Amidst the re-assuringly competent execution of the Obama Administration’s handling of TARP, the stimulus boondoggle, and now health care, all of us doubtlessly draw comfort from Obama’s ringing declaration today that ‘winning’ in Afghanistan is essential because the war (however defined) is one of ‘necessity, not of choice.’ Now, Laurence O’Donnell may call him the ‘greatest orator of our generation’ (O’Donnell was also chief of the Senate Finance Committee staff if you didn’t know. Really). Today, The Greatest Orator droned through what could have been a first draft of a Bush speech before Gerson and Bartlett weighed in.
Just wait. There’s more. These Obama Twitter wunderkind didn’t just send him out to make a speech on Afghanistan in the middle of a health reform melt down. No, they’re far too savvy for that. They’re from Chicago. And Rahm Emanuel won The Mondale Trophy. The Administration orchestrated some heavy meme pyrotechnics in a brazenly clumsy collusion with the Washington Post. True, what’s left of the WaPo is now thin, largely Neocon and when not, mindlessly reactionary (the worst kind). But an orchestrated leak plus the speech? Sure to get people to stop talking about a disastrous August. What better way to seize control of the news cycle than shoveling stale news with useless trivia to create false insider scoop drama about how Gates, Mullen and Obama just *had* to force out McKiernan last April.
Because you know Obama is in it to win it. Just like the public option.
News value? Zero. Old news. McKiernan was bagged and tagged five months ago. All the rationales are known from April. Placement in August? A1. The joint contempt for the American people by both the Administration and the permanent government’s ad circular? Through the roof.
Pete Feaver over at Foreign Policy calls out Obama. He also wasted more time analyzing the speech than it deserved.
For a concise intellectual critique we refer readers to one of Andrew Bacevich’s recent pieces, “The War We Can’t Win: Afghanistan and the Limits of American Power.” Col. Bacevich came up conversationally the other week when an acquaintance from SAIS recalled how Wolfowitz forced him out. Wolfowitz unsurprisingly found the civilian Eliot Cohen more congenial. At about this time SAIS as an institution committed to area studies began to wither into the husk it is now. (It’s not all the Neocons’ fault; in the 1990s and 2000s everyone wanted to get to Wall Street and could care less about dirty people in far off places that didn’t speak American).
In the immediate wake of 9/11, all the talk—much of it emanating from neoconservative quarters—was about achieving a “decisive victory” over terror. The reality is that we can’t eliminate every last armed militant harboring a grudge against the West. Nor do we need to. As long as we maintain adequate defenses, Al Qaeda operatives, hunkered down in their caves, pose no more than a modest threat. As for the Taliban, unless they manage to establish enclaves in places like New Jersey or Miami, the danger they pose to the United States falls several notches below the threat posed by Cuba, which is no threat at all.
As for the putatively existential challenge posed by Islamic radicalism, that project will prove ultimately to be a self-defeating one. What violent Islamists have on offer-a rejection of modernity that aims to restore the caliphate and unify the ummah [community]—doesn’t sell. In this regard, Iran—its nuclear aspirations the subject of much hand-wringing—offers considerable cause for hope. Much like the Castro revolution that once elicited so much angst in Washington, the Islamic revolution launched in 1979 has failed resoundingly. Observers once feared that the revolution inspired and led by the Ayatollah Khomeini would sweep across the Persian Gulf. In fact, it has accomplished precious little. Within Iran itself, the Islamic republic no longer represents the hopes and aspirations of the Iranian people, as the tens of thousands of protesters who recently filled the streets of Tehran and other Iranian cities made evident. Here we see foretold the fate awaiting the revolutionary cause that Osama bin Laden purports to promote.
In short, time is on our side, not on the side of those who proclaim their intention of turning back the clock to the fifteenth century. The ethos of consumption and individual autonomy, privileging the here and now over the eternal, will conquer the Muslim world as surely as it is conquering East Asia and as surely as it has already conquered what was once known as Christendom. It’s the wreckage left in the wake of that conquest that demands our attention. If the United States today has a saving mission, it is to save itself. Speaking in the midst of another unnecessary war back in 1967, Martin Luther King got it exactly right: “Come home, America.” The prophet of that era urged his countrymen to take on “the triple evils of racism, economic exploitation, and militarism.”
Dr. King’s list of evils may need a bit of tweaking—in our own day, the sins requiring expiation number more than three. Yet in his insistence that we first heal ourselves, King remains today the prophet we ignore at our peril. That Barack Obama should fail to realize this qualifies as not only ironic but inexplicable.
Lest we forget:
If your officer’s dead and the sergeants look white,
Remember it’s ruin to run from a fight:
So take open order, lie down, and sit tight,
And wait for supports like a soldier.
Wait, wait, wait like a soldier . . .