Leadership requires vision. Implementing a vision requires strategy. Effective strategies require well-articulated tactics. Executives in both the corporate and nonprofit sectors are expected to exercise sound leadership principles when making important decisions on behalf of stakeholders. There is little tolerance for impulsive decisions and no room for cutting corners.
President Obama, arguably the world’s top executive, is fast realizing the consequences of ignoring sound leadership principles. We saw this last week when House Democrats refused the president’s request for $80 million to close the facility at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detaining more than 200 of the world’s most dangerous terrorist suspects.
Even more surprising was the reason for this rebuke offered by Rep. David R. Obey, the House Appropriations Committee chairman. “I’m not much interested in wasting my energy defending a theoretical program,” he explained. While Mr. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat, may support closing the Guantanamo facility in principle, he could not bring himself to fund a program that simply does not exist.
The president and his team are now learning that setting a goal without clear direction can lead to poor choices and few good alternatives. They are working feverishly over where to physically relocate Guantanamo detainees. Many of our allies have shown little or no willingness to help. The administration reportedly plans to relocate shortly some Chinese Uighur detainees - trained terrorists by their own admission - from Guantanamo to the United States. The president has no good alternatives. This is an example of how vision without strategy fails.
Cutting corners can lead to harmful repercussions. When the president decided to release classified memos outlining enhanced interrogation methods used by the CIA on al Qaeda suspects, he did so against the advice of five CIA directors, including his own. Clearly, he did not anticipate the firestorm this cavalier decision would ignite. The president was unprepared for demands from the far left for show trials on the memos and confused on whether government officials would or would not be prosecuted. The president also did not anticipate the reaction from Congress. Perhaps the most serious unanticipated ramification of the memos-release debacle is how it has devastated the morale of U.S. intelligence officers.
Our country is finding that national-security shortcuts can also result in tactics without purpose. We recently saw a leak to the news media of the identity of contractors who carried out enhanced interrogations of terrorist suspects. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. last week had not ruled on cooperating with a Spanish judge who wants to put Bush administration officials on trial. It is hard to conceive of the goal of these decisions and actions or how they will advance U.S. interests and security. This is tactics without vision.
We are watching a president trying to govern from his heart and not his head on national security. He is ignoring proven leadership principles. Despite all the disdainful campaign rhetoric we heard from Mr. Obama about so-called “smart power,” instead of meetings with outside experts, careful deliberations and weighing all reasonable options, Mr. Obama has made a series of impulsive decisions, which I believe could seriously undermine U.S. national security.
The president should take a lesson from former President George W. Bush in participative management and effective leadership. Mr. Bush, in the aftermath of 9/11, successfully briefed and won Democrats’ support for the terrorist surveillance program and enhanced interrogations of al Qaeda suspects. Conversely, our current president’s hastily made unilateral national security decisions have only tended to isolate him, even from his own party. Where is the national consensus and bipartisanship he promised as a candidate? Had that existed, I doubt the president and his advisers would be scrambling to defend or salvage ill-conceived and misguided policies.
These are the consequences of national security decisions made by cutting corners on well-established leadership principles. U.S. foreign policy is about protecting our freedoms and defending our nation from harm. It’s not a tool to placate special-interest groups or settle scores with the last administration. America does not need rhetoric right now. It badly needs leadership.
We can be sure that our adversaries have taken note of, and will try to exploit, the growing confusion and lack of leadership in U.S. national security policy. With urgent threats facing our nation from radical jihadists, nuclear proliferation, the global economic situation and other issues, the president and congressional Democrats need to start exercising responsible leadership and stop using national security as a political football. We Republicans stand ready to work with Mr. Obama to develop a truly bipartisan approach to national security.
So, please share your vision with us, Mr. President. Present your plan. Tell us your strategy and tactics, and then work with all of us to keep America safe.
• Rep. Peter Hoekstra, Michigan Republican, is ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.