While the great debate over the "stimulus"
spending bill was the focus of President Obama's Monday sermon, some of the
questions asked at a subsequent press conference dealt with foreign policy,
including a pointed one by CNN's Ed Henry, and it was a double
"Thank you, Mr. President. You've promised to send more troops to
Afghanistan. And since you've been very clear about a timetable to withdraw
combat troops from Iraq within 16 months, I wonder, what's your timetable to
withdraw troops eventually from Afghanistan?
"And related to that, there's a Pentagon policy that bans media coverage
of the flag-draped coffins from coming in to Dover Air Force Base. And back
in 2004, then-Senator Joe Biden said that it was shameful for dead soldiers
to be, quote, 'snuck back into the country under the cover of night.'
"You've promised unprecedented transparency, openness in your government.
Will you overturn that policy so the American people can see the full human
cost of war?"
let that guy in here, anyway?
Obama's answer is a study in obfuscation and chilling sanctimony eerily reminiscent
of his predecessor: "Your question is timely," the president averred.
"We got reports that four American service members have been killed in
Iraq today. And, you know, obviously, our thoughts and prayers go out to the
Correct me if I'm wrong, but hasn't the question been timely for quite some
time? After all, U.S. soldiers have been fighting
and dying for eight years now
in a war with no clear goal – except, perhaps, perpetual conflict for
its own sake – and no visible end. Obama's fabled calmness is really an
uncanny ability to utter nonsense with absolute equanimity.
His entire answer is a peroration consisting of clichés strung together
like plastic baubles on a dime-store bracelet. There's a riff about how you
know you're president when you have to console the families of fallen soldiers.
Ye gods, how many times have we heard presidents say this?
It sounds like a line cut from a West Wing script. Richard
Nixon might have said it. This is the moment when he feels truly
presidential – when he realizes what a heavy burden it is having absolute
power over the conduct of American foreign policy. Or, as Obama puts it:
"It reminds you of the responsibilities that you carry in this office and
– and the consequences of the decisions that you make."
Not that there's a chance he'd be willing to cede some of that decision-making
back to the people's representatives, where the Constitution says
it belongs. You may dimly recall that, under the strictures set down by the
Founders, only Congress may declare war. Yet that power, once usurped by a pint-sized
by Congress. Certainly the majority Obamacrats would never dream of reclaiming
Obama refused to say that he'd reject the Bushian policy of keeping cameras
away from those coffins, claiming he doesn't yet "understand all the implications
involved." A truly oily evasion, that one, to which the only possible
rejoinder is: What are the implications of continuing the policy?
Such a decision would underscore the essential
continuity of American foreign policy and chip away at the myth of Obama
the great change-maker. This is made all to clear in the rest of his answer,
in which he touts the recent Iraqi elections as if they weren't fraught with
and carried out in an atmosphere of intimidation,
with the whole country practically put into lockdown. At any rate, elections
are now the metric of military success and a sign that we can move on to fresh
battlefields, where the battle for Democracy, Goodness, and the American
Way is not yet won:
"You do not see that yet in Afghanistan. They've got elections coming
up, but effectively the national government seems very detached from what's
going on in the surrounding community."
How this is different from any other central government in Afghan history the
president does not venture to say. Does he think he's dealing with, say, France?
Afghanistan's very geography makes it ungovernable, despite what you may hear
from those geniuses over at the Center
for a New American Security or whatever neoconnish name they've dreamed
up for the latest incarnation of American supremacism.
It's amazing how quickly Obama started sounding just like Bush, because, when
cornered by this question on the Afghan endgame, he reverted to waving the bloody
flag of 9/11, just as his predecessor did in the run-up to war with Iraq, and
after the alleged links between Saddam and 9/11 had been thoroughly
The president claims "you've got the Taliban and al-Qaeda operating in
the FATA and these border regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan," and
he promises a "concerted effort to root out these safe havens."
in Pakistan are not the problem when the Taliban control a great hunk of
proper and the domain of the central government is largely confined to Kabul.
Furthermore, we have heard much about the alleged presence of al-Qaeda's shadowy
remnants in Pakistan, yet we have seen no evidence. Nor have we been offered
any specifics. It seems to me that the president came pretty close to saying,
definitively, that Osama bin Laden is in the tribal areas, without, of course,
actually coming out and saying it. If he doesn't know this to be true, then
Obama is doing precisely what Bush and his gang did to gin up a war with Iraq
It always comes back to 9/11:
"The bottom line though – and I just want to remember the American
people, because this is going to be difficult – is this is a situation in which
a region served as the base to launch an attack that killed 3,000 Americans."
A whole region? By this same token, then, so did Germany serve as a base for
al-Qaeda, since the plotters lived in Hamburg
for quite some time, where, presumably, they did their share of plotting. And
the original conception of the 9/11 terrorist attacks can be traced
back to a meeting
held in the year 2000 in Malaysia. Therefore, according to Obama's logic, these
two countries are prime candidates for revenge attacks by the U.S. But this
makes about as much sense as invading Italy in order to deprive the Mafia of
its "safe haven."
Terrorists don't need "safe havens" to plan attacks on the U.S.
They can do it anywhere. That's their great advantage: "al-Qaeda"
is more of an idea
than a real organization. By running with this "safe haven" malarkey,
Obama – far from being "tough" – underestimates the real
source and deadly power of the terrorist threat.
"I do not yet have a timetable" for getting out, Obama declared –
aside from which, you know how these "safe havens" tend to
proliferate. Why, no sooner will Afghanistan be pronounced relatively clean
of al-Qaeda than those scoundrels will somehow wriggle their way into Tajikistan,
and in all likelihood Uzbekistan
– giving the U.S. a pretext to intervene in a region of the world our oil companies
and other economic interests have long coveted.
One hopeful sign, however, is that he said he doesn't yet have a timetable.
Perhaps a vocal and visible
protest against his neo-Bushian foreign policy will help concentrate his mind
and speed up the process of timetable-creation.