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Gen. Monty Meigs (Ret.)
Military leader

Gen. Monty Meigs (Ret.)

A retired U.S. Army General, Montgomery Meigs has commanded U.S. and NATO forces overseas and is now President and CEO of Business Executives for National Security.

Credibility, Not Threats

In business and in politics, fear actually saps creativity and initiative. Subordinates too concerned about their institutional survival will avoid taking risk and will duck the really tough decisions. President Obama's leadership dilemma lies in the issues of timing and credibility, not fear.

As Richard Neustadt advised presidents, political leaders must husband their political capital. Taking the current frenzy over reform of our system of medical care as an example, should the president intervene now with the "stick" when there are five bills alive in the legislature? Or should he wait until the real issues for compromise have been distilled and the House and Senate bills go through their final pre-passage work ups before going to the conference committee?

Intervening too early dissipates energy and political capital with damages a leader's credibility. If we haven't yet seen the best time for applying sticks, should we really be assessing the president's skill with them?

At times trading space for time offers a leader a way of clarifying issues and picking the most opportune moment to influence events. Granted, with the current legislative agonies over health-care reform -- as with other issues sure to emerge in the next three-and-a-half years -- President Obama will be tested in his ability to use appropriate political sanctions at the most propitious time.

It is very early in the ballgame of this administration. We have not yet seen whether President Obama has the will and the cunning to dominate the events. If he lets his opponents run the bases in this inning, he will find it very hard to catch back up. If he demonstrates skill in getting his way and gains credibility as a leader to be reckoned with, fear won't be necessary.

By Gen. Monty Meigs (Ret.)

 |  August 18, 2009; 12:14 PM ET
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I think husbanding political capital in Neustadt's day was easier than it is now, with instant media coverage, You Tube, instant messaging, and the generally lower level of respect for the Office of the Presidency today than in Lyndon Johnson's or Harry Truman's day.

LBJ would bring in his opponents in a locked room and twist their arms while pouring them all the bourbon they wanted. He may have given the south to the Republican Party for the next two generations, but he did get both civil rights and Medicare passed.

On the other hand, Johnson was an extrovert at heart, and President Obama is not. I'm not sure I can see Obama tossing a few down with Kent Conrad or Ben Nelson at the right time, let alone with hard-core Republicans. But who knows? Let's wait and see.

Posted by: corbinbrooks | August 18, 2009 4:17 PM
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I agree with the idea that a carrot is more effective than a stick. I further agree that President Obama needs to wait until there is a bill presented to him before he does much more than he is presently doing. I do feel however that the rest of us may be able to do more to instill fear in those who are opposing health care.
If we set up a fund and contribute to it, maybe we can defgeat Charles Grassley, the blue dog democrats and the other pimples on the rear end of progress and puit through meaningful legislation. Let's compil;e a list of the fear mongers and work to defeat them.

Posted by: aeschonfeld | August 18, 2009 12:58 PM
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