Presidential Purpose?

by Victor Davis Hanson

NRO’s The Corner

Whom is Barack Obama Afraid of? — Another Barack Obama

One of the reasons why President Obama may be hesitating to commit fully to a renewed Afghan front is that he is worried that political opportunists might seek to gain advantage by loud rhetoric that unfairly simplifies the bad and worse choices, that he, like all other presidents in time of war, are confronted with.

In other words, he fears someone very much like an on-the-rise Barack Obama himself — who in 2007 in loud fashion demanded that all combat brigades leave Iraq by March 2008 and then flat-out declared to the nation that “the surge is not working” (a mantra for months posted on his website until Trotskyized in summer 2008). Ditto all that with Guantanamo, elements of homeland security, and Iran — and one can see that Obama knows first-hand the opportunities for demagogic and unprincipled political ankle-biting that a decisive wartime president invites. After all, what president, after making a tough decision to surge into Afghanistan, wants a young charismatic rival barnstorming the nation, without evidence assuring the public that “the surge is not working!”

On Being Liked . . .

In one sense, we should all be happy that Obama — it is undeniable — has improved America’s standing in the polls taken abroad.

But what might account for such a radical turn-about in America’s image in such a short time, other than the fact that a young, charismatic, and eloquent African-American is now the titular head of the U.S. instead of an older, white, Christian guy with a Texas accent who says “nucular”? Not being George Bush helped, but there is clearly something more going on to account for such markedly improved attitudes about America.

I think the answer is pretty clear: The world likes us when we admit that it was a mistake to take out Saddam Hussein; it likes us when confess to two centuries of systematic sinning and agree that we are no longer all that exceptional; it likes us when we at least verbally agree to sign on to the mass transfers of wealth in cap-and-trade European-style environmentalism; it likes us when we talk up the U.N. and rejoin the Human Rights Commission; it likes us when we distance ourselves from the hated Zionist entity; the world also likes us when we reach out to Ahmadinejad, Assad, the Castros, Chavez, Putin, and other dictators and totalitarians that are the norms in much of the world; and it likes us when it feels that we are adopting more statist policies akin to many states abroad. In other words, the more we resemble at least some of the popular attitudes of those in Asia, Africa, South America, and in Europe, the more we are liked.

Do all that, and it doesn’t much matter whether you support democratic movements, or give billions in AIDS relief to Africa, or help tens of thousands suffering from natural disasters, or have the most open and non-discriminatory immigration policy in the world.

The real key to being a popular America seems to be to empathize with non-Western totalitarians, to move away from Israel, and to suggest that criticism of the U.S. is right on — and, in other words, to end the two-centuries-long notion that what made the United States utterly unique and an oasis on the world scene was its often lonely antithesis to what went on almost everywhere else. Being popular is being like most others.

In the late nineteenth century, we were written off as a simmering cauldron of the world’s unwanted by both Left and Right; by the 1930s we were odd man out in comparison to the strong-man wave that swept over Europe and much of Asia; in the 1940s–’80s, we were thought to be on the wrong side of the socialist euphoria of the Soviet- and Chinese-inspired Third World.

In each case, a singular constitution and tradition of freedom made us suspect in the eyes of others, and in turn wary of them as well. I guess now that “exceptionalism” has officially passed, we have become one with the world in spirit and attitude — and so have become liked as never before.

Voting Present Is Not an Option

While our Narcissus-in-Chief is frozen gazing at his perfect image in his private pool, choices have to be made in Afghanistan. Consider the following:

(a) We have a Democratically controlled Congress that by and large has supported, since 2004, the Kerry-Obama-Hillary Clinton narrative of a “good” war in Afghanistan, supposedly shamefully neglected by George Bush’s neo-con adventure in Iraq, but absolutely vital to the security of the United States, and one entirely winnable — if only we allot sufficient resources.

(b) We have a proven command in Generals McChrystal and Petraeus and their circle of subordinates, who crafted a winning counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq that defeated the terrorists, ensured stability for the fragile constitutional government, and took a tremendous toll on the human and material resources of al Qaeda, as well as the reputation of radical Islam among the Middle East street.

(c) We have thousands of battle-hardened, experienced veteran soldiers and their officers, who know far more about the Middle East in general, and counter-insurgency in particular, than was true when we first deployed to either Afghanistan in 2001, or Iraq in March 2003.

(d) The Islamic world is much less in thrall (polls tell us that) to bin Laden and his advocacy of suicide bombing and terrorism than it was five years ago; Pakistan, in general, the victim of numerous terrorist attacks, is far more willing to take concerted action that aids our cause than at any time in the last eight years. And we have a president who by his own admission resonates abroad in a way not true of the past, and will be given a level of international support not usually accorded to American efforts in the Muslim world.

(e) The president has a domestic opposition — entirely unlike that of George Bush’s — that is eager to support President Obama to fulfill his promise to win Afghanistan by devoting more resources to the effort.

(f) We have a media mesmerized by Obama, that will withhold criticism of him in Afghanistan in a way that was simply not true of the Bush effort in Iraq, that, nonetheless, proved successful.

(g) We have a split public, but one far more amenable to a surge in Afghanistan than was true in late 2006 of the proposed surge in Iraq.

(h) We should be bolstered by our success in Iraq, and the enemy demoralized by its failure; rather than vice versa.

Given the above, and given that George Bush made a far more difficult choice that saved Iraq, it is hard to figure out why Obama cannot make a simple decision to send troops requested by commanders on the ground.

©2009 Victor Davis Hanson

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