by Ken Feltman
Leadership is solving problems.
– Colin Powell
1. Louisiana: Many emotions
What a mess! Drive down Route 23 along the Mississippi River from New Orleans and turn right on Tide Water Road south of Venice. You come to a place where the land gives way to marshes. Then the marshes give way to brackish waters. The Gulf of Mexico is just beyond. See the vastness of the Delta and the ecosystem these waters support. You need a boat to travel farther. Turn around and drive along the roads into the bayous. See the settlements and how the people live.
See the signs of stress – then distress. Uncertainty is everywhere. People are disoriented, aware that their way of life may be ending, perhaps forever.
Go deep into the bayous and meet the people who call his place home. These are hard working and proud men and women, many from families that have made their living on these waterways for generations. In some places, you can still hear the soft-accented French of the Cajuns, who were exiled by the British from the Maritime Provinces of today’s Canada and the state of Maine two and a half centuries ago. Many made their way to his eerily beautiful place. They are here yet. They have prospered, until now.
Hear the Native Americans (who usually refer to themselves as Indians) speak a dialect of English heavy with verbs, short on nouns, a language that stresses action – action that is coming too late, if at all. Ever at home with nature, they tell the story best not with words, but with their expressions and sometimes with their tears. The tears are not for themselves. They are strong and resourceful. They will overcome as they always have. Their tears are for the wildlife, covered and dying in the sweet smelling sludge that they cannot escape. The Indians know that the gentle balance that allows all creatures to thrive is being destroyed.
Outsiders sometimes assume that life along these waterways is slow and easy. They do not realize that every movement, every action, every decision has a purpose. Nothing is wasted, until now.
He takes too long
Most of these people supported President Obama in the last election. Now they are unsure. They convey concern that Obama is indecisive when quick action is required. These people want action and Obama’s indecision has convinced many that the man they trusted with the top job is not up to the job. They agree that Obama may be doing everything he can behind the scenes and without fanfare, with a few awkward visits to more accessible beaches, so TV crews can surround him.
But they echo one woman’s conclusion: “Look right here. A pelican dead in the goo, and another over there. Do we see the federal government doing anything? People here say that we have waited days and weeks and still have no response from the government on our requests for assistance. What is Obama doing? He takes too long.”
A man jokes that Obama sent Attorney General Eric Holder to announce that the government was investigating criminal charges against BP and its executives. “Just what we need, a lawyer,” he said. “Can that lawyer get us some help cleaning up this oil? I guess not. And he’s sure not gonna get out here where his shoes might get wet.”
Another man: “How long did he take to decide on the family dog?”
The families depending on paychecks from oil rig workers are especially concerned. The Gulf oil spill may cause the Obama Administration to enforce a “temporary” ban on off-shore drilling. Immediately, that temporary ban would idle between 7,000 and 75,000 rig roustabouts and related workers. The disparity in estimates is typical of the lack of credible, consistent information. In the long term, the ban will cause oil companies and the companies that build and manage drilling rigs to move to other parts of the world. In time, that will make the U.S. more dependent on foreign oil for years to come.
The roustabouts are not optimistic. They see Obama as detached, academic, unlikely to relate to their problems. Others think Obama’s idealism causes him to resist pragmatic compromises.
Most believe that time is against them because Obama is too deliberative and, therefore, too indecisive.
The bayou verdict is in: Obama takes too long.
2. Washington: Emotionless judgments
Switch to another gathering of somber people, this time in Washington. International investors, venture capitalists, hedge fund managers and those who work with the managers of large pools of capital. These people know that they have suffered a severe decline in reputation as well as assets in the last two years. Most say that they realize that their arrogance and their reliance on little-understood computer models had a part in the financial catastrophe that still rocks the world. Recently, with few outside their circle knowing of the meeting, about 75 of them debated, discussed and disagreed on the depth of their responsibility for the crash. They rationalized their role. Following are their points of agreement:
The European Union and the eurozone:
+ Europe’s primary problem is shrinking populations in a few of the larger countries, especially Germany.
+ Shrinking populations cannot sustain vibrant economies.
+ The eurozone is in deep trouble and will not survive as now constituted. The weaker nations will be forced out of the common currency.
+ Germany may abandon the euro, which will cause France to follow.
+ Europe lacks the will and also the means to support market economies within Europe, much less across the world.
President Obama and the United States:
+ The international investment community will continue to rush to Washington to set up business operations because Washington is where more and more financial decision are being made.
+ The Obama Administration does not seem to appreciate what it means to have Washington as the new financial capital and does not know what to do about this new power. That means that competent investment managers with good connections can do very well in Washington in the foreseeable future.
+ The Americans pay lip service to Africa’s potential but do not give many indications that they understand that Africa is a key “battleground” for resources and customers in the future.
+ By default, the dollar is the world’s reserve currency.
The Middle East, Israel and Turkey:
+ Obama’s efforts to strengthen ties with Turkey have failed. The Turkish government sees few benefits to closer relations with the U.S.
+ The Turks realize that they risk relations with Muslim and Middle Eastern states if they are perceived as too close to the Americans.
+ Israel has become too big a problem for the weakened U.S. and American support for Israel will continue to soften.
+ Iran is emboldened by Obama’s perceived weakness.
+ Israel may not be able to survive if Iran attacks because the U.S. will decide not to intervene – or will dither too long, with the same result.
+ Russia’s leaders believe that Obama is weak and will be unable to prevent Russia from engaging in expanding its zone of influence.
+ The Chinese cannot control North Korea and seek to maintain the status quo rather than risk a meltdown or violence.
+ China believes that Obama is weak and they will take advantage of the weakness to expand into Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Europe.
+ The Chinese believe that the Americans cannot be trusted.
+ The Chinese military is preparing for hostile confrontations with U.S. military forces.
The judgment of the professional investors is in: Obama is weak.
From the people of the Gulf Coast to cynical and manipulative professional investors, the judgments on Obama are being changed and reformed. Other individuals and groups are assessing Obama. He seems to be thrashing about, uncertain, impotent. Once opinions harden, they are hard to change. This verdict of Louisianans and professional investors may become history’s verdict.
Hillary Clinton’s campaign advertisement may have been right: Obama is not ready to answer the emergency call at 3 o’clock in the morning.