Ehud Barak

Via Powerline, an interview with Ehud Barak. I forget that political controversies and lines drawn in other countries are not quite the same as here, and it is good to be reminded. Barak’s opinion of President Obama is only a minor topic in the discussion, but it touches on things I have said elsewhere.  The former prime minister of Israel clearly has some admiration for our ex-president. His goal is to describe how Obama is different rather than to praise or criticise, but one can tell.  He describes Obama as seeking greatness rather than simple competence, to be one of the top half-dozen of American presidents, and studying greatness to that end. Ehud also approves of his more international understandings, being raised in Indonesia, having a Kenyan father and anthropologist mother, going to school outside the original 48 even when in America.  He describes Obama’s core understanding as more “subtle” than other Americans.

I think there is a good deal of truth in this, but I think there is one great limiting factor.  Barack Obama is only above-average in intelligence, not some genius; and if one prefers training in wisdom rather than mere academic achievement, it is hard to see where that would have come from. 

That is, unless one defines having an only partially-American outlook as wisdom, in and of itself, which would be circular. Obama is not stupid, but a discount must be applied to his academic achievements at every level. In addition to a double helping of affirmative action and his career not taking off until they stopped testing for math and science, he was also quite intentional and studied in seeming intelligent, especially to white people.  He himself said that he was something of a blank canvas which others painted on what they wanted. He wrote biographies of his feelings and impressions, yet with very little in the way of concrete events and people he interacted with. More blank canvas. He accomplished what he set out to do, and that’s more than most of us can say. He was a narcissist, and Ehud Barak provides the evidence without realising it.

Still, that’s only a small part of the essay, as I said above, and it is worth your while, even you you disagree with some other parts or detect a slant that Barak may not be entirely aware of himself. He’s still way ahead of most American politicians on that score, at any rate. I also liked the following:

Gossip is the shaper and mover of the fate of nations.

11 thoughts on “Ehud Barak”

  1. Someone once classified executives along 4 dimensions: Craftsman, Jungle Fighter, Gamesman, and Company Man. It would be interesting to look at recent presidents and other politicians along the same axes.

    (This comment is mainly a note to myself or anyone else who would llke to write about this point)

  2. “He describes Obama’s core understanding as more “subtle” than other Americans.”
    Yawn. This is the same sort of nonsense that gets liberal conventional wisdom labelled as being full of “nuance”, etc. Nothing Obama did on any subject I can think of deviated the slightest bit from garden variety liberalism from when he was in college.

  3. “He [Barry Soetero] wrote biographies of his feelings and impressions …”

    There is a convincing case that the authors of Barry’s two books were two different people — and neither of them were Barry Soetero.

    If the guy had had a white father as well as a white mother, no-one would ever have heard of him.

  4. well he was Netanyahu’s boss in the sayeret metkal, but he’s got a little problem connected with Epstein right,

  5. Barack Obama is only above-average in intelligence

    Being in the 51st percentile is nothing to write home about. His most outstanding trait was his cool confident delivery. Well, and the crease in his pants.

  6. What’s the difference between someone who passes formative years in the academy, and in execution and management? Intelligent people identify complexity. They like, even, their capacity to see not two sides of the coin but half a dozen. They enjoy it.
    When it comes to effective decisions, you want clarity. People who spend their formative years in execution, even if they’re intelligent enough to understand realities as well as the academics, they get their strength from their experience, that you have to deliberately invest energy in simplifying into almost black and white. Subtleties are not important, because you won’t be able to execute.

    That’s a nice way to put it.

  7. “Subtleties are not important, because you won’t be able to execute.”

    There was a great quote in Investors Business Daily, years ago, on effective decision-making. I believe it was from the then-CEO of an agricultural equipment company, maybe John Deere. It went something like this:

    “You have to wade into the thicket of ambiguity for a while…and then come out the other side.”

    IE, understand the subtleties, don’t ignore them…but realize that the shades of gray have to be collapsed into a selected color at some point.

  8. Hmm, mental experiment. Do I think I could make myself a great scientist by studying Feynmann, Heaviside, Maxwell, etc… Suppose I did really, really, good at that, grasped nuances of personality that few did, etc? The qualities that would bring me success there are missing a necessary element for a great scientist, numeracy. Furthermore, great scientists started with an interest in their own work, independent of any interest in historical great scientists.

    My guess is that duplicating greatness is impossible, because greatness requires individual areas of excellence, and you cannot duplicate someone else’s, you have to develop them in your self. With an interest that is not a self interest or an interest in the areas of excellence of others. Okay, knowing about strengths and weaknesses of many successful people could be an area of excellence, but not one that could carry one through any sort of complicated and demanding task. It is a supplemental skill, not a core skill.

    The presidency is a very demanding task, with many previous holders who were intelligent, capable, studied great men, experience with good and bad leaders, etc. If one had studied greatness, but noticed the flash instead of the substance, one would not know about the work that made the flash actually work. If such a person additionally did not deeply grok the American people, they could as President fail to sell the substance of their changes to the American people and to establish the institutions that could truly sustain them. In that case, they would fail to place among the top six.

    That said, Obama did not do as badly as Jefferson Davis did, so he had that going for him.

  9. Re: The Gamesman

    Check out Stanley Rothman’s 1977 review in Commentary Magazine of The Gamesmen/The Gamesman. Some obvious howlers, like the assertion that JFK wasn’t a Gamesman, especially given the ‘evidence’ cited for it. (The desire to look for ‘caring’ in politicians tends to select for manipulative sociopaths. People who genuinely care about other people don’t really scale at expressing it past that two hundred size, because it is impossible to care as profoundly about ten thousand, etc. At that scale, at best you are caring about an abstraction, and will be challenged to see individuals through that abstraction.)

    JFK was a Gamesman, because Gamesmen are basically technocrats, of the sort that tend to overlap with political totalitarian fetishists.

    Trump has obvious Jungle Fighter and maybe Craftsman tendencies.

    Obama? Gamesman. Jungle Fighter in the worst possible sense.

    Bush, in hindsight you can see the Company Man. Maybe he learned Craft from becoming a fighter pilot, seems a weak infighter, and does have traces of technocratic influence.

    Clinton was interested in raping women, collecting money, and having sex with women. His strengths and weaknesses all flow from that. Here we start to really see the models break down.

    Gamesmen was defined to indict the moderns of the Cold War as depraved symptoms of Capitalism. They are the modern leftwing establishment. Even the less fossilized independent youngsters make the same mistake of looking at people as things you throw an abstraction at, and stop worrying about.

    Jungle Fighters were an indictment of the ‘robber barons’. Not a clear headed even handed examination of the pluses and minuses of them as leaders and innovators. The indictment most likely ignores the zero sum feeling underlying religious Communism. Someone recently pointed out Kennan’s long telegram, and reading that gave me insights I missed putting together a model of leftism from observation this side of the Cold War. Zero sum is an economic model that underlies modes of feeling, and taking religious socialist dogma for granted will prevent one from seeing the true dynamics of emotional clusters in leadership.

    The left, believing in arrow of history, are fond of fitting models that increment through history. Looking at the generational model of history. Which I have converted against, and have the convert’s zeal. You have real effects of common experiences during childhood, and similar results from being around the same age, but those are extrapolated too far.

    Company Man I think is an effort to indict the then status quo, with some actual observations mixed in for verisimilitude. Compare Robert Townsted*’s Up The Organization as a historical testimony.

    Likewise, I think Craftsman might be selecting for common formative experiences and social backgrounds in an effort to produce a model of historical change and a set of categories that can be used as indictments of capitalism.

    *I forget if I have the surname spelled correctly. Track down the first publication. Later ones change to match the then current social environment.

  10. Trump=Jungle Fighter and Craftsman, with a considerable leavening of Company Man, as indicated by his general identification with this country.

    Omama=mainly Gamesman, a little Jungle Fighter but too emotionally detached to be a true JF. Almost no Craftsman…doesn’t really care what actually works…and no Company Man tendencies at all.

    Steve Jobs=Craftsman and Jungle Fighter, some Company Man tendencies (as long as it was *his* company)

    (I am defining the categories in a somewhat different way than Maccoby did; for example, he said a characteristic of Craftsmen is that they are too easily pushed around. Not always, or even mostly, true, IMO)

    There is another interesting model developed by consultant Ichak Adzies…in this model, people tend to be Producers, Administrators, Entrepreneurs, and/or Integrators…but not all of them at once:

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