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Sunday 20 Aug 2017 | 16:19 | SYDNEY

Obama 'too nice'? Not so fast

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14 December 2009 13:47

Hugh White floats the possibility that Obama is 'too nice for his job' because he has not pressured Australia to send more troops to Afghanistan. But it seems to me that, even if you draw only on the evidence Hugh himself presents in his post, that's an unconvincing conclusion.

First of all, Hugh argues that Prime Minister Rudd saw the writing on the wall in April and pre-empted an Obama troop request by sending 500 more soldiers. So Obama got what he wanted without even having to ask for it. Why wouldn't he just pocket this and move on? Granted, Australia's contribution to Afghanistan is still pretty small, so you could argue that Obama should have pressured Rudd for still more troops. But why risk the relationship for, perhaps, another 500 troops, which wouldn't be a decisive contribution anyway?

I'm also puzzled at the way Hugh weighs evidence in this post. Based on the failure to pressure Australia for more troops, Hugh tentatively concludes that Obama is weak and too nice for his job. Yet he also acknowledges that Obama defeated the Clinton machine during the presidential campaign. It's not obvious to me why, when presented with those two contrary pieces of evidence about Obama's leadership style, we ought to place more significance on his treatment of Australia than on his presidential campaign.

Wise leaders understand which political battles they ought to invest in and which they should leave alone. The battle with the Clintons was decisive for Obama's future; he engaged in it and won. Nothing remotely so important was at stake in Obama's dealings with Rudd. That he avoided a confrontation with Rudd over troop numbers says more about our importance than it does about Obama's style.

Photo by Flickr user Vinko T, used under a Creative Commons license.

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