Walter Russell Mead writes (the day before I did) that President Obama doesn't understand the emotional side of leadership. Read the whole thing if you can bear it.
ISIS is a master of the pornography of politics and the pornography of perverted religion: slave girls, heads on spikes, executions uploaded to the internet, naked defiance in the face of its enemies. ISIS isn't trying to win a conventional geopolitical chess match, it wants to electrify millions of potential supporters and change the nature of the game. The execution of American hostages succeeded brilliantly, from an ISIS point of view. It has made President Obama look weak, forced him to change his entire Middle East policy and brought the jihadi movement back into the world spotlight. The politics of spectacle has eclipsed Al-Qaeda, weakened Assad's position, drawn the awe and admiration of jihadi wanna-bes and funders, and elevated 30,000 thugs and nutjobs to a major force in global events. Yes, that elevation carries with it the risk of serious pushback and even conventional military defeat, but jihadi ideology has benefited enormously from what ISIS has accomplished so far. ISIS still isn't going to conquer the world, but radical Islam is closer than ever to launching the clash of civilizations of which bin Laden dreamed.
ISIS has much less money than President Obama does, many fewer fighters, much less equipment and in every other conventional measure of power it is a pipsqueak compared to the Leader of the Free World. But who is acting, and who is reacting? Who is dancing to whose tune?
ISIS doesn't need President Obama's advice; it clearly knows its job better than he does. The same thing is true of Putin; the Russian president has a much weaker hand, objectively speaking, than President Obama, but in part because President Putin understands the importance of spectacle and momentum in politics, he has been able to run rings around the Vulcan-in-Chief.
Drama and spectacle are among the assets that successful world leaders employ; that doesn't mean that those leaders are hotheaded or stupid. The impression, hopefully inaccurate, that the Baker piece gives us is of a president who knows things aren't working but doesn't think he has anything to learn. If that is really where this president is, he and we have some hard times ahead.