Sleeping Through Speeches

by Victor Davis Hanson

PJ Media

The World’s President

The President’s U.N.* talk was more of the same, same old formula: Me, me, me/then Bush blew it/then I came/and, presto, the waters parted.

There is no need to listen to these speeches anymore:

Mr. President, Mr. Secretary-General, fellow delegates, ladies and gentleman: it is my honor to address you for the first time as the forty-fourth President of the United States. I come before you humbled by the responsibility that the American people have placed upon me; mindful of the enormous challenges of our moment in history; and determined to act boldly and collectively on behalf of justice and prosperity at home and abroad.

I have been in office for just nine months, though some days it seems a lot longer. I am well aware of the expectations that accompany my presidency around the world. These expectations are not about me….

I took office at a time when many around the world had come to view America with skepticism and distrust. Part of this was due to misperceptions and misinformation about my country. Part of this was due to opposition to specific policies, and a belief that on certain critical issues, America has acted unilaterally, without regard for the interests of others.

I think “acted unilaterally” does not refer to all the allies in Afghanistan and Iraq, but something like simply calling the Poles late at night to say the missile deal is off, and we’re cutting our own deal with Putin.

If Obama is right, and American exceptionalism is over, and we are just one of many, why, then, does he expect to garner the world’s attention and to seek the world’s limelight? What is it about America that gives him, the two-year Senate veteran, such prominence?

In fact, it is America’s 20th-century achievements, its wealth, its singular morality, its competence — all the things that Obama either takes for granted or snarls about — that alone explains everything from his enormous Air Force One to the influence he enjoys. Put mellifluous Obama as President of Sweden or Slovakia and the world, rightly or wrongly, snores. Obama tragically does not understand that America made him — he does not make America.

Here is the synopsis of the President Speech: “Ok, I came in, dissed Bush, offered hope and change, and deigned to sacrifice myself, the smartest you’ll ever meet, for you, the world. So now we aren’t Bush’s America, but Obama’s America, and therefore I expect you to reciprocate in kind — since you only have one last chance to get a divine American President of my caliber.”

There must be some Microsoft automatic program that writes these speeches.

America’s College President

I wrote today [1] about Obama running the country as if he were an Ivy League president and we were his faculty.

If one wonders why Americans are asked to send in fishy people to the White House, or why the NEA now wants to correlate artistic grants to political obsequiousness, or why those who disagree are deprecated as mob like and worse, or why Eric Holder calls us “cowards,” or why Dr. Chu says we are like teenagers, the answer is that we are to be run like a campus, and Obama is our all-knowing paternalistic president.

Good Wars and Bad Wars

A year ago also I wrote [2] an article predicting that the Democrats’ good war/bad war prism was a profound mistake, and that if elected Obama was going to have a hard time matching campaign rhetoric with presidential decisions. The truth is that Afghanistan — no harbors, landlocked, next to nuclear Pakistan, terribly difficult terrain, opium, harsh winters, 7th-century tribal infrastructure — was always the more difficult challenge than Iraq: on the gulf, oil-rich, some secular and educated segments of the population, flat and clear weather, strategic location.

I don’t think I wrote anything a year ago that would not be entirely applicable right now:

This political dilemma again was not new. Liberal Democrats in the summer and autumn of 2002 had sounded tough and aggressive about the looming Iraq war, as long as the perception of quick and easy victory was likely, and someone else (Commander-in-Chief George Bush) took the major responsibility for the conduct of the war should it become difficult and unpopular. Something similar was happening now with Afghanistan.

“Taking our eye off the ball,” and supposedly ignoring Afghanistan, were rather inexpensive ways of voicing partisan attacks on George Bush’s Iraq War. But now the Iraq War has been largely won (the number of U.S. soldiers who died in actual combat operations in Iraq in October 2008 was seven; more than forty Americans were murdered in Chicago each month on average in 2008). And after January 20, 2009, Commander-in-Chief Obama will have the responsibility for the costs and difficulties of the Afghan war he had been apparently eager to take on during the campaign against Senator John McCain.

Consequently, we may well see president-elect Obama’s once promised hawkishness dissipate. After all, many liberal hawks figured that they could issue their war cries without ever being forced to hold the reins of governance with commensurate responsibility, or, by the time they were given responsibility, the Afghan war would be over.Vowing to do what it takes in the good war by leaving Iraq — infusing more troops into Afghanistan, and occasionally invading Pakistan — was for candidate Obama always a rhetorical stance that proved both his anti-Iraq War bona fides and his larger credibility on matters of national security.

Eyes and Balls

Another counter-intuitive thought. Consider: as Iraq heated up, Afghanistan grew quiet, an oddity given the conventional wisdom that we had lost Afghanistan by losing in Iraq. Fatalities never exceeded 100 Americans a year from 2004-2006. Indeed in 2006 more were killed in December in Iraq (112) than during the entire year in Afghanistan (98). Yet if we took our eye off the ball, why would Afghanistan remain or grow quiet as Iraq heated up?

I think the answer is surely that al-Qaeda megaphones announced Iraq to be the main front in the war against the West. Thousands flocked there — and thousands were either killed, captured, or switched sides.

In other words, radical Islam between 2006-7 suffered a terrible defeat as its escalation in Iraq resulted in thousands killed. Polls showed radical drops in support for and popularity of bin Laden and his tactic of suicide bombing.

The Islamists, not us, “took their eye of the ball”, and as a result they shorted their jihad in Afghanistan. I would not quite call it the fly paper theory of a two-front war, but the diversions of terrorists to Iraq where they much more easily could be killed, given the nature of the war and the terrain, hurt al Qaeda and the Taliban alike in Afghanistan — far more than diversions of U.S. troops from Afghanistan (if in fact they were diverted. We forget the following statistic: In four years from 2001 through 2004, the United States lost a total of 161 troops, probably somewhere around 4 soldiers a month, or about the rate of many non-combat theater deployments. In other words, the front was quiet, and stayed quiet as a frustrated al Qaeda turned toward Iraq where they and their allies killed 4,000 Americans, and probably lost nearly ten times that number.) Now they are desperate, and along with the Taliban think that the new administration simply will not stay the course, and so believe it is once more the time to pour it on to demoralize us further.

Note that our casualties were already spiking in Afghanistan even as more U.S. troops were diverted to it, suggesting, not just that the Taliban was laying low, hoarding resources and now reemerging, but that both sides now are turning to the once peripheral front after the decision in Iraq.

It would be tragically ironic that the miraculous American success in post-surge Iraq would lead to our depression in Afghanistan, while the humiliating defeat in Anbar and Baghdad of radical Islam would lead to its optimism for the second theater.

Some Controversial Outtakes


I had a lot of fervent mail recently, actually quite scary. A couple of thoughts:

I think the key to stopping the Obama remaking of the U.S. is calm and reasoned analysis, since the American people are beginning to turn on his agenda. After 9 months they realize that there is no there there, just formulaic platitudes and the now tired rhetorical flourishes. Otherwise, the agenda is simply Jimmy Carter sanctimoniousness abroad, and Clinton’s first two failed years between 1993-4 at home.

But the antidote is to politely, but steadily point this out — the constant distortions, hypocrisies, and contradictions — without resorting to slurs and smears. If conservatives can stay cheery, optimistic and reasoned, the Obamians, as all fallen prophets, will become angrier, more self-righteous, and incoherent. There is no need for conspiracy theories, to banish the moderate conservatives, or to cannibalize one another; instead the Obama record is out there for all to see and examine. After all, we have a president who boasts that we are back on the U.N. human rights council, and then brags of our new multilateral equity — and then is followed by the likes of Gaddafi and Ahmadinejad who show us what the new unexceptional America’s peers to be are really like.

Little Green What?

Some bloggers sent me postings the other day about Charles Johnson’s Little Green Footballs website, and suggested that the site has changed — as in flipped sides. I have not followed the controversy, but I once rode a bike down in LA for an afternoon with Johnson and found him both a serious and bright guy with all sorts of original ideas about radical Islam and the anti-Enlightenment dangers it posed.

Out of curiosity I went to the site today. All I discovered different was a change in emphasis, but not necessarily attitude. He still is strongly anti-jihad; the difference is that he now worries just as much about creationism, paleo-right tribalism, and the white supremacists’ piggy-backing onto efforts to stop radical Islam. Those are legitimate worries for any liberal (as in 19th-century liberal) minded. Almost monthly I am smeared by the far far right for defending the Anglo-American effort in World War II or support for the melting-pot tradition of racial integration and intermarriage. So I understand some of his concerns.

Johnson, it should be remembered, did a masterful job of debunking the Rather nonsense, and in the dark days of 2001-2 of identifying the idiot fringe that appeased radical Islam. He was also always attuned to the anti-Semitic elements on both left and right that sought to blame Israel for our challenges in Iraq and elsewhere.

Sorry to those who wrote me, but I can no more get on the anti-Johnson bandwagon than I could the birth certificate allegations about Obama (why he won’t release his college transcripts is a far more interesting and valid inquiry).

More on the trip

I can’t quite figure out what happened to our annual trip this year. Usually it does not sell out until May. By this week, we have only five slots left and the trip to the Danube and eastern front wars has only been announced for a little over a month. Perhaps the economy really is improving?

* While Obama was praising the U.N., the U.N. was showing America why most of us don’t want much to do with it. The Gaddafi and Ahmadinejad rambling hate-filled speeches were lunatic and nutty; but, remember, they are typical, not unrepresentative of the sort of leaders that the world outside the West so often produces these days. A Chavez, Kim Jong Il, Assad, or Mullah Omar would say about the same. Why would Obama wish to brag of returning to the human rights council given the creepy regimes on it? Watching the U.N. watch Ahmadinejad, I was reminded of Europe circa July 1941. As Hitler swept through Russia, suddenly a Spain, a Sweden, a Turkey, a Romania, a Hungary, etc. as both Axis allies and as neutrals, all in varying ways were horse-trading with Nazi Germany for various trade deals, land grabs, and general profiteering. That the Wehrmacht slaughtered Jews by the thousands the day it entered Russia, mattered not at all; the Nazis looked like winners and it was time to cut deals. By 1944/5, the opposite was true: neutrals and formal allies were bailing and claiming they had been coerced, duped, had no choices, and were now our friends if not allies, after all. Take away oil, and Ahmadinejad and Gaddafi would be written off as two-bit psychopaths that no legitimate body would let in the service entrance.

©2009 Victor Davis Hanson

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