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The Emotional Intelligence of President Obama

My wife and I have just returned from a two week holiday in Hawaii and San Diego, taking advantage of the exchange rate to play some golf and visit my sister's family. It turned out to most eventful trip with the Royal Wedding, release of Obama's long-form birth certificate and the death of Osama Bin Laden.

I have previously blogged on President Obama's EQ but to me the events of the weekend of 1 May 2011 clearly showed his emotional self-mastery. This latest phrase is derived from Daniel Goleman's latest book and refers to someone is both aware of and in control of his emotions. That weekend Obama demonstrated EQ self-mastery in spades.

First was his decision to send in a Seal team, overruling the advice of his military generals who wanted to bomb the compound. Obama would have been only 18 when it happened but that is old enough to remember how President Carter's failed operation to rescue American hostages in Iran demolished his Presidency. Nevertheless he gave the order to go ahead on Friday on the basis that you had to be sure you had caught Osama.

Saturday night Obama attended the White House Correspondent's Dinner. Inside he must have been in turmoil yet his speech was brilliant controlled irony. Then you see him laughing at the Bin Laden jokes in speech by Seth Myers. The contrast with Donald Trump seething in his chair as Obama "bows" to Trump's superior decision making in Celebrity Apprentice is the stuff of legend.

Finally there was the decision to bury Bin Laden at sea. At first I thought like many people that it was an attempt to stop the formation of martyr memorial. But I now realise that it was much more than that. If you not only kill your opponent, but also control his burial rituals, you truly shatter the emotional intelligence of his followers. Nearly 2,500 years ago Sophocles wrote Antigone which deals exactly with this theme. Before the beginning of the story, two brothers leading opposite sides in Thebes' civil war died fighting each other for the throne. Creon, the new ruler of Thebes, decides that the winning brother will be honoured and the loser will be publicly shamed, by lying unburied on the battlefield, prey for carrion animals like worms and vultures and not receive burial rights. Obama coolly decided to achieve the same result with Bin Laden.

When the news of Bin Laden's death broke my sister was having a party. When I made the observation that this must guarantee Obama's re-election about half the party (Republicans?) left. Those remaining brought up how Bush Senior lost to Clinton even though he had won the first Iraq war. This is not a fair analogy. Clinton had immeasurably more EQ than Bush and connected with the American voters. The same applies with Obama. Unless the Republicans can put up a candidate that can match Obama's EQ it is difficult to see him being defeated in 2012.

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