Critics of Barack Obama take the president’s refusal to call for “tough action” in Syria as a sign that he is a weak leader. FT columnist Gideon Rachman writes that the critics are wrong: Obama’s decision to stay out of Syria actually reveals that he is a good leader.
[S]ometimes the best presidential decisions are decisions not to act. This point is made in an excellent new book by Joseph Nye of Harvard University entitled _Presidential Leadership and the Creation of the American Era_. Professor Nye points out that, in the 1950s, President Eisenhower resisted getting involved in the Vietnam war and reacted with great caution to the Soviet invasion of Hungary. He also “resolutely opposed numerous recommendations for the use of nuclear weapons in the Korean, Dien Bien Phu and Quemoy-Matsu crises.” As Prof Nye writes, “the result of Ike’s prudence was eight years of peace and prosperity”.
It certainly helped that – as an authentic war hero – Eisenhower had the confidence to tell his nuke-happy military advisers: “You boys are crazy.”
By contrast, President George W. Bush – with a rather less distinguished military record – felt the need to show toughness over Iraq. He referred to himself as “the decider” and liked to think of his leadership style as bold and decisive. Others might describe it as impetuous and unreflective.
Gideon Rachman, “Staying out of Syria is the bolder call for Obama“, Financial Times, 14 May 2013.