The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Incompetence or Malice

During this past weekend's GOP presidential debate, Marco Rubio argued (repeatedly) that Barack Obama's many foreign policy failures are not the result of incompetence,  but rather the result of (malicious) intent. Rubio said:
Let's dispel once and for all with the fiction that Barack Obama doesn't know what he is doing, he knows exactly what he is doing.

Barack Obama is undertaking a systematic effort to change this country, to make America more like the rest of the world... it is a systematic effort to change America.
Donald Trump begged to differ:
“I think we have a president who as a president is totally incompetent. He has no idea what he is doing, and the country is going to hell.”
Richard Fernandez dissects this disagreement when he writes:
It must be left to history to judge whether Obama was truly a failure and if so, which of the two causes, or both, drove the mistakes. But those who think the worst of the Obama should be happy if he were incompetent rather than bad. To be a really dangerous an historical personage has to be enough of a winner to build up a following. Hitler was the classic example. His apparent successes in the early war years provided the capital to fatally overreach. Similarly, Japan's 6 month opening winning streak was enough to sustain imperial legitimacy until late-1945. Without those abilities, neither would have gone very far. Of the three Axis Powers Mussolini had the least competence and he was never more than a clown.

Because Obama consistently failed at most everything he rapidly lost the ability to make the disastrous big bet. In the twilight of his presidency, the administration is more impotent than actively dangerous, having squandered his political capital -- and his nation's prestige in the last seven years. This suggests, irrespective of malice, that a good dollop of incompetence was present. Incompetence is in many ways a self-limiting condition.
No one can read Barack Obama's mind. All we can do is listen to his words, assess their accuracy and honesty, and examine his decisions and actions. At a superficial level, doing just that screams incompetence driven by combination of a woeful lack executive management inexperience, virtually no team building skills ("the team of 2s"), and a hubris that has lead him to believe he is the smartest guy in the room. But a deeper look might lead one to an accusation of malice. After all, how could anyone be so consistently wrong?

In the end, it probably doesn't matter. As Fernandez sagely notes, Obama's serial failures have limited his ability to apply malice, if that was his intent. As I have noted in other posts, the real question is whether the damage he has done to our country, whether by incompetence or malice, can be undone by the next president.