October 26, 2009

Is Obama in a Bubble?


While Obama was known before his inauguration to have the habit of taking in many sources of information and ideas, it is likely the amount of information and briefing materials available to him daily is stupefying.

So his challenge now is to see the forest in spite of being pushed up against trees every day.

Every form of briefing and information has its presumptions, its bias. The most profound bias is which information is thought to be important enough to present.

For instance, what is most important in Afghanistan is not among these:
a) troop positioning
b) Pakistan's offensive
c) road building
d) military strategies against the Taliban; or even...
e) disrupting Al-Qaeda

Instead, what is most important in Afghanistan might not be in any briefing materials dumped on the President each day.

Instead, the most important factors are likely among these:
f) number of television satellite dishes
g) freedom of the local press
h) distribution of popular local and regional writers of all kinds by various means across Afghanistan (poetry and novels and religious views being of equal significance in the evolution of thought)
i) state of progress with lowering India's tariffs on Afghan trade goods
j) state of progress with lowering Turkey's tariffs on Afghan trade goods
k) respect for local village preferences (if they don't want us there, then leave that area)

Similarly, for financial reform, Obama certainly hears the world view and ideas which dominate the Federal Reserve, no doubt articulated quite well by Timothy Geithner, such as ideas and theories about how to sustain or increase lending. The TARP Bailouts were about sustaining lending. But other forces are at work, and not every one of them might be brought up for examination in the White House.

Does his information intake include the current average household credit card balance and current average credit card interest rate? Does he have an analysis such as this one of how the recent increase in money diverted from local economies by higher card interest rates affects the general U.S. economy?

Or does he have only the competent, convincing presentation of certain points of view, perhaps with two or three angles or alternatives -- alternatives which themselves are only variations on certain presumptions common to a particular world view?

In other words, is Obama in a bubble?

I think it is too soon to say.

Afghanistan will be one of the tests of how well he is able to step back and include broader vision in his decisions. Will Obama be able to bring insights to bear in these complex, real-world situations in spite of powerful interests that are accustomed to continuing along their current paths?

Update: My wife sent this article that shows way Obama is clearly not in a bubble on Afghanistan.


  1. I'm encouraged at his continued insistence that he will not make a rapid decision about Afghanistan. He shouldn't.

  2. I agree. This "dithering," as Cheney calls it, is a good sign. I'm encouraged too.