Putin, Cameron, and Obama: A vivid contrast in leadership

RANCHO SANTA FE, Ca., August 30, 2014 – While many members of the media seem to be preoccupied with President Obama’s fashion choices, those of us who live in the real world have a greater concern about his choice of priorities. He appears to place a more significant emphasis on political fundraising and delivering canned speeches than he does on developing cogent strategies and providing visible leadership. Die-hard supporters may dismiss such charges (arguing that the President is diligently involved in the background), but the facts belie their zealous commitment.

In recent days, we have witnessed three distinctly different styles of leadership: Vladimir Putin’s “actions speak louder than words” tactics with respect to Ukraine, Prime Minister David Cameron’s direct and specific approach to the threat of ISIS, and the President’s laissez-faire attitude toward global crises.

Which one do you consider to be most effective? Let’s examine all three.

President Putin’s strategy is the most transparent. Whether we like it or not, we know where he stands because his actions are taken openly. He may publicly deny Russian involvement in Ukraine, but it is difficult to ignore evidence in the form of the tanks, missile systems, and large convoys he has authorized.

However, we get the impression that President Putin really doesn’t care if his intentions are obvious. He only cares if someone responds to them. In that regard, he seems to believe that he, too, will have “more flexibility” during our President’s final term.

Then, we have Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom. Today, he discussed the elevation of Britain’s terrorist threat level from “substantial” to “severe.” By the time he finished his comments, we knew what the elevated status meant, why it was changed, and how citizens of the UK should respond to it.

PM Cameron reflected upon the beheading of U.S. journalist James Foley. He did not equivocate in his description of ISIS stating, “What we are facing in Iraq now with ISIS is a greater threat to our security than we have seen before.” He called it “the most important issue facing this country today.” He distinguished ISIS from al-Qaeda and the Taliban by saying, “With IS (sic), we are facing a terrorist organisation not being hosted in a country but seeking to establish and then violently expand its own terrorist state” while noting that it could not be “appeased.”

The Prime Minister also provided the details of specific actions that would be taken. These included: The passage of new legislation to simplify the process of canceling extremists’ passports if there is probable cause to believe that they may be traveling in support of ISIS; the need to fill “gaps in our armoury” to address the ongoing threat posed by jihadists in the UK; and a push among member countries, who will be in attendance at this weekend’s European Union Summit in Brussels, for a more coordinated effort to track jihadists. The latter would restore a compact that previously enabled police and security services of EU members to share passenger records.

While some American pundits continue to blame President George W. Bush for inciting jihad as a result of the Iraq War, PM Cameron was quick to state, “The terrorist threat was not created by the Iraq War ten years ago. It existed even before the horrific attacks on 9/11, themselves sometime before the War.”

He continued, “This threat cannot be solved simply by dealing with perceived grievances over Western foreign policy. Nor can it be dealt with by addressing poverty, dictatorship, or instability in the region – as important as these things are. The root cause of this threat to our security is quite clear. It is a poisonous ideology of Islamist extremism that is condemned by all faiths and faith leaders.”

Meanwhile, President Obama went on record by saying, “We will continue to consult with Congress … but I don’t want to put the cart before the horse; we don’t have a strategy yet.”

Cynics may say, “Why should we have a strategy?” After all, it was only this past January that the President dismissed the ISIS threat by saying, “The analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think it’s accurate, is if a JV team puts on Lakers’ uniforms, it doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant.”

However, we must realize that misinterpreting global issues and entities has been elevated to an art form by this Administration.

  • During the Arab Spring, the Obama Administration characterized the Muslim Brotherhood as a “largely secular” and “moderate” group that did not have a large enough base to win the Egyptian Presidential election; assertions that it rapidly disproved on all counts. We committed to providing the Morsi regime with tanks and planes before they began persecuting Christians and women.
  • Additionally, Morsi was revealed to have denounced Israelis as “bloodsuckers”, “warmongers” and “descendants of apes and pigs.” Try to imagine how much more difficult the current Israeli/Hamas conflict would have been had Morsi remained in power. Luckily, we were spared further embarrassment when Morsi was imprisoned and Abdel Fattah Saeed Hussein Khalil el-Sisi replaced him as the sixth President of Egypt.
  • The Administration didn’t immediately embrace President el-Sisi because it had already acclaimed Morsi to have been “democratically” elected. Since that time, President el-Sisi has been an important ally in tamping down the conduit of munitions to the Hamas terrorist organization in Gaza. While peace has yet to be achieved between Israel and Hamas, the situation might have been far worse had it not been for the el-Sisi regime.
    Speaking of the war in Gaza, the Administration has done little to quell tension in that area. Despite having renowned Secretaries of State in Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, the situation in that area has degenerated rather than improved.
  • Then, there is President Obama’s famous “red line in the sand” in Syria. The President’s “calculus” was to change if chemical weapons were used by the al-Assad regime. Approximately 14 chemical weapons later, one was captured on video and the Administration was forced to react. Our Nation was posed to unleash a missile attack on Syria when calmer heads prevailed, which is a strange description to apply to Vladimir Putin.
  • However, Putin stepped in and used his political leverage to back down the Assad regime and reach a settlement on a disarmament plan for its chemical weapons.
  • Speaking of President Putin, the Obama Administration has pummeled him with words and limited economic sanctions since he inserted Russia into the Ukrainian revolution. So far, those admonitions have severely intimidated him… except for Russia’s annexation of Crimea and recently unveiled occupation of eastern Ukraine.
  • Meanwhile, North Korea remains as unstable as its leader, and China has become comfortable buzzing our planes and beginning to encroach on territories it has desired for years but has been hesitant to pursue.

With another September 11th on the horizon, we can only hope that the “fog of war” has cleared sufficiently to prevent the Administration from missing all the signals that the UK seems to have recognized. We might also wonder if the lessons learned in Iraq will make the Administration less likely to take a victory lap when it completes its withdrawal from Afghanistan at the end of the President’s term. Then again, it will just be the next President’s problem; perhaps leaving the door open for the next occupant of the Oval Office to blame the previous President as has been the recurring tactic of this Administration.

Correspondingly, President Obama has admonished several members of his Administration, including his Secretary of Defense, Secretary of Homeland Security, et al., for suggesting that a strategy needs to be put in place.  According to the President, “…folks are getting a little further ahead of where we’re at than we currently are.”

Particularly in an election year, Party sycophants will try to rationalize the lack of a discernible strategy. We will undoubtedly be told that President Obama is “thoughtful” and his approach is “far more measured than Bush’s.” The President will rely on the phrase “no boots on the ground” well beyond its actual application, and he will use limiting terms like “for humanitarian purposes” and “to protect our citizens abroad” to explain the bombings he will authorize in lieu of troops.

The reality is that “no strategy” is a little too close to “no clue,” and we deserve better as a Nation.

If pundits were to pick a color to describe the leadership styles of Putin, Cameron and Obama, we might rightfully expect President Putin to be assigned a bold, primary color that leaves little doubt as to its wavelength, Prime Minister Cameron to be portrayed by a more refined, conservative color with a decisive hue, and President Obama to be defined as “beige.” Come to think of it, maybe that’s why there was such an interest in the President’s summer suit.


T.J. O’Hara is an internationally recognized author, speaker, and strategic consultant in the private and public sectors. In 2012, he emerged as the leading independent candidate for the Office of President of the United States and the first nominee of the Whig Party in over 150 years.

This article first appeared in T.J. O’Hara’s recurring column, A Civil Assessment, in the Communities Digital News (CDN).