Provocative Quote Of The Day

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From Eliot Cohen, a former deputy to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and an early cheerleader and later a critic of the Iraq invasion, in today’s Wall Street Journal:

In at least one way, Mr. Obama resembles his predecessor: He has enormous self-confidence. But where George W. Bush’s certainty stemmed from moral conviction, Mr. Obama’s arises from a sense of intellectual superiority.

Are these comparable strengths? Weaknesses? And does Obama’s sense of intellectual superiority breed certainty or doubt?

Cohen definitely gets at a key difference between Bush and Obama, perhaps the defining difference. But I am not sure his interpretation is on point. Perhaps a better line would be this: Obama depends on his intellectual processes so that he can sleep at night, in the same way that Bush depended on his moral conviction. In jobs of this magnitude, one needs to develop some coping mechanism. But is that sort of confidence the same thing as certainty?

A key facet of Obama’s process–in its ideal form, at least, to which the president seems to aspire–is a willingness to upend certainty. Obama was content that the government was on track in Afghanistan in the spring. He staked his presidency on it. But by the fall he completely reversed himself, adding tens of thousands more troops and shifting strategy again. Bush reversed himself on his Iraq strategy as well–in 2007–but it had taken many years and much moral aggrandizing before the change came.

Read Cohen’s blistering op-ed “Taking The Measure of Obama’s Foreign Policy” here.

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