Kissinger on Obama

The NYT's Roger Cohen reports Henry Kissinger's take on Barack Obama's performance to date:

"He reminds me of a chess grandmaster who has played his opening in six simultaneous games," Kissinger said. "But he hasn't completed a single game and I'd like to see him finish one."

Cohen says he thinks that is quite apt, and I agree. He goes on to argue that Obama seems over-managed and over-scripted, lacking in "guts" and "warmth"--a common complaint this past year, and now increasingly popular even among Obama admirers. Here though I disagree. I don't think it hurts that he is reflective and cerebral: he is charming too, and can connect emotionally, so he can get away with it. In any event Obama is a brainy president and it would be a mistake for him to pretend not to be. His problem--and the polls show he does have a problem--is not so much intellectual distance as political distance: he seems oddly removed from the discussion the country is having about its future.

You see plenty of him, to be sure. You just don't see him guiding the debate on health care, or energy, or financial regulation, or anything.

Next week this should change. It had better. He is expected to announce, finally, his decision on additional forces for Afghanistan. He has just upped the stakes by saying that he, unlike his predecessor, "would finish the job" the US started eight years ago. A bold formulation.

This is an unpopular war. Selling the case for extra troops--assuming that is what he announces--is going to be as important for his presidency as it is difficult. When he announces this decision, it will be his. He will not be able to stand aside from it. We will find out what kind of a leader he is.