by Victor Davis Hanson
NRO’s The Corner
When Reality Catches up to Rhetoric
The growing problem for the Obama administration is that the public has finally caught on that the president’s tough rhetoric and soaring oratory don’t match reality.
“Considering all options” and “wanting more information” essentially mean dithering and voting present on Afghanistan, even after announcing the adoption of a new bold strategy.
“Saving jobs” means conjecturing about the effects of massive borrowing and enhancing your figures through the creation of fictitious congressional districts and bogus employment reporting.
“Punishing KSM” means giving the liberal community a world platform for legal gymnastics designed to repudiate the past administration and demonstrate that community’s “tolerance” — without much worry about justice for KSM or the adverse effects of giving such a monster a public megaphone.
The healthcare mess grows worse: The Chinese have caught on that Obama wants to borrow more billions for us, who are cash poor, to create entitlements that they, who are cash rich, would not create for their own people. The new government suggestion that women not begin receiving routine mammograms until age 50 comes at a bad time, given that critics of Obamacare have been arguing that it will lead to rationing of service.
Guantanamo is about to go the way of tribunals, renditions, intercepts, Predators, and wiretaps — damned in rhetoric, but kept intact in reality.
“Transparency” did not quite happen either: The Obama administration has offered more photo-ops and fewer press conferences (cf. Anita Dunn on that tact), and Washington has as many lobbyists as ever. Meanwhile, the administration has not fulfilled its promise to post pending legislation on the Internet; it has politicized the NEA; and it has declared war on Fox News, the Chamber of Commerce, and the town-hall protesters. The president has even employed the sexual slur “tea-bagger” against his opposition.
Obama’s “reset button” foreign policy in just ten months has made the Middle East worse and has delighted European leftists as much as it has terrified Europe’s centrist leaders. In Latin America, the U.S. has gone from being an advocate of consensual government, human rights, and market capitalism to being an appeaser of Chávez, Zelaya, Ortega, the Castros, et al., inasmuch as these communist hardliners are now seen as problematic advocates for indigenous peoples and economic justice.
We are left with two conclusions. 1) A very inexperienced president has discovered that all the easy, Manichean campaign rhetoric of 2008 does not translate well into actual governance. 2) Obama is in a race to push a rather radical, polarizing agenda down the throat of a center-right country before the country wakes up and his approval ratings hit 40 percent.
We may see one of two things happen: Either the country will move more to the left in four years than it has in the last 50; or Obama will take down with him both the Democratic Congress and the very notion of responsible liberal governance, thereby achieving a Jimmy Carter–type legacy.
The next year will be one of the most interesting in memory.
Get Used to an Exceptional President and an Unexceptional Country
That’s the current Obama-administration message.
I suppose that in World War II or Korea, the U.S. could have captured non-uniformed infiltrators, shipped them to a POW camp, dithered over how to handle them, and then sent them back to the U.S. for civilian trials, as if they were U.S. citizens, with full legal rights, facing criminal charges of the sort brought against Americans.
But with the upcoming terrorist trials in New York, we have crossed the Rubicon, and lots of eerie questions will arise. Can those attacked or wounded by Predator drones sue in U.S. courts for America’s judge/jury/executioner treatment of them? The next time we catch a terrorist blowing up a building in Kabul, should we read him his Miranda rights, videotape his testimony, offer him a lawyer, and send him to the U.S.? Or should we wink and nod and turn him over to the Afghans, with the understanding that our post-modern justice system is so absurd that we would rather informally rely on others’ pre-modern way of doing business? (Is that why Obama kept renditions — because the more we become utopian and loudly perfectionist, the more we will need others to do our dirty work?)
Why the assumption that KSM and others will be found guilty? What if one or two sympathetic souls on the jury nullify (as in the O.J. Simpson case) the evidence? If KSM et al. are found innocent, will we connive to keep them in custody anyway? Can KSM give the jury the names of those who hurt him in Guantanamo? Did Mohamed Atta go a little too far in acting out his mere “suggestion” to take down U.S. high-rises? Did KSM face life-changing bias and hurtful discrimination while a student in North Carolina?
Once you turn war into a legal tussle, every military act attracts dozens of second-guessers — as if in the cold sobriety of peace, safety, and security, those with law degrees can post facto pick apart the acts of younger fighters amid the chaos, mayhem, and danger of war.
There is a larger issue here: Obama’s image is at odds with America’s self-interest. The civilian trials, loud promises to close Guantanamo, and trashing (if only rhetorically) of Bush’s anti-terrorism protocols apparently reflect well on Obama overseas, but they don’t enhance our security.
We saw all that with his reset-button/apology tour, and the old tropes that he was only a lad when America acted badly. More recently, his not showing up at Berlin hurts us; using a video link instead to talk about his own landmark presidency merely enhances Obama. Ditto his “first Pacific president” remark. Even the trivial incidents of bowing to Saudi royals and the Japanese emperor in a way other heads of state do not reflect Obama’s image of himself as the first post-national global citizen, rather than the commander in chief of the U.S.
After another year of all this apologizing, revisionism, ahistoricism, and separation of Obama the Nobel Prize winner from Obama the U.S. president, no one will quite remember that it was the Chinese and Russians who butchered millions of their own and threatened the free world during the Cold War, or that from the Middle East we got international terrorism, crippling oil boycotts, and energy cartels, or that Reagan helped crash the Soviet Union, or that the Japanese started WWII at Pearl Harbor.
Yet, given our growing mega-deficits, sliding dollar, mounting debt, spiking unemployment, burgeoning trade deficits, and government takeovers, bowing to foreign dignitaries will soon be seen, not as a sign of Obama’s transnationalism, but as an obsequious and accurate reflection of our genuine inferiority.
©2009 Victor Davis Hanson