Rarely do I compose a pure op-ed, as I’m doing here. Consider this one a “Mata vents!” moment. Comments or mass readership? I crave none of these save the grateful release of putting some thoughts and reactions to paper… er keyboard.
So take a pass if you wish, I shall not be offended. But I thought I’d add to Curt’s perspective of the Commander in Chief’s performance tonight at West Point. With somewhat of a twist… I’ve never seen a Commander in Chief so defensive.
That defense was not aimed so much as trying to calm the Afghans (most likely not tuned in with the lack of HD TV’s and satellite dishes), as it was trying to explain away his behavior to both our military, and to his own party. And to do that, Obama had to rewrite his own history back to pre-Congressional Senate days.
But first, let me say this. I applaud the POTUS for sending troops, and not just acquiescing to his Michael Moore extreme left base by picking up American troops and equipment, and bolting the Afghan sand box. This is the correct thing to do, and I’m glad he did so.
On the other hand, I don’t want to hear any more BS from those about “not enough troops” during the Bush era. Obama is indeed sending troops. He is not, however, sending the amount of troops his commander on the ground requested for the job. One may argue Bush did the same. However most of those who were recommending more troops in Iraq were not the Bush appointees, nor the prime generals heading up the ground war strategy. Either way, the “not enough troops” argument has been seriously neutralized by Obama’s current decision. Remember this date in time as the “gotcha” moment for the BDS sufferers.
This evening, there is no doubt Obama knew he was up against one tough room. There were no breaks every other line in the speech from adoring crowds, hanging on his every word and gesture. As the cameras scanned the crowds, expressions ranged from grim and focused to bored and sleepy. Applause bursts, only on a few select lines near the end, were half hearted and appeared – via camera views – to eminate mostly from the front rows filled with Obama’s hench men and women.
And I’m proud our West Point cadets gave a standing ovation for the Commander in Chief…. whether his speech was impressive and inspiring or not. He is… whether adored personally as Bush was, or not… still the Commander in Chief. Even if the man does not deserve our adoration, the position of commander of our military demands our respect.
This eve was a different man… gone was the attempt to exude charm, razzle dazzle with what some consider an extraordinary oratory skill to inspire hope and excitement. This evening, this man did not accomplish rallying the troops… or, I daresay, the nation. Instead the face of this POTUS was stern, nay defiant, thru most of the very long oratory.
As is usual when Presidents speak – including Dubya – I long to scream at the TV. That act, today, could garnish Congressional censorship were I there in person. But unlike Dubya – who’s guilty of bad presentation of vital facts that would have strengthened support for his decisions – I wanted to scream at this unbelievable self-focus by Obama during this speech, and his distorted vision of recent history. The opening minutes of this speech were first defending himself against the “dithering” charge.
This was not only a waste of time, but set the tone for the rest of the schpiel. “Get to the point”, I wanted to say. We don’t care about how you feel about these decisions to command an army at war… no more than you cared about how Bush felt, shouldering these same responsibilities. At least Bush spared us lengthy speeches about psuedo-emotions, meant to qualify those decisions.
After getting thru Obama’s opening excuses… we get to whatever heart of the matter is there. Which was, essentially, nothing. In short… what Obama proposed as a “new strategy” differs little from Bush in Iraq. Obama’s “new strategy”, in fact, differs little from his “old strategy” in March. Indeed tonight’s speech incorporates much of the same phrasing and points of his “new/old strategy” speech in March.
But, of course, if you’re Keith Olbermann, it was nothing short of revolutionary in military leadership. To the ” former sports jock turned twisted political-socio talking head, all you need to do is say that you’re sending in troops… and as of this date you’re withdrawing those troops. Voila… magically you are no longer the war President and cut a different figure in the long history of Commander in Chiefs.
Easy mark, Olbermann is. I guess he chose to miss that dictated-by-events-on-the-ground caveat that the left so love to hate. And I’m not sure that telling your opponent that you’ll play the game until x date before picking up your marbles and leaving is such smart strategy. But let’s not mess up the moment with details and facts, eh?
I will say in this case, I tend to believe Keith has room to be celebrating. Obama – a man apparently clueless to anything in military theatre strategy – has thus far shown his willingness to cut his losses when his political butt hangs in the breeze INRE military/foreign policy matters. But there’s much this eve that is very disconcerting to me. And not the least of them is this penchant for making every situation about “me”… Obama… historically the first African American President, just in case you forgot.
Some of the points that borderlined on eliciting hysterical laughter from me, were they not so downright political self-serving in nature:
Obama Dec 1: Under the banner of this domestic unity and international legitimacy – and only after the Taliban refused to turn over Osama bin Laden – we sent our troops into Afghanistan. Within a matter of months, al Qaeda was scattered and many of its operatives were killed. The Taliban was driven from power and pushed back on its heels. A place that had known decades of fear now had reason to hope. At a conference convened by the UN, a provisional government was established under President Hamid Karzai. And an International Security Assistance Force was established to help bring a lasting peace to a war-torn country.
Then, in early 2003, the decision was made to wage a second war in Iraq. The wrenching debate over the Iraq War is well-known and need not be repeated here. It is enough to say that for the next six years, the Iraq War drew the dominant share of our troops, our resources, our diplomacy, and our national attention – and that the decision to go into Iraq caused substantial rifts between America and much of the world.~~~
But while we have achieved hard-earned milestones in Iraq, the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated. After escaping across the border into Pakistan in 2001 and 2002, al Qaeda’s leadership established a safe-haven there. Although a legitimate government was elected by the Afghan people, it has been hampered by corruption, the drug trade, an under-developed economy, and insufficient Security Forces. Over the last several years, the Taliban has maintained common cause with al Qaeda, as they both seek an overthrow of the Afghan government. Gradually, the Taliban has begun to take control over swaths of Afghanistan, while engaging in increasingly brazen and devastating acts of terrorism against the Pakistani people.
Throughout this period, our troop levels in Afghanistan remained a fraction of what they were in Iraq. When I took office, we had just over 32,000 Americans serving in Afghanistan, compared to 160,000 in Iraq at the peak of the war. Commanders in Afghanistan repeatedly asked for support to deal with the reemergence of the Taliban, but these reinforcements did not arrive. That’s why, shortly after taking office, I approved a long-standing request for more troops. After consultations with our allies, I then announced a strategy recognizing the fundamental connection between our war effort in Afghanistan, and the extremist safe-havens in Pakistan. I set a goal that was narrowly defined as disrupting, dismantling, and defeating al Qaeda and its extremist allies, and pledged to better coordinate our military and civilian effort.
When talking about America’s successes under the prior administration, there is always a “but” that accompanies any Obama nod of approval of this now-defunction WOT. But it’s even more interesting that this Commander in Chief only evokes the int’l NATO effort (the “not America’s war” slogan he’s taken on) only in context of his own reign of power for political convenience.
Afghanistan was always a int’l coalition/NATO effort. And in fact, NATO began taking charge of the security of Afghanistan early after our initial arrival, and had complete control of all territories by summer of 2006. Yet, in Obama’s somewhat self-serving vision, it’s “not just America’s war” today, but back then it’s all America’s war and fault.
You simply cannot have it both ways. It’s been NATO then, and NATO now. But this fact is left out as yet another “me” moment… a way to elevate and redeem himself in front of the military he commands.
Point two… AQ and the Taliban did not suddenly immigate to Pakistan after the US/NATO war. The Taliban was created by Bhutto’s Pakistan regime, and the Taliban/AQ and similar minded extremists in Pakistan shared common goals and battles… despite what name they called themselves that day. The fact that Obama knows little of the history of Islamic jihad movements in this region of the world is embarrassing enough. For him to tout this ignorance to the world… most better educated than the POTUS himself to history… is nothing short of breathtaking naivety. To assume that jihad presence in either Afghanistan or Pakistan commenced with the US/NATO presence in that region is akin to modern astronomers insisting the earth is the center of the universe
Point three… Obama is not some magic man coming to the rescue with the troops for Afghanistan. This increased troop request has been considered and debated since it started back in 2006. And, in fact, it was a bone of contention to increase the US footprint of the NATO mission instead of demanding that the NATO allies step up their own support. This was the quest of both Bush… who did add more troops (much to the chagrin of Obama and ilk)… and McCain. Both of then advocated holding NATO’s feet to the fire while keeping a watchful eye on the theatre’s events.
Yet look back at history. What were the chances of getting a Dem controlled Congress – as of Jan 2007 and at the height of Afghanistans deterioration – to commit to more troops? Most especially since what they craved was utter failure in both Iraq and Afghanistan. War theatres’ failures were electoral victories dancing in their heads. Obama… already announcing his leap for power… was among those who would have been reticient to support troops if he wanted the party nomination.
To insinuate troops not being provided in that time period was an ignored request which only he… a knight on white horse… dares to fulfill… is simply rewriting of history. Where was his voice rising above his party in those days?
In fact Obama has become so good at rewriting history… most especially his own… it may behoove this Commander in Chief to remember that it was a Candidate Obama who insisted we could get NATO to step up to the plate only last July to supply those same troops. This was after his first tumultuous steps as a Jr. Senator in 2006 where he thought the US should first increase their forces…. until he figured out that putting a US face on that int’l force wasn’t such a bright idea after all.
Thus the self-portrayal to these young cadets and a WH cast of thousands (appointees) of himself as a knight on white horse – complete with the accompanying manure – is suffocatingly hard to endure.
But what about that adding troops bit… especially in light of the “dithering” accusations?
Obama Dec 1: As your Commander-in-Chief, I owe you a mission that is clearly defined, and worthy of your service. That is why, after the Afghan voting was completed, I insisted on a thorough review of our strategy. Let me be clear: there has never been an option before me that called for troop deployments before 2010, so there has been no delay or denial of resources necessary for the conduct of the war. Instead, the review has allowed me ask the hard questions, and to explore all of the different options along with my national security team, our military and civilian leadership in Afghanistan, and with our key partners. Given the stakes involved, I owed the American people – and our troops – no less.
This review is now complete. And as Commander-in-Chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home. These are the resources that we need to seize the initiative, while building the Afghan capacity that can allow for a responsible transition of our forces out of Afghanistan.
“… never been an option before me that called for troop deployments before 2010…”. I’m not sure if that is arrogantly dismissing McChrystal’s August requests. But let’s let that go for a moment and discover what differences this elongated “review” has culminated in, contrasting with his March “new strategy”.
Obama Mar 27, 2009: I have already ordered the deployment of 17,000 troops that had been requested by General McKiernan for many months. These soldiers and Marines will take the fight to the Taliban in the south and east, and give us a greater capacity to partner with Afghan Security Forces and to go after insurgents along the border. This push will also help provide security in advance of the important presidential election in August.
At the same time, we will shift the emphasis of our mission to training and increasing the size of Afghan Security Forces, so that they can eventually take the lead in securing their country. That is how we will prepare Afghans to take responsibility for their security, and how we will ultimately be able to bring our troops home.
For three years, our commanders have been clear about the resources they need for training. Those resources have been denied because of the war in Iraq. Now, that will change. The additional troops that we deployed have already increased our training capacity. Later this spring we will deploy approximately 4,000 U.S. troops to train Afghan Security Forces. For the first time, this will fully resource our effort to train and support the Afghan Army and Police. Every American unit in Afghanistan will be partnered with an Afghan unit, and we will seek additional trainers from our NATO allies to ensure that every Afghan unit has a coalition partner. We will accelerate our efforts to build an Afghan Army of 134,000 and a police force of 82,000 so that we can meet these goals by 2011 – and increases in Afghan forces may very well be needed as our plans to turn over security responsibility to the Afghans go forward.
Today is a “new strategy”? Hard pressed to tell. Not only does it contain the predictable “blame Bush” language, it sniffs suspiciously of the March strategy, which sniffed suspiciously of the Iraq Surge strategy. In fact, tonight’s the CinC’s three prong approach was less specific, and more philosophical in nature than his more substantive March strategy speech.
But we do know he again stresses training Afghans to secure themselves…. and that progress is subject to events on the ground. And this differs from Bush’s Iraq policy how?
In fact, when one compares the Obama “new” strategy vs Obama’s “old in March”, tonight’s speech seems filled with empty, repetative phrasing, with a few rah rah patriotic phrases thrown in that the troops could actually feel comfortable applauding.
Obama is not only on the defensive in front of his military audience, he has to go on the defensive with his own party base.
First, there are those who suggest that Afghanistan is another Vietnam. They argue that it cannot be stabilized, and we are better off cutting our losses and rapidly withdrawing. Yet this argument depends upon a false reading of history. Unlike Vietnam, we are joined by a broad coalition of 43 nations that recognizes the legitimacy of our action. Unlike Vietnam, we are not facing a broad-based popular insurgency. And most importantly, unlike Vietnam, the American people were viciously attacked from Afghanistan, and remain a target for those same extremists who are plotting along its border. To abandon this area now – and to rely only on efforts against al Qaeda from a distance – would significantly hamper our ability to keep the pressure on al Qaeda, and create an unacceptable risk of additional attacks on our homeland and our allies.
Cool your jets, Obama. Teddy “this is another Vietnam” Kennedy is resting comfortably at Arlington in the company of genuine heroes. But it’s a stretch to say Afghanistan was the source of the 911 attacks merely to differentiate a Bush’ian point of view dripping from the lips of Obama… his political nemesis. Technically we were attacked by Islamic jihad who were housed in all parts of the world… including those training on our own soil in the years before.
Nor was it the brutal, merciless Taliban – in charge of Afghanistan – who attacked the US. It just so happened that the AQ heads were given the nod to hang out in that dust bowl after wearing out their welcome in other digs. And they did so, ultimately, much to the Taliban’s chagrin… who witnessed their own historic fall from power predicated by fellow jihad brethen.
I say this not because I don’t support the entry into Afghanistan, and taking out the Taliban. Quite the contrary. But I find it so disingenuous for Obama to evoke 911 in this fashion, and ignore the tenacles of jihad that stretch virtually to all points of the middle east and western world. Indeed, Obama remained very defined in his Afghanistan battle… AQ is the sole named enemy. The Taliban merely are in his way to that enemy.
This continued malfunctioning definition of an enemy will be the death of us all. The enemy is not merely al Qaeda. The enemy is the global Islamic jihad movement, bent on forcing all Muslim apostate leaders and countries, and eventually the west, to succumb to their archaic interpretation of the Koran.
The last rewriting of history, and dichotomy of this POTUS, comes with his – again – touting of imagined accomplishments. And in this instance, it’s two fold: First, some sort of fantasy that Obama’s presidency has resulted in altered international relations. And the second, even more offensive, is that we… the US.. have somehow become more “humane” with his presidency.
I have spent this year renewing our alliances and forging new partnerships. And we have forged a new beginning between America and the Muslim World – one that recognizes our mutual interest in breaking a cycle of conflict, and that promises a future in which those who kill innocents are isolated by those who stand up for peace and prosperity and human dignity.
Finally, we must draw on the strength of our values – for the challenges that we face may have changed, but the things that we believe in must not. That is why we must promote our values by living them at home – which is why I have prohibited torture and will close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. And we must make it clear to every man, woman and child around the world who lives under the dark cloud of tyranny that America will speak out on behalf of their human rights, and tend to the light of freedom, and justice, and opportunity, and respect for the dignity of all peoples. That is who we are. That is the moral source of America’s authority.
If one looks around, Iran is only more emboldened. N. Korea is less contained. Hamas and Hezbollah restlessly rearing as stallions onto the scent of a mare. This POTUS most certainly has reached out to the Muslim despots, and refuses to see his hand slapped like a disobedient and precocious child.
As for our allies, one would hope it’s impossible for a single President to destroy long term relationships with our traditional western allies such as the UK, Australia and Israel. Instead, there is almost a condescending amusement at the gaffs of this President diplomatically, combined with an undercurrent of anticipation. They see in this POTUS a status equalization… a leader who feels the US should be humbled, and thereby removed from superpower status to an equal on the international stage. Any decline in US power elevates others to a higher plateau.
The last comments about “living our values”, however, I found the most offensive of all. This nation has always been humane, generous and giving. We never lost it when we defended ourselves in past wars, and we never lost it when dealing with underhanded Islamic jihad thugs who played by no rules.
Bush, and every President before him prohibited torture. For the purposes of politics and power, what is “torture” has been redefined, scrutinized, and exploited in a world of instant news and an atmosphere fostering the death of a “need to know” mentality.
All in all, I consider this speech another “all about me” moment for Obama. Lacking substance in detail, incohesive, and falling far short of what our commanders on the ground expect, he spend quite a lot of air time defending himself instead of talking about defense of the nation. I expected no less from this embarrassment of an Oval Office occupant.
But I will rejoice in the small things…. there will be some calvary on the way. Not enough to do the job as easily, but then our military doesn’t need require “easy” for victory. And it is in them… not this single term, self-puffed up wonder… that our future lies.
So hear hear to the POTUS. Thank you for at least sending some, and for attempting to stand up to your own party. May you be rewarded for those efforts by, over time, inheriting some of the courage and convictions of those you command.
Vietnam era Navy wife, indy/conservative, and an official California escapee now residing as a red speck in the sea of Oregon blue.