President Obama has demonstrated leadership qualities ranging from poor to nonexistent. But is a president who lacks visible leadership qualities really such a bad thing? Or is he lazy like a fox? A lack of leadership -- whether deliberate or accidental -- can have a surprising upside, as none other than the French have historically exemplified. (And no, I'm not being facetious.)
As a conservative whose heart leans firmly right, I would have thought the idea crazy until I moved to France four years ago, gaining insight into the mysterious French mind-set. I came to realize that there is a more covert way to get things done without placing your neck onto the chopping block. It may not constitute leadership, but it can be just as effective. "Going in with the back of the spoon," as the French call it.
In the outster of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Obama let NATO allies run the operation along with contractors, proudly taking credit for the success of the mission while bragging that it was executed without any official American boots on the ground. Against Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Obama seems satisfied to let Turkey do the staging, let Qatar and Saudi Arabia do the funding, and let eventual al-Qaeda drone bait do the fighting against a swamp of unsavory opponents, including Iranian proxies, the Al-Nusra Front (Syrian al-Qaeda) and pro-Assad forces.
Obama recently said of the bloody situation in Egypt: "We want Egypt to succeed. We want a peaceful, democratic, prosperous Egypt. That's our interest. But to achieve that, the Egyptians are going to have to do the work." Meanwhile, what the world is seeing is not merely an indiscriminate bloodbath, but rather, as Obama presumably understands, a crackdown on Islamic extremists in the Muslim Brotherhood by the Egyptian military, which has traditionally enjoyed the support of the people and America's financial generosity.
What does all this have to do with the French? There's a reason why French power is universally considered a "hard target" in espionage, along with the more obviously difficult-to-penetrate North Korea, Iran, Russia and China -- and it has a lot to do with the covert nature of French behavior, including leadership style (or lack thereof). The problem with this style is that it's not very comforting to those who want to know what's going on. In Obama's case, this means the American people.