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What this country needs is strong leadership.

We have repeatedly heard that statement or variations of it in recent months.

There's no doubt we need strong national government leadership in both the legislative and executive branches.

Obviously there are different ways of valuing and measuring leadership.

In the current era, some in Congress apparently see leadership as basically defensive, thwarting presidential action. Presidents and the executive branch try to find ways around congressional road blocks. That, in turn, leads members of Congress to assail the executive for exceeding presidential authority. In the case of the current president, he is said to be too weak or that he is leading from behind; on the other hand, he exercises too much power.

And we have a Congress where leadership is exceptionally weak, a weakness exacerbated by political polarization, viewing almost every issue through a political lens.

There's also no doubt that the Obama administration has been less than sure-handed on some elements of policy/action on Syria and Libya and in dealing with ISIS. But Congress has shied away from definitive action on these matters and the public remains wary of further military intervention in a region where, despite heavy costs, the results have mostly been counter-productive.

Consider some recent conflicts and controversies involving President Obama and his critics in Congress and among those aspiring to the White House. This would include his announced Supreme Court nomination, and his recent visits to Cuba and Argentina.

Following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, Obama flummoxed the Senate leadership by quickly fulfilling his constitutional responsibility to name his nominee for the open seat. By almost all accounts, Judge Merrick Garland is a well-qualified, highly respected moderate. Yet Republican Majority Leader McConnell made clear that under no circumstances would the Senate consider Garland's nomination -- no hearings, no votes. He says the next president should fill the vacancy, but the next president won't take office until January. He says the voters should decide, but polls indicate that a majority of Americans believe the Senate should hold hearings and take an up-or-down vote.

There is absolutely no reason the Senate should not do its duty now. True, there's no requirement that a nominee must be considered by a specific date, but in this case it is political leverage, not orderly constitutional process, that prevails. Yes, this is the same McConnell who throughout his time as Republican leader has seen impeding Obama at every turn as his priority.

Despite McConnell's title, that's not leadership.

Restoring relations with Cuba is a major Obama initiative and leadership motivated by common sense after nearly six decades of isolation and animosity. There are many steps yet to be taken to solidify a new relationship and hard-core opponents of engagement will do all they can to block increased ties. Obama made a point of meeting with dissidents and jousting with President Raul Castro over human rights at an unprecedented joint press conference.

Interestingly, some legislators, including several from Arkansas, support an opening in trade relations, as Cuba could be a key market for Arkansas agricultural products.

Obama used his Cuban visit, the first U.S. presidential travel to Cuba in nearly 90 years, to undertake some baseball diplomacy, baseball being an area of strong interest among our two nations. Seated next to Cuban President Raul Castro at a game between the Tampa Rays and the Cuban national team, was an important symbolic occasion, and Obama can perhaps be excused for engaging in "the wave," something no serious baseball fan would do.

But Obama drew criticism for sticking to his itinerary and attending the game at a time news was being reported on the horrendous bombing by terrorists in Brussels. For some, the "optics" from the baseball game were inappropriate.

From Cuba, Obama traveled to Argentina, which endured a period of brutal military dictatorship in the 1970s and a troubled relationship with the U.S. Improving relations with that important Latin American nation is a point of emphasis for the administration.

Here again, however, Obama caught flak for what critics saw as a lack of seriousness when he was pictured dancing the tango, the Argentine national dance, with an Argentinian dancer, although he had declined her invitations before politely giving in, at a point when doing otherwise could be seen as insulting to the hosts of a state dinner at the national cultural center.

In fact, there is a long history of presidents maintaining their schedule, including recreation time away from the White House, at a time of troubling international events. Top advisers always travel with the president to keep him briefed on developments and coordinate responses. Within a short time after the Brussels bombings, Obama spoke by phone with Belgian and other European officials.

And if you are looking for examples of lack of seriousness, knowledge and leadership on foreign policy, you might want to review transcripts of the recent meetings with editorial boards of the New York Times and Washington Post with the front-running Republican presidential candidate.

Commentary on 03/30/2016

Print Headline: Leadership talk, action

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