Eisenhower, Obama, Diplomacy, and Sensitivity

When Dwight Eisenhower was Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, he was very concerned with the need to maintain positive relationships among the Allies. General Lord Ismay, in his memoirs, gives some insight into just how seriously Eisenhower took this aspect of command. In one case, following a serious fracas between a British and an American officer:

..(Eisenhower) came to the conclusion, after a careful consideration of all the evidence, that it was the American who was in the wrong. He ordered him to be dismissed from the Staff and sent back to the United States. The British officer who had been embroiled pleaded for him ‘He only called me a son-of-a-bitch, sir, and all of use have now learnt that this is a colloquial expression which is sometimes used almost as a term of endearment, and should not be taken too seriously.’ To which Eisenhower replied, ‘I am informed that he called you a British son-of-a-bitch. That is quite different. My ruling stands.’ (emphasis added)

I was reminded of this story (taken from this post in my Leadership Vignettes series) by Obama’s behavior toward the British, most recently in the case of the BP fiasco. One of the first things he did on assuming office was to send back the Churchill bust in his office. This was followed by the giving of inappropriate and quite narcissistic gifts, and now by the needlessly offensive assault on BP. Eisenhower, the lifelong soldier, evidently understood something about nuance and diplomacy in interpersonal communications. Obama, who has been positioned as a new-age-y kind of guy, more sensitive and diplomatic than the cowboys he replaced, couldn’t even be bothered to select appropriate gifts or to use the proper name of the corporation he was attacking–which has not been “British Petroleum,” either legally or in marketing usage, for quite a while.

The truth is, people who come across as “sensitive” are very often in actuality sensitive to only one set of feelings: their own.

Some links on Obama’s speech last night here.

9 thoughts on “Eisenhower, Obama, Diplomacy, and Sensitivity”

  1. I think these insults to Britain are not accidental. I’m sure the White House a career protocol staff who select gifts and handle the routine of such matters. It took deliberate effort for Obama to overcome the good manners and sense of his staff and to pull off these crude insults. It is somewhat like his sly finger positioning during the debate with Hillary. His devotees knew the story and were greatly entertained. He may be a stiff and a poseur but he is a Chicago poseur with the manners of Rev Wright and his church.

  2. Weird, mixed up guy: the behavior toward the Brits (or toward British history?) hints at some kind of pathology.

    I’m reaching here; but it seems that he identifies with some other country’s history (than the USA) and has a chip on his shoulder.

  3. And those “sensitive” people who are insensitive are often adolescents and if they aren’t, they have many other characteristics of the narcissistic teenager. (I’ve raised three but I was probably worse than any of them – they are growing out of it and are far, far younger than Obama.) However, idiot that I was, I learned in my early twenties that the guy who was so sensitive he was crying on your shoulder about his unhappy childhood was vicious when – for a moment – the spotlight turned on someone else.

    A generation of treating England as the colonial oppressor (and America too) has given us the leader we deserve for teaching our children history in an un-nuanced and indeed often in an untrue way.

  4. I had a conversation involving Ike just the other day. He was the Pres when I was a kid, and I remember him fondly as a very reassuring figure at a time when we had those stupid “hide under your desk” atomic bomb drills in grade school.

    Considering the string of failed and/or disgraced presidencies since then, he may have been the last truly admirable man to occupy the office, although there have been a few that were at least competent. That last judgement certainly doesn’t include the last couple, up to and including the present.

    The political/cultural elites delight in talking down to all the peasants who don’t know or care about the latest bit of policy wonk bs, as if the big problem with the country is the stupidity or lack of sophistication of the citizenry.

    In fact, as any survey of the repeated failed presidencies since the 1950’s would attest, it is the incompetence, venality, and lust for power of the political class that has undermined the well-being of the nation time and time again.

    It is becoming clearer and clearer, even to those who are normally committed to the modern liberal belief in an expansive state, that the supposed experts and elites simply don’t know what they’re doing.

    When the Titanic strikes the iceberg, the fault doesn’t lie with the poor drowning schmuck who was shoveling coal in the engine room to make the ship go.

  5. Michael K…it’s certainly possible that the insults were calculated: there appears to be a pattern of hostility toward America’s traditional allies, including Britain, Israel, and India. (OK, calling India a “traditional” ally is stretching a point, but things were moving in that direction prior to this administration). OTOH, I do think that Obama’s lack of ability to predict the emotional reactions of others is certainly playing a part.

    Whatever the mix of factors, it’s clear that Obama has not displayed much of the quality known as *grace*, and his performance to date in his head of state role is as poor as his performance in his executive role.

  6. There is an old story about Eisenhower. I cannot recall the source but it was said there are two types who seek the presidency. Most have the fire in the belly but few can “ride the horse.” Some who could ride the horse don’t have the fire and many who have the fire cannot ride the horse. The story was that Eisenhower was the only one who could ride the horse and didn’t have the fire but who got to be president.

    He was a far better president than most realize. He made it look easy.

  7. Lexington Green:

    “Mr. Obama is like a person standing on the sidewalk as a fire is spreading through a building, and people are screaming for him to do whatever it takes to put it out, and he stands there as the flames spread and the smoke plumes into the sky, and he says, “I will sue the person who caused the fire.” It is flabbergasting that the man seems not to even grasp the existence of the executive function. All he knows, all he is even aware exists, is assigning blame, and clutching at money in response.”

  8. Because so much of what he did was under the cover of classification, we are only now just learning how good Eisenhower really was. We know from the Venona decrypts that he acted quite properly in the Rosenberg case and other spy issues. We know from declassification of the Project Feedback report that the US had the space and missile situation well in hand, and had no reason to be concerned about Sputnik. We now know that it was Eisenhower that brought LeMay and the strategic nuclear forces under effective civilian control, which was not the case under Truman. (Dr. Strangelove was based on the documented fact that LeMay had intended to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike without higher authorization in the event that he felt the Soviets were about to attack.) Ike was one of the best presidents of the 20th century.

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