This op-ed by Mitt Romney appeared online at Politico on 11/19/2009. It is entitled – The cost of on-the-job training.
During the presidential campaign, many Americans thought that Barack Obama’s lack of leadership experience would not prevent him from being an effective president. His eloquence, his insistence that, yes, he could solve any problem and his image, so artfully crafted by his advertising team, led by David Axelrod, convinced many that hope could trump demonstrated ability. It has not. Nowhere is the evidence more apparent than in his mismanagement of the conflict in Afghanistan.
In March, not long after taking office, President Obama explained his convictions regarding the conflict. He charged that “the terrorists who planned and supported the Sept. 11 attacks are in Pakistan and Afghanistan.” Further, “if the Afghan government falls to the Taliban, that country will again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they possibly can.” And he concluded: “To succeed, we and our friends and allies must reverse the Taliban’s gains and promote a more capable and accountable Afghan government.” What followed this bold and definitive goal was the classic failing of people without real leadership experience: the inability to do what is necessary to achieve one’s objective.
The president refused to focus on what was most important. He took on so many tasks that he underinvested in the most critical ones. The restructuring of the entire health care system and his cap-and-trade proposal eclipsed the economy and the war. Investor Warren Buffett, the “sage of Omaha,” counseled him against such a foolhardy agenda, but Buffett’s wisdom was no match for the heady prospect of all-encompassing change.
So it was that in the first 100 days after his appointment in June of Gen. Stanley McChrystal as commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Obama met with the general only once. After the press took note of it, the president squeezed in a mere 25 minutes for McChrystal when he was in Copenhagen to pitch Chicago’s Olympics bid. In the annals of American history, it is certain that no wartime president has ever spent less time with his generals than Obama has.
A full year after being elected, Obama still does not have a strategy for Afghanistan. His apologists explain that rather than rush a decision, it is better to get it right. But at some point, deliberation, if it goes on too long, becomes indecision. It is fair to ask, What has he been doing for the past 12 months that took precedence over his responsibility for our soldiers?
The answer is that he made 30 or more campaign trips for the Democratic Party and its candidates, including five events for defeated New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine alone. He repeatedly traveled around the country to keynote campaign-style town hall meetings that were carefully choreographed by his communications advisers. He appears to want to do what he knows best: campaign, rather than engage in what he was elected to do — lead and govern.
While he was busy campaigning in the U.S., the president ignored the election in Afghanistan and took wholly inadequate measures to ensure a valid outcome, even as he must have known that a legitimate government was essential to our success. Because Obama left so critical a matter to chance, we are left with a fraudulently elected regime, which is accused of rampant corruption. Thus, the prospects for our success have been greatly diminished.
With the McChrystal report in his hands since August, the president has finally been spending more time in the situation room. Surely his deliberations have not been speeded by the presence of Axelrod, the president’s campaign adman. Polls, politics and perspectives on what the TV networks may think have no place at the national security table. Communications staff should be informed of security decisions after they are made, not invited to be a party to them.
During my career in business and government, and in running the Olympics, I made many instructive mistakes and learned the lessons that come with experience. Obama is making those mistakes in his first real leadership position, and because that position is president of the United States, the consequences of his mistakes are sobering. The lives of our soldiers, the war against violent jihadism and the future of millions of Afghans are in the balance.