President Obama's speech last Tuesday at West Point, certifying the obvious, announcing that he intends to send the additional 30,000 plus troops requested by his generals to Afghanistan, was the most read speech of his short presidency. Read in the sense of Obama reading it off his Teleprompters. In other words, he seemed disconnected from a lot of its language, stumbling a number of times, looking strained, uncomfortable. Most of the speech seemed written, well, dictated, by others; Obama was just reading it.
It had the usual Obama something-for-everyone aspect, setting a "date," to begin the "transfer" of responsibility to the Afghan government, etc. Obama is not a baby boomer; he didn't come of age during the height of the Vietnam War, so he doesn't catch all the ironies involved directly. There are differences between the wars, boy, are there differences! But the similarities don't have much resonance for him. It is mainly our American sense that we can do what we want, wherever we want, that we keep believing, even when history instructs us it isn't true.
As I have been writing for years, there still is no exit strategy, since we don't ever intend to exit. Victory for us in both Iraq and Afghanistan is the fact that we are intending to stay, in the South Korea manner, keep a presence in country, keep both countries our "friend." In Iraq, most everyone says the surge there worked; what worked was the blood bath that had gone on for nearly half a decade, the subsequent ethnic cleansing resulting in neighborhoods, the driving out of potential combatants, the wholesale relocation of the population, the war fatigue of the American media. The White House's plan has always been to turn both countries over to the natives, if we can find the right sort of natives, those who will continue to cooperate with us. Let them settle their scores after we retreat to bases and relative security.
Notwithstanding Obama's capitulation to the military-industrial complex, Republicans continued their mindless attacks on all things Obama, complaining about the date of "withdrawal." Oh, would it be so! The Republicans are willing to treat the country as their grandmothers; they are prepared to throw her under the bus at any moment.
Though it looked like a Onion piece, it was straight television news, a segment showing how we're gearing up in Afghanistan for the 30,000 troops, one aspect of which was human waste, excrement, and we have a solution for that, too. We dry it out in large open areas and sell it as fertilizer. The farmers loved it, the officer said. Then, a day later, on the Sunday talk shows, the Secretary of State was going on about how fields of wheat were prospering in Afghanistan, not mentioning the wonderful fertilizer we were providing.
Garry Wills ran a thoughtful piece in the December 3rd issue of the New York Review of Books, titled "One Term President?: The Choice." There might be a number of reasons that could be true regarding Obama, but Wills' point was that Obama by extending our commitment and sending troops to Afghanistan would be doing so in order not to be a one-term president. But Wills thinks it would be worth it. Well, plenty of people in Washington, D.C. were telling Obama that he couldn't appear "weak," that it would make the first African-American president look bad in history. Wills, I take it, would disagree. Though, being a Chicagoan, Wills might have believed Obama was more anti-war than he was. I never thought he was. He was just much smarter than George W. Bush. Obama's policies in both wars are hardly different than Bush's would have been, a point I've been making over and over. The tone, of course, is different.
It is fitting that Obama's precursor, the one who made Obama safe for CEO's, Tiger Woods, has been going through a public relations diminishment. As Obama's approval numbers have been going down, so too Woods'. Woods has the prodigy problem: he didn't learn anything much other than golf and it shows. He might have had good investment people, but no one to educate him in the ways of the world. Obama, unfortunately, has had too much education. And speaking of the world's ways, it seems just that George W.'s recession may well turn out to be a W one. Two dips. The more things change, the more they stay the same, as the philandering French say.