According to legend, if not actual historians,
Macmillan may never have actually said it, but the quote endures because it gets at a fundamental truth of politics (and life). Facts on the ground can deliver a fatal blow to one's most cherished plans.
The line kept coming to mind as I listened to President Obama's remarkable news conference Monday from the G-20 meeting in
Of course, he used a lot more words, but that was the gist: "It's important for us to get the strategy right, and the strategy that we are pursuing is the right one." He added that "the terrible events in
Critics who disagree, he said, shouldn't "pop off" with their half-baked and ill-considered opinions. He's "not interested" in what he sees as mere sloganeering about "American leadership or America winning" that distract him from his strategy.
The contrast with remarks by French President Francois Hollande, addressing Parliament on Monday, was remarkable. Had Hollande's speech been delivered by a Republican presidential candidate, Obama would probably have dismissed it as more popping off. Hollande pledged to wage war "without a respite, without a truce. ... It is not a question of containing but of destroying this organization."
Obama's bloodlessly detached and condescendingly professorial remarks seemed oddly reminiscent of those excruciating news conferences during the Iraq War when
The day before the
And that's the bedeviling thing about events -- the enemy gets to create them. Obama has all but admitted that the Islamic State forced his hand by chopping off the heads of American hostages.
For Republicans, the attacks in
In a more rational climate, this would be a moment for presidential candidates with serious foreign policy chops to shine and for candidates such as
But even Trump, in his own way, seems more attuned to events as they unfold than Obama and the Democrats running to replace him.
In Saturday's Democratic debate, all three of the candidates struggled as the ground shifted under their feet. They bristled at the suggestion that we are at war with "radical Islam." Saying so, according to
That was a minority view even before it was revealed that at least one of the
For now, most Democrats stand with Obama in his denial. One wonders how long that resolve will last in the face of even one more "setback" to Obama's successful strategy.