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June 19, 2014 1:25 pm

Obama at the Center of His Own Symbolic Universe

avatar by Michael Widlanski

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas shakes hands with U.S. President Barack Obama, on March 17, 2014. Photo: Screenshot.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas shakes hands with U.S. President Barack Obama, on March 17, 2014. Photo: Screenshot.

Barack Obama constantly takes himself prisoner and then magically wins his own release.

Like Osama Bin-Laden, Barack Obama lives in a symbolic universe, thinking he is its center.

It is a place where symbols and slogans trounce the messy details that afflict the lesser people Mr. Obama likes to call “the folks.”

Bin-Laden once said he would ride a white horse and fight off the “infidels” who just happened to be armed with tanks and planes, while President Obama Bin-Laden prefers to declare victory, repeatedly, over terrorists whose identity and ideology he cannot be bothered to remember, let alone mention.

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War on Terror? Battling radical Islamic terror? What war, what terror, what radical Islam?

For President Barack Obama, killing Bin-Laden is a nice symbolic substitute for actually having to combat the spreading fire of Arab-Islamic terror that has surpassed the danger levels of the 1990s, when American intelligence slept soundly on the eve of 9-11.

The numbers of deadly acts do not lie.Terror did not die with Bin-Laden. It diversified. It mutated. It metastized. Obama preferred to ignore the signs from Benghazi to Fort Hood to Boston.

President Obama’s appalling decision to release five top Taliban-Al-Qaeda leaders is the President’s way to achieve a symbolic victory in several ways:

  • To change the subject from pesky issues like Veterans Administration fraud, IRS scandals, abusing national security programs to eavesdrop on journalists and opponents, neglecting to protect Americans inBenghazi, his inability to deliver on promised health care reform, etc, etc.
  • To close the Guantanamo prison by releasing its most dangerous inmates, ignoring the strategic consequences; and
  • To end the war in Afghanistan, which Obama himself expanded in a fitful and thoughtless manner (surge-in, surge-out), by attaining the release of the last U.S. solider taken prisoner there. The sad fact is that 10,000 Americans will remain there in strategically untenable circumstances. Another sad fact is that more Americans died on Obama’s watch in Afghanistan – and for what? – than when George Bush was president. President Obama will almost always choose a good picture to put in the album or a good ceremony to run on the network news cycle rather than building something complex and real like a health care system or a program to interrogate captured terrorist leaders.

Yes, symbols are important, and Mr. Obama is not the only politician or statesman who likes to grab a good symbol or wield a good slogan. But these skills are the skills that gets one into office, but they are not what runs the office.

These are the skills of the ad-man and the con-man more than the able executive, the careful administrator, and the man who should be commander-in-chief.

Bill Clinton also liked campaigning, but he also found time to govern, even to make compromises with political rivals. George Bush loved landing on that aircraft carrier, but he also found time to read intelligence reports. Does anyone believe Mr. Obama reads intelligence reports?

Faced with a choice between campaigning and governing, between symbols and substance, we know what Obama will choose. He will deliver a speech in the Rose Garden and then head for the golf course or the latest in-depth interview with Jimmy Fallon or the talk-show ladies on “The View.”

When messy details appear, Obama will say he is more outraged than anyone else, that he just heard about it for the first time in the media – even as he prepares his next symbolic speech.

In the final analysis comparing the infatuation with symbols of Osama Bin-Laden and Barack Obama is unfair – unfair to Bin-Laden.

Yes, Osama Bin-Laden lived in a fantasy-world where he rode on a horse, but he also developed a lethal attack that symbolically felled the World Trade Center, left 3,000 dead, and caused hundreds of billions of dollars of damage – an “achievement” that has inspired thousands of copy-cats.

Barack Obama has succeeded in temporarily changing the subject until the next news cycle, but we lesser mortals who inhabit the real world will be left to deal with the messy details that accompany his infatuation with the symbolic rather than the real.

Michael Widlanski is the author of Battle for Our Minds: Western Elites and the Terror Threat, published by Simon and Schuster. He teaches atBar Ilan University and was Schusterman Visiting Professor the University of California at Irvine 2013-14.

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