“Reputation of power,” says Hobbes, “is power; because it draweth with it the adherence of those that need protection.” And, he might have added, the cooperation of those who fear what the supposedly powerful person might do to them if they fail to cooperate.
That is Neustadt’s central teaching about the American Presidency: since the President’s enumerated powers are far too limited to allow him to govern effectively, a successful President is one who convinces the other players in the system that their interests, as they see them, will be better served by cooperating with the President than by defying him. That can mean either that they think he will help them accomplish what they want, or that they fear that he can damage them if defied.
It is also the teaching of Xenophon’s Cyrus, and the basis of Napoleon’s military maxim: “If you set out to take Vienna, take Vienna.” A general who never loses has enthusiastic troops and terrified opponents.
Therefore a President should avoid seeming impotent, even in small ways. Although I had no objection to Barack Obama’s attempt to bring the Olympics to his hometown, it should not have been attempted unless it was reasonably certain to succeed. Of course Obama should have supported Chicago’s bid, just as George W. Bush did. But flying to Copenhagen reflected a different level of commitment. The Daley machine ought to have had a better whip-count of the IOC before asking the President to put his prestige on the line.
As usual, though, Obama is fortunate in his opponents. Instead of letting his failure in this tiny venture just sit there in mute criticism of his performance, the wingnuts insisted on celebrating this defeat – a small defeat, granted, but still a defeat – for their country. All they care about is that Obama should be seen as losing. Obama-hatred is now at the level of what Orwell called a “negative nationalism,” like anti-Semitism, in which all events in the world are evaluated in terms whether they can be seen as damaging the object of hatred.
Obama’s error was minor, and it can be hoped that he and his advisors will learn from it. His opponents’ error is major: moral as well as tactical, a crime as well as a blunder. And it fits into the larger picture of Republican attempts to frustrate the foreign policy of the United States.
Thank you, wingnuts.