by Victor Davis Hanson
NRO’s The Corner
The Tingle is Gone?
Many of Obama’s problems are in the future.
Aside from the rendezvous he has with mega-deficits, rallying support for Afghanistan, healthcare, selling cap-and-trade in the Senate, etc., there is a more fundamental problem with Obama’s modus operandi itself. I don’t think he will any longer be able to “hope and change” his way out of tomorrow’s controversies with mere rhetorical flourishes, since he has already exhausted his capital of credibility, and squandered his “this is our moment” trust.
Watch the faces of the press corps and the townhall throngs when he evades, and instead starts in with the cadences: The collective expression is to roll their eyes and sigh “not this again.” And yet the alternative to hope and change is off-the-teleprompter pauses, and “inflate your tires/they’re taking out our tonsils” folk mythology.
When Obama said he would be fiscally prudent, we got near $2 trillion deficits. When he said the debt would grow to $7 trillion over his tenure, you should nearly double that estimate. When he said Bush shredded the Constitution, he adopted most of the Bush plan from rendition to tribunals. When he said that he wished to move on, we got investigations of the CIA and the previous administration. When he said we’d have all combat brigades out by March 2008, we knew we could not. When he said anything about healthcare — it would save money, would not alter private plans, would not go to illegal aliens, etc — we already assumed all that was mendacious. When he says anything, we know now that it is either not true or will not be true or at best will only be partially true.
And in the first seven months, there was a crass edge as well, whether measured by the jokes like ridiculing the Special Olympics or demagoguing those who go to Las Vegas or the Superbowl, or stereotyping the police who act “stupidly” and “profile.”
Apparently, Obama grasped (and he hints at this in his memoirs) that his rhetorical powers, and singular heritage, allowed him to achieve things not commensurate with the facts of the matter, or prerequisite knowledge and prior experience. But on a global stage, it is not so easy to wing it with just “forget the details and what I said in the past — now just trust me, since I’m young, charismatic, and different.”
Proof of all this is not just the waning polls and the grassroots anger of hoi polloi, but a strange and sudden end to last fall’s elite-left puff pieces that used to run the gamut from women dreaming of seducing Barack, desire to change the law to allow him to begin governing almost immediately in November, worry over a Bush coup to abort the dreamy Obama presidency, and all sorts of personal testaments about how suddenly the world will be a utopia. That entire genre of liberal therapeutic Obama musings in print and on the screen has quite incredibly simply vanished.
Instead, on the Left, we are seeing two common themes — Obama is in over his head; Obama is duplicitous in promising us things he never intended to deliver.
When moderates and independents are leaving your cause in droves because you misled them by falsely cloaking your unwelcome partisan ideology in a moderate veneer — at the same time the fervent base is doing the same because you misled them by falsely cloaking your unwelcome moderation in a partisan ideological veneer, you know you are simply not telling the truth by saying, in cynical Nixonian fashion, irreconcilable things all the time to almost everyone.
The Perpetual Whine: ‘Bush Did It!’ — Not Us
Robert Gibbs is once again trashing George Bush, nine months into the new presidency, for the growing violence in Afghanistan. Some observations on that:
1) Obama’s crash in the polls has come with record speed, and is not just because all of his policies are both to the left of the voters and are at odds with a bait-and-switch veneer of moderation in the campaign. Just as important is this sense that Obama serially whines (“reset button,” “Bush did it,” etc.), and in his comments about doctors, insurance companies, Super Bowl attendees, Vegas visitors, the Special Olympics, the wealthy, the police, etc. shows a surprising meanness of spirit, at odds with the supposedly upbeat “no more red, no more blue state” campaign rhetoric. We know clearly that Americans do not like most of Obama’s policies, but if they begin not to like Obama the man either, then he is in real Jimmy Carter-like trouble. The American people sense now that a Hugo Chavez or a Saudi prince gets far more deference than do other Americans, and they are quite tired of it.
2) The Robert Gibbs lament that Bush “took his eye” off Afghanistan and now Obama is paying the price for neglect could well in part be true. The military has always wanted more men and money. But that is only part of the story. Consider casualties: Years after the removal of the Taliban, Afghanistan was still relatively quiet, and a year’s fatalities there often were exceeded by a single month’s deaths in Iraq (e.g. cf. 48 American dead in Afghanistan in 2003, 52 in 2004, 99 in 2005; 98 in 2006; etc. Yet more have been killed already in the first part of 2009 (183) than in all of last year combined (155). So why is Afghanistan heating up precisely as Iraq cooled off, and why the spike in violence when additional American money, manpower, and attention are now being directed to it?
No one really knows, but there may well be reasons other than either we are escalating, stirring up hornets, and offering more targets, or suffering the wages of George Bush’s supposed past neglect (when 48 or 52 Americans were killed in an entire year).
All the talk of leaving Afghanistan, the constant trashing of the war on terror, the serial presidential proclamations to the Muslim world that America has been in the past culpable for a variety of sins and has underappreciated Muslim genius, the vows to investigate and even try members of the CIA, the overseas apology tour, etc. may well have emboldened a once dejected and battered Taliban and al Qaeda into thinking that the U.S., not themselves, is tired, feels that it was wrong, and simply wants to call it quits and go home and accept the consequences of its “incorrect” thinking — sort of like the possible ripples to Dean Acheson’s controversial January 1950 statement that South Korea was outside the sphere of U.S. security protection or April Glaspie’s June 1990 assurances of U.S. uninterest in Iraqi-Kuwait border disputes.
Even more controversially, between 2003–2008 the United States military was eliminating thousands of al-Qaeda terrorists who flocked to Iraq, in a manner (given the open terrain, and lack of a mountainous refuge like a nuclear Pakistan), that was not possible then in Afghanistan. That topic has been a taboo subject the last six years, but the high losses that al-Qaeda-affiliated killers suffered in Iraq surely attenuated their ranks, and may have sent a message for some that to fight the U.S. military was to die.
We also do not like to think there are several theaters in roughly the same war, or that events in Iraq affected Afghanistan and vice versa, or that impressions and intentions sometimes are as important as facts on the ground, but history would suggest otherwise. In WWII how the U.S. fared in the distant Pacific affected to some degree what happened in Europe and vice versa (through perceptions, skills acquired, morale, and allotment of resources) despite the fact that Germany and Japan rarely knew what the other was doing.
©2009 Victor Davis Hanson