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Eric Chen

Professor Nacos,

This post highlights the fundamental difference between a partisan pundit and a leader. A partisan pundit, unlike a leader, can criticize in certain tone without requirement to articulate a viable alternative course of action that seriously weighs goals and priorities, capabilities and limits, costs and benefits, risks and rewards. A partisan pundit can afford to be narrow-minded, a leader cannot. A leader must weigh all the factors and choose one course of action, even when every choice - as is the case in the War on Terror - is unattractive with a host of informed detractors.

"No silver bullets" - an Obama official said this to explain Obama's decision in his Afghanistan policy, which is virtually identical to the final Afghanistan policy he inherited from Bush. The quote neatly sums up all the Bush and Obama similarities; in other words, after exhaustively seeking viable alternatives, President Obama has discovered that given the hard realities, the best courses of action are the courses of action chosen by his predecessor.

Simply, the fundamental gulf between critic and leader is why President Obama has shed Obama the candidate and hardly deviated from President Bush in the War on Terror. President Obama has made the best decisions he could given all the factors a partisan pundit can ignore that a president must account for. It should be no surprise then that Obama has consistently arrived at the same or similar conclusions as Bush given both presidents arrived at them from the same careful presidential deliberations. In fact, reaching the shared conclusions was likely more difficult for President Bush since he was an anti-intervention realist who chose a progressive liberal strategy upon 9/11, whereas President Obama entered office as a progressive liberal who merely had to continue the progressive liberal strategy put in place by his predecessor.

Since popular narrative and popular will are key in the global competition of ideas and ideologies, we can only hope the American pundits who influence the world will eventually open their minds and hold themselves as accountable to the outcome as our Presidents must.

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