|Sydney Morning Herald
His Queeg Moment
By Hal G.P. Colebatch on 20.2.13
In Herman Wouk’s classic World War II novel, The Caine Mutiny, there is a moment when a group of the ship’s officers are getting away from the increasingly eccentric Captain Queeq by relaxing ashore.
Suddenly the malcontent Lieutenant Keefer asks the others: "Does it occur to you that Captain Queeg may be insane?
In fact Queeg is not insane, at least not at that time. He is simply grappling, more and more disastrously, with a job too big for him. Come the crisis of a typhoon, he becomes paralyzed and nearly sinks the ship by failing to give the obvious orders. At the subsequent court-martial he appears quite normal until he breaks down under the pressure of cross-examination. Before this, the officers have searched the regulations for guidance, but the regulations refer only to a captain who is clearly and unmistakably insane, not one who is merely guilty of eccentricity and bad judgment. At a lower level of responsibility, Queeg might have performed adequately, but with Keefer’s question, the remaining respect for Queeg’s office has gone.
Obama’s second inauguration speech may be his Queeg moment — an undeniable demonstration that, in an emergency, he is incapable of grappling with reality. For all his unceasing invocation of the word "change," the outstanding thing about Obama has been his apparent inability to react, even to an imminent crisis. Like Queeg, he stands frozen on the bridge as the waves grow higher, or obsesses over issues like homosexuals and women in the military as the typhoon rises.
Faced with the worst looming fiscal cliff-fall in world history Obama, like Queeg in the typhoon, has done nothing at all, but has, increasingly, resorted to meaningless words. His pseudo-Keynesian fiscal notions and a mantra-like repetition of old and failed ideas, suggest a serious lack on mental versatility.
Economics is not an exact science, but some of its rules are now well-known, and one is that a government cannot spend its way out of a recession. Yet Obama does not project any sense of urgency, merely a smug, radiating sense of his own greatness. The one fiscal measure to which he seems committed — taxing the rich — is infantile stuff, like
Queeg’s obsession with who ate the wardroom strawberries. Any first-year politics or economics student knows that there are not enough rich, even in as wealthy a country as the United States, to have raising their taxes make any appreciable difference. President Reagan’s application of the Laffer Curve proved emphatically, and only a short while ago, that the way to both stimulate the economy and to increase government revenues is to lower taxes. And it is not hard to pick some areas as least where towering taxes would make no appreciable difference to public infrastructure.
Like Queeg, Obama shows an inability to change course when such a change is desperately needed. Giving 20 F-16 fighters and hundred of tanks to Egypt was never, in my opinion, a clever idea. Even when Egypt was an unequivocal friend its security required things like armored cars to put down street violence, not these hi-tech weapons whose only conceivable use would be against Israel. Indeed, Obama seems to show no awareness that Egypt and other major Islamic countries have changed from being friends to something like enemies in a few months. For a President of the United States there is a difference between making a bad policy choice and clinging to that policy when it is plainly completely wrong, like the Caine steaming in a circle and cutting its own tow-line. Mistakes that cannot be ignored are always someone else’s fault (always refer George Bush).
The dancing is still there, the golf, the celebs, the multi-million dollar holidays, but behind them it is possible to detect a desperate emptiness, a interconnected mosaic of failure. The one much-boasted triumph, the killing of Osama Bin Laden, was the work of other men. One of those most responsible, Dr. Shakil Afridi, rots in the hellhole of a Pakistani jail, abandoned. Obama’s oath to bring the Benghazi murderers to justice seems to have been forgotten as soon as it was made, something — I am not sure if there is a word for it — actually below the level of a campaign promise. Allies (including our own Australia) have been lost or slighted in almost every part of the world, the Afghan war has brought the U..S and NATO humiliation and Russia and China lead in Space. The defenses of the U.S.’s major allies, such as Britain, are in an even more dire situation.
This does not even consider the exploding levels of domestic poverty. Restoring flexibility to the wage system, so as to give American industry a reasonable degree of competitiveness, seems out of the question.
The Western position in Mali seems to have suddenly collapsed without warning, or without preventative action being taken, and meanwhile, we have had the North Korean threat. I somehow doubt we would have had that if Reagan had been at the helm. What, exactly have things come to when a cockroach of a country, apparently run by real, certifiable lunatics, can threaten the United States with nuclear weapons? The typhoon waves are starting to break over the bridge.
About the Author
Hal G.P. Colebatch is a Political Staff Writer for the Sydney Morning Herald and the author of, "Counterstrike", published by Australian Imaginites Publishers.