Two Points–Short Term and Long Term

Two points or takeaways in leadership can be found in the unfolding story of Benghazi. I’ll categorize them as short-term and long-term.

The short-term point is the answer to the question of: why did the Obama Administration seek to change the facts of the event? It was electioneering, campaigning, politics. That’s it, no more and no less.

It’s certainly not the first time such things have been done. My first thought is to remember that President Franklin Roosevelt urged American military leaders in mid-1942 that he really wanted–badly wanted–an American operation against German forces before the congressional election in November 1942. It was crucial, Roosevelt declared. Do it.

Again, why? Simple, President Roosevelt wanted more voters pulling the “D” lever in the voting booth than were pulling the “R” lever. And he was willing to alter large-scale military planning to get it done.

Now, on to my second, or long-term, point. Frankly, I think this is more urgent and disturbing. Around the time of American/Western intervention in Libyan infighting in 2011, officials in the Obama Administration and analysts sympathetic to it began to discuss the idea of “leading from behind.” This captured the actions and inactions that characterized American involvement in Libyan conflict. As it turned out, with the effects of mostly U.S air power, order returned and tyranny departed from the country, at least for a time.

The theory then emerged that Obama had crafted a new approach of “leading from behind.” This meant that the U.S. would no longer drive events to suit itself and its interests exclusively, that key nations, groups, and agents would be allowed to coalesce a way forward and then–and only then–seek assistance and support from the world’s sole superpower, the United States. All of this, as you might sense, was offered up as a contrast to the Obama Administration’s characterization of what George Bush had done in Iraq.

This is exactly the problem. Leading from behind proved to be a phrase of concealment. It concealed the lack of a strategic objective and the lack of strategic principles underlying that objective. Rather than have a clear goal and outcome to be pursued, along with the steps with which pursuit occurred, the Obama Administration designed a phrase or slogan that served to bundle their approach in a single bag.

And now here we sit, empty bag in hand. Nothing but the bones and blood of a four victims of strategic incoherence.

There are your lessons in leadership, short-term and long-term