command to air grievances, make recommendations, and discuss strategies. Not in a freakin' public-access magazine like Rolling Stone. If he did this in boot camp, he'd be kicked out and back home watering his tomatoes like the rest of us civilians.

uncleandyt 7 years, 7 months ago

The Broder sauce is weak. ENOUGH with the Petraeus worship! The general will need to have his first miracle before getting a shot at "another" one. The Surge was a surge of concrete walls all over the cities. Knock,knock...Who's there?...Walled-off cities If having it "both ways" means continuing the war, and continuing the war while getting some troops out, We'd better find some more ways. Secretary of Defense Gates used to be the head of the C.I.A. I'm not sayin' anything, I'm just sayin'. McChrystal, what a hero, overseeing torture in Iraq, covering up the Pat Tillman stuff. I think he wanted out. He is not un-savvy when it comes to the media. They spend big money on that stuff. What's you're cut , Broder ?

jaywalker 7 years, 7 months ago

I do believe you should have taken into consideration the last line of your preceding post when you said:

"Maybe I'll explore the possibility that I don't know what I'm talking about"

....before posting this pile of nonsense.

RKLOG 7 years, 7 months ago

I doubt it because Palin isn't even good at being a human being.

Sean Livingstone 7 years, 7 months ago

Sarah Palin proves that she's an Alaskan.... like Texans who strongly feel for their own state and not for the United States for America. Obama has proved that he's an international citizen. He's a bad president.. he slowed down the process of the United States degeneration, thus, we need to wait for a few more generations before we can destroy America entirely. Sarah Palin will be a great president. Banging on her populist point of view, she'll speed up the process, and core America to its roots, and once we're destroyed, we will be able to begin the process of rebuilding all over again. That'll be a great news... what goes down must come up. it's always easy to grow economically if we all begin as third world country. I will vote for Sarah Palin just for that. Thanks.

Sean Livingstone 7 years, 7 months ago

The problem of America began with a populist Ronald Reagan... who gave illegal immigrants citizenships, and began the debt... thus laying the foundation for today's mess. The batons were passed from Reagan to Clinton, and Bush made it worst. I'd say Sarah Palin will continue the legacy of Ronald Reagan, and I betcha she'll give another rounds of illegal immigrants free citizenships, carrying on the legacy of Ronald Reagan. That'll be the final nail to America. Yes, Sarah Palin will be a better president to Saddam Hussein Obama, from this point of view. Well, she can speed up the destruction process... so that we can rebuild from scratch all over again. Maybe this time, we can invite more diverse immigrants into this country.. or maybe turn USA into another South American country.

puddleglum 7 years, 7 months ago

tom, you can't even figure out when your avatar is cool and when it isn't....you need to go back to the yellow obama, it was cool.

Flap Doodle 7 years, 7 months ago

"image as a leader"? You have got to be kidding. The White House is about ready to put corks on all the forks to keep Dear Leader from poking his own eye out.

gramd 7 years, 7 months ago

Obama has an agenda. He ran for office on Change the country. He is certainly doing that. But not for the better. He sure had lots of people fooled. It'll be too late when all his change takes place. Where are the jobs? He just talks a big talk. Why can't more people see through him? It's scary! What will he do next?

igby 7 years, 7 months ago

A few days ago he had hamburgers with the Russian Prez. and then suddenly a group of 10 or more so called Russian Spies get arrested. Russian spies my a$$, these people were no doubt enemies of the Russian state and the Russian prez worked a bargain deal with the US to round them up. You have to remember that the big money and the politicians are on the same side now regardless of where your living or what country your in.

independant1 7 years, 7 months ago

The country is not where it is today on account of any man. It is here on account of the common sense of the big Normal Majority. (Will Rogers)

Normal Majority = dem/rep/lib/ind et al

I wonder how many people define themselves by party affiliation/politics? When someone asks an oilfield worker (Haliburton empolys normal people too) who are you? Is the answer likely to be I'm a dem or repub? Most will answer something outside the political spectrum.

Mixolydian 7 years, 7 months ago

It's been a long dark decade and the next two years look to be worse.

If we don't get an honest to God, real president in 2012 this country's going to be hurting for a long long time,

independant1 7 years, 7 months ago

We'll get another pres, a pretty much normal person that will fill the office of the pres. Might get another polished speaker like Pres. Obama, don't think we'll get an affable guy like Pres. Bush/dubya. Don't think Palin will run, she's probably going to be a power broker for her huge fan base. It is a certaintity we will not get Bush/dubya, clinton/bill, carter, bush/dad. mccain/had his turn. It'll be interesting to see who gets the nod from the two parties.

Any guesses? The Mormon for the Repubs? Certainly Pres. Obama will run for 2nd term.

Also might add, we most likely will not get a real pres. What's that anyway? Ivy league grad?

So if Pres. Obama gets re-elected then we'll get a real pres. since he already is one of those now.

Carefull what you wish for.

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