Some Notes on the VP Debate

(The transcript is here)

First, let’s look at this interchange on Libya:

MS. RADDATZ: What were you first told about the attack? Why were people talking about protests? When people in the consulate first saw armed men attacking with guns, there were no protesters. Why did that go on for weeks?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Because that’s exactly what we were told

MS. RADDATZ: By who?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: — by the intelligence community. The intelligence community told us that. As they learned more facts about exactly what happened, they changed their assessment. That’s why there’s also an investigation headed by Tom Pickering, a leading diplomat in the — from the Reagan years, who is doing an investigation as to whether or not there were any lapses, what the lapses were, so that they will never happen again. But —

MS. RADDATZ: And they wanted more security there.

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Well, we weren’t told they wanted more security again. We did not know they wanted more security again. And by the way, at the time we were told exactly — we said exactly what the intelligence community told us that they knew. That was the assessment. And as the intelligence community changed their view, we made it clear they changed their view. That’s why I said, we will get to the bottom of this.

(emphasis added)

Who is this “we” of whom Joe is speaking? It would appear that “we” refers specifically to himself and to President Obama.

The President is supposed to run the executive branch of government. It is not the function of an executive to passively wait for information to be provided to him. It is rather his responsibility to ensure that people, systems, and procedures are in place to provide him with the information that he needs…more broadly, to establish an information and decision architecture so that information flows where it is needed and appropriate actions are taken on a timely basis. Obama, like his boss, thinks like an “individual contributor,” as the term is used in business and other organizations, not like an executive. Biden and Obama are concerned not with the performance of the overall organization but rather with how they look, believing that the two can be separated.

If a ship runs aground because the executive officer put one incompetent sailor on the radar scope, and another incompetent sailor on as visual watchman, it is most unlikely that the Captain will be able to save his career by saying “Nobody told me about that reef up ahead.”

Also from the transcript:

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: I will be very specific. Number one, the — this lecture on embassy security — the congressman here cut embassy security in his budget by $300 million below what we asked for, number one. So much for the embassy security piece.

This is the kind of thing one frequently hears from weak managers–I can’t do my job right because you didn’t give me enough money. But resources are always constrained, and the function of a manager or executive is to use the ones he has effectively, not just to complain that he doesn’t have more.

The U.S. government managed to find resources to provide a Marine security attachment to the embassy in Barbados, a pretty friendly and stable country, on the day that Ambassador Stevens was killed in Benghazi. It managed to find money for electric cars and a charging station for the embassy in Vienna.

The reality is that neither Biden nor Obama have the attributes of an executive or a problem-solver. They’re not the kind of people who enjoy getting into the weeds of a practical problem, figuring out what’s really going on, sorting out the best alternative, and making that alternative happen. Obama’s long-time friend and consigliere Valerie Jarrett said of Obama “he’s been bored to death his whole life.” She evidently meant this positively, believing Obama’s boredom offers testimony to his brilliance. It does not. Intellectually-curious people are not often bored. And a non-bored, genuinely curious individual–a real problem-solver, a real executive–would not have wanted to just read intelligence briefings passively, as has been Obama’s practice…apparently unlike other Presidents…but would have wanted to interact with the briefers and question them. Had he done so, maybe he would have learned something, maybe he would have been able to to improve the intelligence flow and decision-making process..and maybe Ambassador Stevens and the other murdered Americans would still be alive. But that’s not the kind of work Obama enjoys or that he is willing to demand of himself; really, that’s not who he is.

Another post coming, hopefully today, about Biden’s remarks and Iranian nuclear weapons.

5 thoughts on “Some Notes on the VP Debate”

  1. Obama cannot afford to pick a fight with the intelligence community and Hillary Clinton. It’s been described as a “death wish.”

    The next development will be pretty interesting.

  2. Yes. This was one of several points in the debate when Biden left himself wide open and Ryan should have responded better. Ryan should have said something like, “The President is chief executive and is responsible for what happens on his watch. That’s his job. Any intelligence or operational failure is by definition his responsibility. Obviously neither you nor he understands that.”

    Obama and Congressional Democrats got away once with picking a public fight with the intelligence community. Perhaps they think they will be able to pull it off again.

  3. A side note: Clearly not lack of budget – which increased 118%; White House security expands (how many guards over the Obama children’s trips – including spring break) and Libya saw reductions: paranoia, narcissism and poor judgment.

  4. Our own Jim Bennett:

    “John, let me suggest that the criteria for victory are changing. The debate no longer ends when the debaters walk off stage. And now it no longer ends when the TV spinners have, like cuckoos, laid their eggs and flown away. There is now the long, long reverberation in social media, where the basic debate footage serves as raw material for mash-ups and parodies and treatments for the rest of the election cycle and beyond. And Biden’s performance, which won him some tactical advantage in the debate, has set him up as the target for rich satire and a way that Ryan’s conventional performance didn’t and cannot do. His performance is comic gold, and although within hard-core Dem/left circles he will be celebrated as the warrior, everywhere else, and especially for basically apolitical young YouTube viewers, he will be the jackass supreme. I suspect that by Election Day, the various parodic videos will have had a larger viewership than the debate itself. By this criterion, the tactic was a massive miscalculation.”

  5. Robert – I was talking about this debate with someone today who didn’t see it – I said that Biden was acting like a jackass – and she said “that is what I have heard” – so his behavior definitely had had “legs”

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