The President of the United States is a busy man with a lot on his mind. Jodi Kantor fills us in at the New York Times:
For someone dealing with the world's weightiest matters, Mr. Obama spends surprising energy perfecting even less consequential pursuits. He has played golf 104 times since becoming president, according to Mark Knoller of CBS News, who monitors his outings, and he asks superior players for tips that have helped lower his scores. He decompresses with card games on Air Force One, but players who do not concentrate risk a reprimand ("You're not playing, you're just gambling," he once told Arun Chaudhary, his former videographer).
His idea of birthday relaxation is competing in an Olympic-style athletic tournament with friends, keeping close score. The 2009 version ended with a bowling event. Guess who won, despite his history of embarrassingly low scores? The president, it turned out, had been practicing in the White House alley.
You have to love that "guess who won?" I am guessing that one crucial skill that all of his staff have to have is that of massaging the President's ego. Kantor backs me up.
Even those loyal to Mr. Obama say that his quest for excellence can bleed into cockiness and that he tends to overestimate his capabilities. The cloistered nature of the White House amplifies those tendencies, said Matthew Dowd, a former adviser to President George W. Bush, adding that the same thing happened to his former boss. "There's a reinforcing quality," he said, a tendency for presidents to think, I'm the best at this.
With the golf and the card games and the secret bowling practice, what doesn't the President have time for? Marc Thiessen, writing for the WaPo, found out:
The Government Accountability Institute, a new conservative investigative research organization, examined President Obama's schedule from the day he took office until mid-June 2012, to see how often he attended his Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) — the meeting at which he is briefed on the most critical intelligence threats to the country. During his first 1,225 days in office, Obama attended his PDB just 536 times — or 43.8 percent of the time. During 2011 and the first half of 2012, his attendance became even less frequent — falling to just over 38 percent. By contrast, Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush almost never missed his daily intelligence meeting.
Not to worry. Surely 38% of the Dalai Bama is worth a lot more than 100% of Dubya. In fact, the President is such an intelligent consumer of intelligence that he doesn't need to discuss it with actual human beings.
When I asked National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor if the president had attended any meetings to discuss the Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) since Sept. 5, he repeatedly refused to answer. He noted that Obama had attended a principals meeting of the National Security Council on Sept. 10 and reiterated that he reads the PDB…
Vietor's reply is quite revealing. It is apparently a point of pride in the White House that Obama's PDB is "not briefed to him." In the eyes of this administration, it is a virtue that the president does not meet every day with senior intelligence officials. This president, you see, does not need briefers. He can forgo his daily intelligence meeting because he is, in Vietor's words, "among the most sophisticated consumers of intelligence on the planet."
Truly sophisticated consumers of intelligence don't see it as a sign of weakness to "be briefed" by the experts. Most of us, if we subscribed to a daily report on, say, astrophysics, would probably need some help interpreting it. But when it comes to intelligence, Obama is apparently so brilliant he can absorb the most complicated topics by himself in his study.
But one does have to wonder about this, from Thiessen's Sept. 13th piece:
According to the public schedule of the president, the last time the Obama attended his daily intelligence meeting was Sept. 5 — a week before Islamist radicals stormed our embassy in Cairo and terrorists killed our ambassador to Tripoli. The president was scheduled to hold the intelligence meeting at 10:50 a.m. Wednesday, the day after the attacks, but it was canceled so that he could comfort grieving employees at the State Department — as well he should. But instead of rescheduling the intelligence briefing for later in the day, Obama apparently chose to skip it altogether and attend a Las Vegas fundraiser for his re-election campaign. One day after a terrorist attack.
No matter how brilliant the President is, wouldn't the approach of Sept. 11th have been a good time to actually talk to his intelligence staff? Might he not have asked a few relevant questions? Perhaps he might have asked whether sending our ambassador to Benghazi with rather little in the way of protection just before the infamous anniversary was really such a good idea.
One also has to wonder why, if the President is so self-sufficient that he doesn't need to be briefed, that it he suddenly feels the need to be briefed. Again, Thiessen fills us in:
According to official White House schedule, today the president attended his daily intelligence meeting in the Oval Office for the fifth day in a row. It appears that President Obama's attendance has improved dramatically since the story broke last week that he had skipped more than half his daily intelligence meetings during his time in office — including every day in the week leading up to the attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Egypt and Libya…
I asked the Government Accountability Institute to check when was the last time Obama attended his daily intelligence meeting for five consecutive business days. They report that the last time was Feb. 6 to 10 — over seven months ago.
Thiessen is suggesting that his own story may have encouraged the President to suddenly begin attending his daily intelligence briefings. It's hard not to think that this may be right. If so, so much the better. This is one of the reasons we need adversarial voices in the press. Of course that would mean that the President is mostly concerned with how he looks rather than with doing his job.
The second possibility, not mutually exclusive of the first, is that after the Benghazi murders the President feels the need to be actually briefed by actual human beings. That, however, admits the obvious. The President should have shown up for the five meetings before September Eleventh.
The Administration's reaction to the Benghazi murders has been a boondoggle. For a week they kept feeding everyone a story that no one believed: that the attack on the consulate was a spontaneous reaction to the infamous video clip. They sent UN Ambassador Susan Rice onto last Sunday's talk shows to peddle that line, which was either evidence of the Administration's cluelessness or a bald faced lie. Take your pick. Even a very astute and engaged executive cannot anticipate every crisis. Still, I can't help wondering whether the Administration would have been caught so flat footed if someone close to the President had dared to tell him he ought to attend to his business instead of working hard to convince him that he was a master at bowling.