The Reluctant Right Thing

I know you will be shocked that my initial reaction to the President's speech announcing a troop surge in Afghanistan was fury. The opening was a prolonged, smarmy, classless and graceless whinge saying his predecessor made a mess of things in Afghanistan and basically looking America's Iraq veterans and soldiers currently there --and scheduled to be there for another two years at least under this president's command-- in the eye to tell them that their sacrifices have been pointless and have lowered America's standing in the world. What words to hear from your Commander-in-Chief! Oh, but you've served with honor and distinction, Boys. (Thanks a lot, Sir! Wasn't it John Kerry who asked how you ask a fellow to be the last man to die for a mistake?)

But then I realized I was not the audience, nor was anyone in the military. The President's base was the audience, and he had to do the best job he could to --if not sell them on a troop surge, because I don't think that's possible-- at least get them not to hate him for reluctantly doing the right thing. I'm sure President Bush doesn't mind at all being the goat once again if it helps Obama to do right.

So... the speech ended up being a Bush sandwich. It started with Obama Bush-bashing boilerplate and ended with Obama "coming together as one" boilerplate, and in-between, where he announced his actual policy, it was a Bush speech. He even used Bush's term "shadowy network." Even more astonishing, he used the words "terrorism" and "terrorist" six times. I didn't know he knew those words. Even more astonishing than that, he praised America as a force for good in the world --even before he got here. As I just got finished telling my spy in New York, at that I almost fainted.

There is one line he used in the set-up that struck me. We've hashed and re-hashed the wisdom of saying that Islam is the "religion of peace." Bush said it because he wanted to make it clear we aren't at war with Muslims; I think he shouldn't have put it that way. It would have been more accurate to say that most Muslims are peace-loving people. Mr. W. & I always thought Bush should have accused bin Laden of blaspheming Islam --I don't think he ever did. But Obama does here:
these men belonged to al-Qaeda, a group of extremists who have distorted and defiled Islam, one of the world's great religions, to justify the slaughter of innocents.
That's good.

The basic Afghanistan strategy he outlined works for me --and comes from Bush, even though the President tried to pretend he was course-correcting. Unfortunately, he just can't sell "resolve" and "determination." And the 18-month deadline seemed like an announcement of withdrawal --it seemed to overshadow the troop surge as the real point of the speech. That's how I'd take it if I were the enemy sitting in a cave somewhere: "we give up." (My spy in NY says the speech put her in mind of Groucho's song, "Hello, I must be going.")

But, again, I was not the audience, and neither was Osama bin Laden. That speech was for Michael Moore, ACORN, and community organizers everywhere. It was a political speech --which is probably why he trotted out golden oldies from his campaign stump speech for the close. He was begging them to remember to love him: much good may it do him.

I also think I detected in the speech a return to Rumsfeld-ism. My beloved Rummy's pet project was to make our military more nimble and efficient --better able to respond to terrorism and 21st century warfare. Streamlining and updating the military was a major Bush 2000 campaign promise -remember how Bush repudiated nation-building in that campaign?
The struggle against violent extremism will not be finished quickly, and it extends well beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan. It will be an enduring test of our free society and our leadership in the world. And unlike the great power conflicts and clear lines of division that defined the 20th century, our effort will involve disorderly regions, failed states, diffuse enemies. So as a result, America will have to show our strength in the way that we end wars and prevent conflict, not just how we wage wars. We'll have to be nimble and precise in our use of military power.
But didn't Iraq prove the limits of that approach? That is, as a tactic, Rummy-ism was great for killing al-Qaeda, but not sufficient for the community policing that proved necessary to sustain and spread the Anbar Awakening.

Anyway: I'm no longer as angry as I was. Politically, the President had to do something impossible this evening. I suspect all he did was make everyone mad and assure our enemies this new guy is no Bush. But underneath everything that made me angry and strikes me as stupid lies this fact: Obama has decided to try to win, and this over the objections of his Vice-President, presumably all his civilian advisors, his base --and based on his body language and demeanor-- even against every bone in his body. I'm glad.

Update: Here's Powerline's take. They go after the much foolishness (and self-reference) in the speech, but seem to agree with my take essentially: the President was justifying himself to a particular audience, and it weren't you, me or bin Laden.
And Jamie Fly and Thomas Donnelly and Rich Lowry are also of the opinion that the rhetoric matters less than the troops. Bad speech, good decision, and the deadline will be negotiable.
McCain sums it up: success is the real exit strategy.

On another note: By way of comparison, read Obama's speech and compare it to Bush's speech announcing the Iraq surge. More evidence in defense of my contrarian (yet correct) view that Bush was a better speaker than Obama. Bush had far more message discipline than Obama will ever have, and vastly more sense of the implications of anything he said in the world beyond our own shores. Ironic that Mr. Cosmopolitan turns out to be far more parochial than the Cowboy, isn't it?