Obama, failing on moral leadership?

Editor’s Note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is the author of “The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television.” Follow her on Twitter: @FridaGColumns.

Story highlights

Frida Ghitis: The world stands shivering in a cold moral vacuum

Ghitis: For example, the president said he couldn't solve some pressing problems

She says setting high standards only to leave them unachieved demoralizes people

Ghitis: Obama needs to address Gitmo, Syria's alleged use of chemical weapons, sequester

CNN  — 

If any doubt remains that the world stands shivering in a cold moral vacuum – devoid of meaningful leadership – they are quickly fading.

The starkest example came in Washington on Tuesday, when President Barack Obama, inarguably the world’s most powerful man, stood before the press and recited a series of positions, some of them built on solid moral arguments, only to conclude that there is not much he can do to turn them into reality.

Obama explained at length why the world cannot tolerate the use of chemical weapons in Syria, why the U.S. should not keep open the prison at Guantanamo Bay, why Washington is acting foolishly with the infamous “sequester” – the blunt and unjust budget cutter. But then he went on to explain just how difficult it is to do anything to solve these problems.

Frida Ghitis

The president is smart and eloquent. But leadership, especially for someone who has achieved that level of power, requires three elements: It must communicate a clear vision and a commitment to its realization; it must mobilize and inspire others into action; and it must produce results.

Proclaiming high standards only to leave them unachieved demoralizes those you might have hoped to inspire. Rather than bending the arc of history toward justice, it unleashes a chain reaction of disenchantment.

Consider the Guantanamo prison. You might have thought Obama was a candidate again when he declared, just as he did years ago on the campaign trail that America must shut down the prison. Holding prisoners without charges and trial, he said persuasively, is “contrary to who we are.” It’s not just an ethical question, it is a practical matter. “It hurts us in terms of our international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts. It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed.”