Thursday, December 3, 2009

'A president needs a war, or so they say'

The Afghanistan Parenthesis
David Bromwich, Huffington Post: Half of the president's logic believes in the urgency of this mission and half perceives no urgency at all. Since people who fear for their lives tend to err on the side of self-protection, we may infer that something other than the imperative of national self-preservation drove the West Point speech and is driving the new policy. Several possibilities are obvious: President Obama's cautious relationship to the military; his wariness of the ambitious general, David Petraeus, and the commander of forces in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, who is an emanation of Petraeus. By leaking the high-end figure for the numbers of troops he would have liked, McChrystal threatened to outflank the president, and that threat has been quelled only for the moment. Meanwhile, Obama's fear of being called weak on defense by Republicans, and thus seeing his stature in foreign affairs diminished for the rest of his term, was doubtless a motive as well. A president needs a war, or so they say...

President Obama closed his speech by offering his large American audience a warm bath of self-love about the American way of life... This long peroration was ordinary and at the same time reminiscent of the war speeches of George W. Bush. By contrast Obama did not talk about the abstract issue that would have taken some courage to broach: the danger that war is becoming an integrated part of the American way of life...

Barack Obama is the most convincing person he knows. He can convince himself of a proposition 'A,' and a second proposition, 'Not A,' and come to believe that the two may be combined. At West Point, he seemed to want to declare a policy and take it back in a single breath. But there are circles that can't be squared; and it is with war as with other fatal commitments: the way in is not the way out.

Paul Woodward, War in Context: Among the many unanswered questions about President Obama's approach to the war in Afghanistan, there is at this point one thing about which we can be certain: He does indeed regard this as a war of necessity. But necessary for what?... Necessary for re-election?

Maybe. The answer to that question might well be contained in the genesis of July 2011 as the date US troops will start pulling out of Afghanistan. As CBS News reports, that date is 'locked in.' The president told press secretary Robert Gibbs, the date -- (contrary to assertions from US senators) IS locked in -- there is no flexibility. Troops WILL start coming home in July 2011. Period. It's etched in stone. Gibbs said he even had the chisel.'

The Pentagon doesn't like firm dates. It cleaves firmly to the line that everything is provisional, depending on the current conditions. So it's hard to believe that General McChrystal or General Petraeus would have volunteered this timetable. Did it come from David Axelrod? Does July 2011 fit as a 'necessity' into a 2012 campaign calendar?

Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch: On Tuesday night from the US Military Academy at West Point, in his first prime-time presidential address to the nation, Barack Obama surrendered... From today on, think of him not as the commander-in-chief, but as the commanded in chief. And give credit to the victors. Their campaign was nothing short of brilliant. Like the policy brigands they were, they ambushed the president, held him up with their threats, brought to bear key media players and Republican honchos, and in the end made off with the loot...

Obama is not a man who appears in prop military jackets with 'commander-in-chief' hand-stitched across his heart before hoo-aahing crowds of soldiers, as our last president loved to do, and yet in his first months in office he has increasingly appeared at military events and associated himself with things military. This speech represents another step in that direction. Has a president ever, in fact, given a non-graduation speech at West Point, no less a major address to the American people? Certainly the choice of venue, and so the decision to address a military audience first and other Americans second, not only emphasized the escalatory military path chosen in Afghanistan, but represented a kind of symbolic surrender of civilian authority.
Image source here.