Sunday, October 04, 2009

From little things one may sometimes divine bigger things. 

First, this writer couldn't care less whether Chicago got to host the 2016 Olympics or not. (In fact, having experienced New York City's quest for the 2012 Olympics, I rather suspect that losing is winning in this case.) Nor do I particularly care whether the President of the United States travels abroad to help a US city win an Olympic hosting bid. In fact, why not? Furthering American interests is good.

But there is a question of competence...

One of the first rules politicians follow at every level, high and low, is to never put one's personal prestige and credibility (along with that of one's office) on the line voluntarily, as a matter of free choice, without knowing the outcome in advance -- that outcome being "victory", or something close enough to it to enhance one's credibility.

Obama went to Copenhagen voluntarily, not out of any necessity, to put his personal credibility and that of the Office of the President of the United States "on the line" in an effort to get an Olympic bid ... and came in dead last, the US city being the first eliminated in the first round, gaining only 18 of 94 votes. Ouch.

The after-effects are described by the New York Times...
A sense of stunned bewilderment suffused Air Force One and the White House. Only after the defeat did many advisers ask questions about the byzantine politics of the Olympic committee.
Get that? The President of the United States and his staff of advisers didn't understand the politics.

That's the byzantine politics of an Olympic selection committee. What about the politics of Russia? Iran? The Middle East? China?
Mr. Obama’s decision to become the first American president to lobby the Olympic committee in person ... was predicated on the theory that Mr. Obama’s star power overseas — “the best brand in the world,” as his advisers have put it — was luminescent enough to make the difference.
Does the Obama team think his "luminescence", his "best brand in the world", influences the Russian and Iranian and Chinese governments in their policy decisions? I don't know.

Two weeks ago Obama's people killed the missile defense system that was to be based in Poland and the Czech Republic ... right after assuring the Poles and Czechs it had made no decision to do so ... ever so diplomatically, on the day of the the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland ... with the Poles first hearing about it from the news media ... so infuriating the Polish Prime Minister that he refused to take Obama's call about it. (All perhaps another small indicator of competence?)

Maybe killing that missile defense system was the right thing to do militarily and technically. I don't know. But politically, given how Putin and the Russian government hated it, killing that system without getting something of value back from the Russians for doing so would be plain incompetence. Did we get anything back? Nothing that anyone has announced.

That evening at a social gathering (in Manhattan, all liberals talking) I was part of a several-party conversation that went around like this: "On the 70th anniversary! And we got zip for it. Incompetence" ... "You don't know we didn't get anything back" ... "If he'd gotten anything he'd have grabbed the credit for it by saying what" ... "Maybe not. It would be valuable to the Russians to look like they hadn't conceded anything, that might have gotten them to concede more" ... "Right, more of something nobody can see" ... "Not yet" ... "Well, he'd better have gotten more from Putin than 'future considerations' or 'a player to be named later'..."

Did Obama get something solid (if out of sight) from Putin for giving up that missile shield?

Or did he believe that giving it up voluntarily for nothing would add to the "good will" that his brand has with Putin, enhance the influence of his "luminescence" upon the Russians -- so he can count on them in the future to in turn, similarly, voluntarily, give up something important to him as a return favor?

I don't know. But if I had to guess, the odds I'd give about it have shifted a bit.