Obama’s tan suit, Russia, Ukraine, ISIS and intelligence

Obama’s tan suit, Russia, Ukraine, ISIS and intelligence

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WASHINGTON, August 29, 2014 — President Obama lit up the Twitterverse yesterday. Not for an executive order or a major policy decision or even vacations, but for his style selection: Obama shocked the world by wearing a tan suit.

The President made the surprising choice during a discussion of Russia’s latest aggression toward Ukraine and about the threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).

It seems however, that the American public was less concerned with Russia’s quiet invasion of a sovereign nation or the machinations of an evil terrorist group than it was about Obama’s divergence in suit color.

Usually, the President wears traditional Washington-politic blue or gray. In a 2012 interview with Vanity Fair, the President even warned the media he was not interested in setting fashion trends and would be sticking to a traditional wardrobe.

In the Vanity Fair article, Obama is quoted as saying, “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits.  I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”

Fashionistas may have been appalled by the choice, but by the rules of clothing police, the choice was acceptable. Obama wore the tan suit during a somewhat informal news conference in the summer. He broke no fashion laws, except possibly the one about presidents shall not wearing ill-fitting suits.

The conference did, however, address several critical issues, making some observers uneasy with the more casual clothing choice.

While Americans are aghast at the choice, there are almost certainly Russian intelligence analysts hard at work figuring out what the choice means.

Intelligence agencies around the world employ specialists who concentrate on high ranking officials in other countries.They look not at military moves or political intrigue, but at the person. These analysts watch what they eat, who they talk to, and yes, even what they wear.

Does the suit telegraph something about Obama’s intentions toward Russia? Ukraine? ISIS? Could the more casual attire suggest the President is disinclined to add more sanctions? Or maybe that he is not in a war-like mood and Syrian air strikes are on hold for the moment?

Perhaps Obama is responding to public criticism that he is too bland, too boring. Could this suggest he is worried about opinion polls and will be more likely to implement policies that are popular domestically? Is he trying to portray a friendlier image?

Does the less-Presidential attire mean Obama is softening his stance with Congress or that he is going to be more conciliatory?

Is it a sign of weakness? Does it mean Obama is moving outside his comfort zone? How will that translate?

These same analysts are probably pouring through the speech to look for other variations from Obama’s normal actions.

Like why is Obama now wearing his wedding ring on the middle finger of his left hand instead of the traditional “ring” finger? Has he lost too much weight? Why isn’t he getting it re-sized? When did he start wearing it there?

Analysts will also look for other clues as they dig through the tan suit mystery: Did Michelle buy it? Is there a new White House suit-selector?

Or, perhaps, Obama just wanted to make a fashion statement.

Rest assured, there are a slew of Russian intelligence analysts combing through the possibilities in hopes that the tan suit will reveal secrets about President Obama and his policy intentions.

Unlike Russian President Vladimir Putin who cultivates an aura of toughness through photos where he is engaged in flipping an opponent during martial arts bouts or enjoying the great outdoors bare-chested, Obama has given leadership analysts little to discuss. This may be an exciting new development.

The Russian analysts are holding their breath waiting for the next clue. And for the next wardrobe choice.

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Lisa M. Ruth
Lisa M. Ruth is Editor-in-Chief of CDN. In addition to her editing and leadership duties, she also writes on international events, intelligence, and other topics. She has worked with CDN as a journalist since 2009. Lisa is also President of CTC International Group, Inc., a research and analysis firm in South Florida, providing actionable intelligence to decisionmakers. She started her career at the CIA, where she won several distinguished awards for her service. She holds an MA in international relations from the University of Virginia, and a BA in international relations from George Mason University. She also serves as Chairman of the Board of Horses Healing Hearts, and is involved with several other charitable organizations, including Habitat for Humanity, The Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and AYSO.