Bob Franken: Ill-fitting suit

  • By Bob Franken
  • Tuesday, September 2, 2014 5:36pm
  • Opinion

Well, that might be the last time he wears a tan suit in public. President Barack Obama, who had called a news conference to discuss incredibly weighty questions about American military reaction to out-of-control Islamic State militants, wore a lightweight, tan summer suit. He sure regretted it.

Of all the vital and controversial issues he discussed, it was the reaction to the tan suit that exploded across social media, not the debate over whether to bomb the murderous extremists sweeping Iraq from across the border in Syria and not his admission that the arduous process of forming a regional response is not complete.

The only clamor he caused with that was his statement “We don’t have a strategy yet.” Predictably, the opposition jumped all over that one.

“It just confirmed what we’ve been talking about really for almost two years,” huffed the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers, “There has been no real strategy.”

Granted, POTUS left himself wide open to that kind of snark with his plain talk, and he also might wish that he’d used other words. But let’s hope not. It was refreshing to hear such candor instead of the usual double-talk we get from all sides.

The fact is that determining how all the pieces fit is just the first step. Next he’ll have to sweet talk skittish allies before there is any hope that the Islamic State forces can be beaten back as they roll over the entire region pursuing their fervent dream of a harsh caliphate ruled by their brutal fanatics. He’ll need to start by dealing with the antagonisms of the other nations in the region, with their varying degrees of culpability. How can they be rallied around a single agenda, with a coordinated armed forces and intelligence response? What about Syria? Do we ignore the cruel pariah leader Bashar al-Assad, with his sophisticated defense system, who has warned against air attacks on his turf without permission? Do the United States and allies suddenly deal with the same man they have been trying to oust because of his vicious attacks against his citizens while trying to squash a rebellion, because we now have a common enemy? And what about dealing with a Congress that’s been out of town?

These are not easy questions, and a strategy takes time, much to the frustration of the “do something even if it’s wrong” crowd. That reflexive approach is usually what gets us into these convoluted messes in the first place. We live in a Twitterized environment that demands immediate answers even when there are none. Unfortunately, there is tremendous pressure on our leaders to deal with these tangled knots with one pull of a string. More often than not, that just tightens things up more. As obvious as it should be to everyone, waiting to sort things out has become agony to a society that expects instant gratification.

We heard that same kind of criticism directed at Hillary Clinton when she didn’t immediately weigh in on the tragic shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white cop and its violent aftermath. She waited. Whether the delay was a political calculation, caution or both, it was three weeks later that she uttered her first public words about racial tensions in Ferguson, Missouri, decrying “the inequities that persist in our justice system.”

The question is, Would something from her earlier have contributed anything whatsoever to the national debate? Of course, you can bet that her advisers were recommending she stay out of a battle she didn’t need to join.

Meanwhile, the man she’s planning to replace is constantly dealing with a perception that he’s indecisive, even when rash action would be harmful. One decision he does need to make right away is to replace his wardrobe consultants, or if he doesn’t have any, get them. Let’s face it, that suit really didn’t, uh, suit the occasion.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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