Two years ago, I wrote about a scandalous presidential reality. I’d say I’m shocked to report that the scandal continues, but I’m not. And that’s even more scandalous.
In October 2012, I commented on the revelation that President Obama had been absent from the vast majority of his daily intelligence briefings. According to a then-study by the Government Accountability Institute, Obama failed to attend a single Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) in the week leading up to the recent anniversary of 9/11 and despite the chaos that erupted in the Arab world, most notably in Libya. The mere fact that we were approaching a 9/11 anniversary was an essential enough reason to attend all the briefings. And yet, President Obama attended none. That’s right, not one.
Worse, this was nothing new. Obama attended only 43.8 percent of his Daily Briefs in the first 1,225 days of his administration. For the year 2012, he attended a little over a third.
There was no excuse for this. It’s unacceptable for a president, especially one criticized for spending so much time vacationing and campaigning.
By comparison, President George W. Bush not only didn’t miss the PDB but actually expanded it to six meetings per week. Or consider President Ronald Reagan, who, ironically, liberals portrayed as a detached, lazy, unengaged, uninformed idiot. In my 2012 piece, I quoted two advisers who briefed Reagan. One of them was Bill Clark, Reagan’s right-hand man at the National Security Council. As Clark’s biographer, he told me often how Reagan craved that regular morning update. Reagan ate up these briefings. He devoured the written report and then asked probing questions of his advisers during the live briefing that followed. Reagan used the briefings precisely as presidents should.
That brings me back to Barack Obama.
When this was reported in October 2012, it was embarrassing to President Obama and potentially damaging politically, with the presidential election only a month away and Mitt Romney moving ahead in the polls. One would think that, by now, this would have been corrected by Obama, not only for political reasons but (more important) national-security concerns. This president has an ongoing PR problem with ill-advised statements about not having strategies and dashing for the golf course and fundraisers immediately after beheadings and aircraft downings.
But alas, we now learn that this problem continues to fester: The Government Accountability Institute is back with a new report revealing that President Obama has missed over half of his briefings in his second term, obviously learning little (literally) since the first term.
The man has skipped hundreds of daily briefings.
My colleague Wynton Hall notes that these findings come on the heels of Obama’s 60 Minutes comments on Sunday, where he seemed to blame the surge of ISIS and events in Syria on his intelligence chief James Clapper.
“I think our head of the intelligence community, Jim Clapper, has acknowledged that I think they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria,” Obama averred, coolly passing the buck. (For the record, this was something that a Ronald Reagan would never have done to his CIA director, Bill Casey, and nor would George W. Bush.)
The defense and intelligence community was not pleased with Obama’s statement. Wynton Hall quoted the liberal Daily Beast, which reported that Pentagon officials were “flabbergasted” by Obama’s passing the blame. “Either the president doesn’t read the intelligence he’s getting or he’s bulls—ing,” said one angry official.
Hall added: “others in the intelligence community similarly blasted Obama and said he’s shown longstanding disinterest in receiving live, in-person PDBs that allow the Commander-in-Chief the chance for critical follow-up, feedback, questions, and the challenging of flawed intelligence assumptions.”
No question about that. The facts speak for themselves. And the president’s resultant lack of facts has evidently and obviously hurt our foreign policy.
But here’s a troubling question: Do President Obama’s supporters even care? They’ll make ludicrous excuses they would never make for a Republican president. “No big deal,” they’ll shrug, “He’s fine.”
Indeed, in 2011, two of Obama’s top spokesmen, Jay Carney and Tommy Vietor, did just that, insisting that “the president gets the information he needs.” Sorry, but there’s no substitute for the give-and-take that comes with daily briefings by advisers and experts. Obama doesn’t have ESP-like, Solomon-esque powers; he cannot place briefing papers aside his extraordinary brain and divine all contents and any questions that might have been hashed out during briefings.
And meanwhile, the world burns.
Yes, the world is on fire. And as it is, we’re stuck with this dismal White House leadership for another two years. I’m not asking for a perfect president, but I’d at least like a president who attends his security briefings.
Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. His latest book is 11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative. His other books include The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis, The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor and Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.