What’s He Made Of?

June 23, 2010 5:21 p.m.

Earlier today I said in a couple posts that I wasn’t sure if President Obama had it in him to fire Gen. McChrystal. And then I wrote at the end of my afternoon post …

And yet, as I said a few moments ago, I’m not sure I thought he had it in him. But he did. I’ve learned something.

A number of you have written in to ask what the hell I was saying or what I meant. So I thought I’d expand briefly on what I said.First, and maybe this goes without saying, but I’m not sure I meant anything. Many people read with the idea that everything someone writes is not just — hopefully — accurate and honest but also aimed at some end — to signal something or to have some particular effect. But that’s not always the case and probably less so with the way I write than many others. It sounds a little airy and soft to me to say I’m writing what I ‘feel’. It’s probably better to say that I’m trying to capture my immediate and honest perception of the situation without giving any particular attention to what it means or what conclusions to draw from it.

So with all that throat-clearing, what did I mean?

I guess I’d say this. It’s not that I don’t think Obama’s tough or a strong leader or decisive or whatever adjective you want to use. Having watched Obama as president for going on two years, I’ve found remarkable his ability to ignore the chatter, the pundits and the polls and stick to whatever his plan is. But I’ve also gotten used to seeing that when crises come or key gut-check moments arise his tendency is to try to conciliate the situation. Not duck it; that’s not what I mean. I mean find some new vantage point to come at the situation from which you look at it again and see that it’s not really just a plain yes or no, that there’s some more complexity and give in the situation. And you can find some creative way to address all the relevant concerns. I just haven’t seen President Obama throw down a lot of gauntlets or, to put it harshly, cut the baby in half.

So when I woke up this morning I still couldn’t quite see how President Obama could not fire McChrystal. But I also couldn’t quite imagine him doing it.

But he did. Showed me a different side of him. And what I really couldn’t have imagined was that he found a way not just to acquit himself honorably and protect the office but actually enhance his prestige and standing.

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