SHAMELESS OBAMA? – AT 11:16 P.M. ET: In monitoring the stories about President Obama's Afghanistan speech, and the reactions to it, I get the sense of a growing anger. I'm not referring to the leftist loonies' anger over Obama not pulling out fast enough, but by a sense in some circles that the president's policies are cynical, somewhat corrupt, and mostly decided by his political needs.
Michael Gerson, once a speechwriter for George W. Bush, put it on the line very directly in the Washington Post:
Since the beginning of his swift political rise, Barack Obama has fashioned himself a unique historical figure. With his latest speech on Afghanistan, he has finally become one.
What other American president has employed a public argument so transparently political — the need to “rebuild our infrastructure” and “find new and clean sources of energy” — to explain his choices as commander in chief? What other president has deployed the words “fidelity” and “unwavering belief” — citing examples of military tenacity and courage — to announce a policy of premature retreat? What other president has more dramatically claimed “a position of strength” while more effectively conveying an impression of weakness?
There is a boldness to this rhetorical approach, which might better be called shamelessness.
Don't you love subtlety?
The surge he ordered came to full strength only last August. American forces quickly gained control of key areas in the Taliban heartland — causing the enemy to fight for territory it once securely held. Now, with less than a year in full effect, Obama is “fully recovering the surge” by next summer, apparently without conditions. “Recovering” is an inspired euphemism, avoiding the need for “withdrawing.” He is using the success of a military strategy to justify letting up on a reeling enemy.
This may or may not be fatal to the military’s counterinsurgency strategy, but it certainly undermines it. Can there be any doubt that by 8:16 p.m. Eastern time on Wednesday our enemies in Afghanistan were relieved, our allies disheartened and the undecided encouraged to play both sides of the conflict?
A president provides for the common defense and promotes the general welfare, instead of positing a dangerous choice between the two.
Given the difficulty of the undertaking, the weariness of Americans and the erosion of support in both parties, it would take exceptional leadership to achieve a good outcome in Afghanistan. Even limping across the 2014 deadline will require some positive effort of persuasion. For years, our conflicted president has been largely silent in this task. His words were worse.
COMMENT: Gerson makes excellent points. Whether one agrees or disagrees with Obama's course, he is no leader. One key task of a political leader in a democracy is to organize the electorate, to persuade it, shape it. Obama, a great campaigner, lost his voice at his first encounter with responsibility.
He seems to think the presidency is a goal, not a job.
One interesting aspect to Obama's Afghanistan speech: It did nothing to raise his stature. And when a commander-in-chief speaks, and his stature doesn't rise, he is failing.
June 23, 2011