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Howard Gardner

Howard Gardner

Howard Gardner is the Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Senior Director of Harvard Project Zero.

Boldly Reconsidering

Clearly, by labeling Afghanistan an "essential" conflict, Obama has made it much more difficult for himself to recommend a major change of course.

On his side is that he is seen as a learner, one who is willing to admit his mistakes, to try to learn from them, and to share his learnings with the public. Should he decide to change course in Afghanistan, he will need to do it in a much broader context, explaining our overall strategic plans in the area, what has changed, how he can achieve long-term national goals, despite this change in course. Also, and importantly, he needs to make it clear why such an initial miscalculation will NOT happen again.

I think Obama could do the nation, indeed the world, a favor if he could convert such a major change in course into a learning experience -- not just for himself and his administration, but also for the wider world -- where tenacity often turns into stubbornness and leads to much worse results than an intelligent reconsideration and reconceptualization. But such reasoned changes in thinking and action, which we honor in individuals whom we know personally, does not have much traction in the public sphere.

Provided that a leader does not change course frequently, or inconsistently, the opportunity for growth in office ought to be admired, not scorned. Obama has unique gifts of understanding and communication; if he could mobilize them to this end -- the education of a wider public on why sometimes it is advisable to change course -- that would be a remarkable achievement.

Given the current poisonous climate in Washington, Obama would doubtless be criticized from all sides. And so i fear even if there is a change in course, it will be done under some kind of a false pretense, as with the Gulf of Tonkin resolution. That would be a compounding of sins.

By Howard Gardner

 |  September 22, 2009; 5:58 AM ET
Category:  Wartime Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: The Necessity of U-Turns | Next: Intelligent Resolve


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Obama's problem in Afghanistan lies in years of unrealistic and overoptimistic reports that the Karzai regime provided the previous White House. In other words, they got punked. In reality, the US started losing ground in that region the week after invasion 'success'. But the Bush Administration did its best to hide that fact from the voters.

Now it's 'Obama's War'. It's no more Obama's War than is Iraq. Eight years into the fighting, it's his to resolve.

Thanks, GOP. Reminds me of the Onion headline the day after the election: "America's Worst Job Goes to Black Man."

He's up to it. Mostly because he's driven by mission rather than ego.

Posted by: Samson151 | September 22, 2009 11:44 AM
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