Yesterday marked the 12th anniversary of one of the saddest days in American history. The 9/11 terror attacks by al-Qaeda. Attacks which many believe were the impetus for the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Wars which according to Nobel Prize winning Economist Joseph E. Stiglitz’s conservative estimate (in 2011), cost America between $3-5 trillion. That is excluding the “associated disability, health care and social costs of irreparable damage to veterans”. Or what it cost in terms of “compromising America’s principles, undermining its economy and weakening its security”.
Is it any wonder then that making a case for possible US-led intervention in the Syria crisis was a monolithic task for President Obama, a president who vowed to end wars?
And as the leader of a nation both weary and wary of war, Obama’s handling of the challenge quickly morphed into a defining moment in his presidency, and a test of his leadership dexterity.
An effective leader must be influenced by the situational context (Fielder’s contingency model theory) and adjust their style accordingly (Hersey and Blanchard’s situational leadership model).
In the last two weeks, Obama has taken on this contingency-situational leadership style, demonstrating a mix of the four leadership styles associated with the Hersey and Blanchard model – telling, selling, participating and delegating as he sought to shape a US-response to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons in Syria:
September 1, President Obama laid out the case, duration and scope for military action against Assad’s regime. While the President was clear on the need for action, he announced that he would seek Congressional authorization for the use of force.
September 3, following his September 1 announcement, President Obama met with Congressional leaders at the White House to discuss his plan for military action.
September 9, Obama engaged in an unprecedented media blitz (agreeing to interviews with six TV networks) to present his case for limited and targeted military action.
September 10, President Obama addressed the nation, cautiously embracing Russia’s plan for a diplomatic approach and negotiation with Assad for the turnover of his chemical weapons to the international community.
But Obama’s opponents saw the series of unfolding events as weakness, lack of ownership and confusion in his position. I believe the situation demanded such a cautious, measured and flexible response.
As leader of world’s oldest democracy, how could Obama choose an autocratic approach, use a form of dictatorship to oust a dictator? As leader of a war-fatigued nation, how could Obama not seek out consensus from the American people and US allies around the world? As a leader in an information age, how could Obama be closed off to dialogue, the exchange of ideas and public opinion in such a critical decision?
History records many wars which were started from mistakes that can never be undone. Let’s say Obama didn’t take the steps he did, but took a self-determined position (as he is constitutionally permitted to do as Commander In Chief).
Today America might have been launching attacks on Syria instead of pursuing a path toward a diplomatic resolution. What would be consequence – for the US, for Syria and even the rest of the world? And more importantly, could we afford those consequences?
View President Obama’s 9/11 memorial remarks http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/president-obama-marks-911-nod-benghazi-syria-crisis/story?id=20224628
Read the full transcipt of his remarks on Syria on Sept 10 http://nbcpolitics.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/09/10/20427421-full-transcript-of-president-obamas-remarks-on-syria?lite