Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Obama: The Man Who Would Be King

All day yesterday, the media played up Obama’s pending speech. Obama cheerleader and NBC reporter, John Harwood, for example, claimed this would be the most important speech of Obama’s Presidency. “This was the moment the Afghan war would become Obama’s war,” he said with awe. As expected, Obama failed to live up to the challenge.

And it’s not just me that thinks Obama flopped. Within minutes of the speech, a series of normally-reflexive-Obama-supporters put out articles blasting Obama. Let’s start with those:

What Our Friends On The Left Said
Let's start with the most glaring. German leftist magazine Der Spiegel said this:
"Never before has a speech by President Barack Obama felt as false as his Tuesday address announcing America's new strategy for Afghanistan. It seemed like a campaign speech combined with Bush rhetoric -- and left both dreamers and realists feeling distraught.

One didn't have to be a cadet on Tuesday to feel a bit of nausea upon hearing Obama's speech. It was the least truthful address that he has ever held. He spoke of responsibility, but almost every sentence smelled of party tactics. He demanded sacrifice, but he was unable to say what it was for exactly."
Time magazine blasted Obama for leaving out a key detail from his speech, namely how exactly we get the Afghan army to grow. They also criticized the entire strategy, pointing out that:
• US officers have described the Afghan forces as “slipshod and corrupt”;

• They are incapable of more that basic daytime operations;

• They have been unable to master the vital bookkeeping needed for a military to function;

• Deadlines and calendars are foreign concepts to their army, and their officers have a “God-willing mentality” that “delays progress for all routine and major actions”;

• They only respond to paper orders, which “freezes subordinates into doing nothing until specifically ordered”; and

• The relationship between US and Afghan forces are “plagued by mistrust, with the living quarters of allied and Afghan troops separated by walls, razor wire, guarded gates and machine-gun nests.”
The Christian Science Monitor noted that Obama’s speech did nothing to convince the Afghans that our intent isn’t to occupy their garden spot of a country. The Monitor wrote that across ethnic lines, Afghans believe that the foreign troops are there as occupiers -- a line of reasoning promoted by the Taliban. Many believe that the troops who are already in Afghanistan could defeat the Taliban if they wanted to, but the United States is using our supposed failure to defeat the Taliban as a pretext for bringing more troops to occupy the country. Said Jabar Wafaie, “The troops that are already here, they can do well now, if they wanted they could destroy the Taliban.” He added that “the additional 30,000 troops is going to be a good opportunity for the Taliban to recruit more.” Others agreed.

Waliullah Ramani, director of the Kabul Center for Strategic Studies, criticized the 18 month deadline Obama created, noting that the insurgents can merely wait out the 18 months. “For the Taliban, this is good news. If the Afghan government remains in the same situation that is today, it cannot remain in power for even a month when the US leaves.” The Monitor published these comments uncritically.

The Washington Post and the Associated Press both fact-checked Obama’s speech and found it lacking in several areas. The Post criticized Obama for setting a deadline, noting that “the administration has had real trouble meeting deadlines.” It noted that Obama’s claim that he could not have sent troops sooner was technically true, but really isn’t. And it criticized him for planning to use a supplemental appropriation to pay for the war -- “a practice Democrats heavily criticized during the Bush years and something Obama had said he would not do.”

The AP criticized the idea that we can “train competent Afghan security forces.” They noted that the problem with the Afghan forces is “an unwillingness to fight. Too many get into the fight but don’t remain or don’t perform.” The AP tossed cold water on Obama’s assertion that Europeans would provide additional troops: “history has shown that these troop contributions often are incremental, sometimes slow in materializing and frequently come with conditions attached.” They also tore apart his claim that Pakistan was helping defeat the Taliban:
“It's true the Pakistani army this year has launched offensives against extremist elements in the areas cited by Obama. What he did not mention, however, is that the groups being targeted by the Pakistanis are those that threaten the Pakistani government — not those, also based in Pakistan, that are focused on attacking U.S. and Afghan forces on the other side of the porous border. . . . [those] have so far not been confronted on the Pakistan side of the border, other than by air strikes from U.S. drones.”
So much for the speech of his Presidency.

Obama went into this speech with a 35% approval rating by the public on his handling of the Afghanistan situation:

And that support is even lower among Republicans and independents:

Nothing in his speech or in the coverage of his speech is going to help those numbers much, apart from the brief short term boost that normally follows speeches of this kind. But in this instance, I actually doubt he’ll get that large of a boost. Here’s why:
My Problems With The Speech
Obama’s speech was dull, yet petulant. It was arrogant, yet pleading. It was contradictory, and most importantly, it was uninspired. There was nothing in Obama’s speech to tell the average person why we are in Afghanistan, why we need to stay, why we should risk one more American life, or how we are going to prevail. Obama just assured us that he decided that it was important to our security that we stay.

Most of the speech was spent trying to walk a contradictory line: (1) Bush left the war in such a horrible state that it’s virtually unwinnable, but (2) I, Obama, fixed all of his mistakes and made it all better, but (3) the whole thing is messed up and will be a struggle to set right, but (4) I, Obama, fixed it and I will fix it.

And the policy behind the speech was worse.

Obama tried to placate the right by sending more troops -- a position that I disagree with. But he tried not to look like he was placating the right by cutting the number down from 40,000 to 30,000. He tried to placate the left by setting a firm deadline, which really isn’t very firm when you realize he only set 2011 as the date we “begin” to come home.

In the end, the only people he really placated were the Taliban. Indeed, those idiots issued a statement that seemed almost giddy:
“Obama will witness lots of coffins heading to America from Afghanistan. Their hope to control Afghanistan by military means will not become reality. The extra 30,000 troops that will come to Afghanistan will provoke stronger resistance and fighting, They will withdraw shamefully. They cannot achieve their hopes and goals.”
And, sadly, they are correct: they won a tremendous victory last night. All they need to do now is wait 18 months and we will leave, handing them Afghanistan on a platter. In the meantime, they can swing over more and more villagers who know that once the Americans leave, the Taliban will return. What villager will stand up to fight the Taliban now, knowing that in 18 months they will stand alone?

Moreover, try as I might, I could find no solutions in his speech, just promises of more of the same. As you know, I have come to believe that we are wasting time, money and lives in Afghanistan. I see no reason to believe that any mission to stabilize the Afghan government can succeed because Afghanistan the country is a fiction. Not only does it consist of a collection of warring tribes rather than a people with some common interests, but it lacks any of the history, culture or institutions needed to hold a democracy together. Thus, no matter what we do, I believe that our efforts will fall apart once we leave. And nothing in Obama’s speech last night told me that he recognizes this.

But even putting my views aside, where was the path to success last night? He offered more of the same, which hasn’t worked, and all he did was assure us that this time it would work. Why? How? And if all you're going to do is repeat what Bush was doing, why did we need you in the first place?

Does this man have no ideas?

Indeed, rather than enlighten us, most of the speech was spent blaming Bush for Obama's failures to come. When Obama first did this after his election, it was understandable. Every president inherits the messes of the prior president. And with the left in such bloodlust for Bush, it made sense to use Bush as a sort of boogey-man to hide behind when things weren’t working out. It wasn’t presidential and wasn’t the kind of behavior in which successful people engage, but it was understandable. But that was a long time ago.

Obama claimed during the campaign that he had a plan for Afghanistan. He replaced the command team there with his own hand-picked successors. He’s sent troops, sent diplomats and thoroughly reformed the war to his own liking. It is too late to blame Bush. And trying to blame Bush now just sounds whiny and weak.

But the biggest failure in the speech, the one Obama will regret the most, is that he failed to set a clear list of conditions that constitute an exit strategy. Yes, he set 2011 as the beginning for withdrawal, if conditions are right, but he never said what those conditions were. Nor did he set up a fall guy, i.e. Karzai, that he can blame for failing to meet those (non-existent) conditions. This all but guarantees that our leaving will be seen as Obama simply giving up. Talk about bad politics.

Other than that, it was a great speech.

** Update: Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen and nominal Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spent the day playing down the 2011 date. So they're already backtracking on the only real "decision" Obama made? Failure, they name is Barack.


LawHawkSF said...

Andrew: If there's anything a nation needs to hear in a war speech, it's full-on inspiration. Obama's speech was about as inspiring as a junior high school lecture on the thinking processes of an ameba.

Compare: "England shall never, never surrender!" (Churchill) "We shall fight on to the ultimate victory, so help us God!" (Roosevelt) "Well get out of there starting in 2011." (Obama)

There is only one proper exit strategy: Win the damned war! Obama's conflation of Iraq and Afghanistan was foolish and disingenuous. Creating a stable democracy in Iraq was a huge task which has not yet been fully realized. But it was and remains possible, indeed likely. Afghanistan will never be more than a designation on a map. It's not a nation in any real sense, and probably never will be. It's just a collection of warring tribes. Our war strategy should ignore democratization, and concentrate on destroying the Taliban and trapping Al Qaeda in a pincers movement with the cooperation (voluntary or otherwise) of Pakistan, and wipe out every vestige of their ability to plot flying jumbo jets into buildings on American soil. Then we can exit, and leave the Afghan primitives to their warlords and their perpetual mass slaughters.

patti said...

wow, you did a much more grown-up analysis than i. well done, sir. i just can't seem to hold it together without burping out an enormous BLECH! when i hear bar speak (or as the case is here, when i read any of his transcripts). his intent is to harm, until we are on our knees begging him to save us. ain't gonna happen. and it seems as if more join the fold of enlightenment daily...

AndrewPrice said...

Patti, LOL! I liked your analysis too! It is difficult to listen to Obama without feeling sick. I think it's funny that Der Spiegel said his speech made them feel nausea.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, I don't see a military solution. Between the fact that they can vanish into the population, they can hide in millions of square miles of caves and mountains, and they have sanctuary in Pakistan, there just isn't any military victory to be had.

If there was a military victory to be had, we would have had it already. We already have 12 soldiers to every one of theirs, and we've been there longer than it took to fight World War II from start to finish.

We need a more creative solution.

Writer X said...

The other thing that he mentioned that was comical was that our allies would send troops too. He mentioned, in fact, that 43 countries had sent troops--something they always laughed about when Bush emphasized it. And I thought Obama promised that the allies would all come running, just because he was our president? After that snoozefest speech, my guess is that most countries will begin to pull out.

Excellent analysis, Andrew!

AndrewPrice said...

Writer X, Thanks!

Your guess is right -- the Europeans are already lining up to refuse to send more troops. So much for Obama's silver tongue.

LawHawkSF said...

Andrew: I agree that it may very well be too late. I do not agree that we could not have succeeded. We might even be able to yet. But it requires doing something that offends the sensibilities of people who no longer have the heart for or the understanding of war. Find the bastards, and throw everything you have at them. If they can disappear into the population, then reduce the population. Civilian losses would be extremely heavy at first, but they would soon learn not to harbor the enemy. Just about the time that we learned that lesson successfully in Vietnam, Walter Cronkite informed us that we had lost the war and there was no military solution. He was wrong, but we left anyway.

Military solutions are very much available for killing the enemy. It's the fear of getting bad press that prevents victory. As for a "solution" to Afghanistan itself, who cares? Let them kill each other with abandon. Not our problem.

I said it would require the cooperation of Pakistan. Without it, the war would indeed be lost. But how do we know if we don't try? These primitives understand one thing only. Who is the most powerful warlord. And as it stands, they are pretty sure we aren't that warlord. Our soldiers are willing to do the job, but the cave-dwellers know we'd rather send warriors to prison for giving terrorists cut lips than kill the enemy without regard for crippling rules of engagement.

Yes, there is a military solution. And we'll never take it.

StanH said...

Great overview, and thanks for doing the heavy lifting Andrew, my God …I can’t listen to Barry speak. I agree that a Jeffersonian Democracy is out of the question in Afghanistan. Perhaps the way to look at the war, is we have forces forward, next to the time bomb that is Pakistan. That country is a military coo away from Islamo-Fascist getting their hands on nukes. So in the overall War on Terror, perhaps that is part of the adults thinking? My guess it’s something like that, cause you know Barry would love to tuck tail and run, that’s just in his nature. Like Lawhawk said kill the goons while we’re there. Just a thought. This guy is about as inspiring as a shoe, it’s gonna be a long three years, …sheesh!

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, The Nazis tried that in France, Yugoslavia, Poland, Italy, eastern Russia, et al. and it didn't work.

AndrewPrice said...

Stan, Thanks. It is getting harder and harder to listen to him.

It really doesn't bode well for him that no one supports this new plan, except his cabinet.

LawHawkSF said...

Andrew: Aw, hooey. The Nazis killing civilians by lining them up and shooting them is not a valid comparison at all. Try Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and maybe Dresden. Hit their centers of power, and too bad for the hapless civilians. The Nazis were using plain murder of civilians to frighten patriotic civilians into surrender to a conqueror. Lest we forget, that's exactly how the Soviet Union lost in Afghanistan.

Do you seriously think the tribal primitives believe for one minute that they are fighting for their beloved Afghanistan? As for fighting for Allah, they believe that the guy with the biggest guns and strongest will to win is on the side of Allah. They couldn't care less what happens to their fellow Afghans in the caves twenty miles away.

LL said...

Succinctly put, Andrew.

Really, it's one of the best you've ever posted, IMHO. That's saying a lot because you do a consistently superior job.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks LL. I appreciate that, especially as I'm impressed by the work you do as well at your blog.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, This is getting too far afield of the purpose of my article. Suffice to say I disagree for a myriad of reasons.

LawHawkSF said...

Andrew: Sorry, but you did link to your objections to the war in Afghanistan. Your article was pitch-perfect, and I simply commented on my feeling that Obama's speech was a clear declaration that he really has no intention of winning. You think the war can't be won. I think it could. And never the twain shall meet. But we do agree entirely on the fact that given all the surrounding circumstances, we won't win. I just hope we can get out without so emboldening the terrorists that we all need to build bomb shelters.

Meanwhile, the Cindy Sheehan brigades are already marching in huge numbers in San Francisco (with carefully-prepared professionally-lettered signs) less than 24 hours after the speech. Even this half-hearted effort is too much for them. I can't wait to see the first rendering of Obama as Hitler. I need the laugh.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, I agree. We can disagree about the war itself, but no matter what differences we may have, we both agree that what Obama is doing is about the worst possible thing he could be doing. It's very disturbing and I hope we don't end up paying a price for it.

I hadn't heard about the Sheehan Brigade, but I'm not surprised, not at all.

LawHawkSF said...

Andrew: I truly don't believe that you and I disagree about the war at all. It's a matter of the war that is, and how Obama is handling it, and there's not a dime's worth of difference between us. I was off on a tangent about the war that could have been, but never will be. And if we're consistent about anything, it's dealing with the real world, not the theoretical one.

So far the anti-war San Francisco demonstrations haven't made the MSM (Fox News did make a quick reference to it). The local stations couldn't avoid showing them because once again, they essentially shut down Market Street, the city's main artery. But the crowds are viciously anti-Obama, much nastier than the worst things we've seen at tea parties. The MSM will report on them, if at all, when they can figure out how to spin this into an Obama victory.

This is a war I can actually enjoy. Sheehan is Pelosi's opponent in the primary. I hope they kill each other (metaphorically speaking, of course). Nan's head must be exploding trying to figure out how to handle this mess.

StanH said...

Lawhawk: I don’t know how you handle it brother. It’s to bad you don’t have a giant trap door on Market Street, make these “enlightened” creeps disappear, they’ll not be missed.

CrispyRice said...

Very well done and informative, as always, Andrew!

Michael Savage (yes, *sigh*, I'm a talk radio junkie) last did a piece alternating BO's speech with bits from one of Johnson's speech about Vietnam. It was eery - the same sentences, phrases, vacant references.

LawHawk, I'm guess I'm not surprised that the MSM isn't airing the news from the far-left either. Anything anti-O isn't going to play well, is it? And the media wonders why it's going bankrupt.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks CrispyRice. I think this is really good evidence that the love is gone for Obama and he's got serious problems -- not to mention that his decision is just horrible.

LawHawkSF said...

CrispyRice: I have to be careful about carrying these analogies too far, but I will say that I at least smell the hint of 1967-68 all over again. And I can be somewhat analytical about it since I was on the anti-war side during that split in the Democratic Party.

DCAlleyKat said...

Hmmm...kind of reminded me of a blogpost I wrote back in February titled "Barack Obama - The Boy Who Would Be King"...!

AndrewPrice said...

DCAlleyKat, Great minds! LOL! I actually used the title because it's a reference to a movie in which Sean Connery tries to make himself the king of Afghanistan.

DCAlleyKat said...

DCAlleyKat, Great minds! LOL! I actually used the title because it's a reference to a movie in which Sean Connery tries to make himself the king of Afghanistan.

Andrew - with Michael Cain, I love that movie!! Great minds indeed...

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