Flickr photo by Truthout.org
Obama’s speech at West Point Academy made a case for escalating the war in Afghanistan by deploying 30,000 more troops and laid out justifications for escalation that would deflect criticism.
The speech largely avoided the sloganeering and Manichaean flourishes that Americans became used to hearing from President George W. Bush, but it also setup a key paradox —
Isn’t this all being said to convince Americans that their conflicts and reservations with this war need to be sidelined? Aren’t Americans being asked to acquiesce to this president and let him take the lead without citizens creating noise in opposition to his plan for continuing a war Bush started?
Rachel Maddow noted afterward that this was a pretty pragmatic speech and Howard Fineman said during Countdown that there was a “grim realism” to this speech.
Both were hinting that Obama was focused on what was happening in Afghanistan, wanted to focus on the task at hand, and tamp down the criticism from people who are paying close attention to the wars in the Middle East.
A conversation between Ron Suskind and Rachel Maddow revealed on Tuesday night that Obama considered options ranging from a complete drawdown to escalating the war with 30,000 troops. It’s clear he had many reservations and yet military and other interests won this escalation decision.
The interests of American hegemony beat out interests of humanity in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and here at home.
Note what he used to justify the deployment of more troops. Obama cited the Iraq War:
I do not make this decision lightly. I opposed the war in Iraq precisely because I believe that we must exercise restraint in the use of military force, and always consider the long-term consequences of our actions. We have been at war for eight years, at enormous cost in lives and resources. Years of debate over Iraq and terrorism have left our unity on national security issues in tatters, and created a highly polarized and partisan backdrop for this effort. And having just experienced the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the American people are understandably focused on rebuilding our economy and putting people to work here at home.
Seemingly, Obama invoked the Iraq War because it is largely regarded as Bush’s War. And, reminding Americans that Bush created that war and that war has negatively impacted this nation’s ability to address the issue of the war in Afghanistan would make it possible to deflect criticism.
But then, he invoked the soldiers and their families:
…Most of all, I know that this decision asks even more of you – a military that, along with your families, has already borne the heaviest of all burdens. As President, I have signed a letter of condolence to the family of each American who gives their life in these wars. I have read the letters from the parents and spouses of those who deployed. I have visited our courageous wounded warriors at Walter Reed. I have travelled to Dover to meet the flag-draped caskets of 18 Americans returning home to their final resting place. I see firsthand the terrible wages of war. If I did not think that the security of the United States and the safety of the American people were at stake in Afghanistan, I would gladly order every single one of our troops home tomorrow…
…To address these issues, it is important to recall why America and our allies were compelled to fight a war in Afghanistan in the first place. We did not ask for this fight. On September 11, 2001, nineteen men hijacked four airplanes and used them to murder nearly 3,000 people. They struck at our military and economic nerve centers. They took the lives of innocent men, women, and children without regard to their faith or race or station. Were it not for the heroic actions of the passengers on board one of those flights, they could have also struck at one of the great symbols of our democracy in Washington, and killed many more…
Bush often invoked the troops and their families when giving speeches on Iraq and the "war on terror." (Iraq gave him a unique ability to avoid addressing the problems created by invading Afghanistan.)
By citing the troops, the mission becomes salvaging the war. It becomes something aimed at ensuring Americans did not die in vain.
The invocation of troops and their families sets up a situation where critics fall into the same rut that they fell into when Bush was helming the war in Iraq. Inevitably, one winds up saying I support the war but not the mission.
Unfortunately, liberals and progressives may fall for this and we may see more people buying more yellow ribbons. Quite frankly, supporting the troops does support the mission and the war.
If we find that their will be dire consequences for the expansion and further escalation of this war (even if it may come to a conclusion in 2011), we cannot support the troops because they will be contributing to a mission that does others great harm.
As for the invocation of 9/11, apparently this is Obama’s moment of desperation. 9/11 has been the crutch that political leaders have leaned on in their moments of great political trial.
John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Dick Cheney, Joe Lieberman, countless Republicans, and, of course, George W. Bush invoked the story of 9/11 to martial support for their own unpopular ideas on foreign policy.
In fact, these are words from President Bush’s State of the Union on January 29, 2002:
What we have found in Afghanistan confirms that, far from ending there, our war against terror is only beginning. Most of the 19 men who hijacked planes on September the 11th were trained in Afghanistan’s camps, and so were tens of thousands of others. Thousands of dangerous killers, schooled in the methods of murder, often supported by outlaw regimes, are now spread throughout the world like ticking time bombs, set to go off without warning.
To the American Legion on February 24, 2006 in a speech on violence in Iraq & the “War on Terror”:
We remain a nation at war. The war reached our shores on September the 11th, 2001, when our nation awoke to a sudden attack. Like generations before us, we have accepted new responsibilities, and we will confront these dangers with firm resolve. (Applause.)
And in October 7, 2001 in a speech on Afghanistan he said, “We did not ask for this mission, but we will fulfill it.”
Bush was a warmongering president. He was boisterous and had a realist foreign policy that didn’t hide its aim of global domination. But, truth be told, these words quoted from Bush could have appeared in Obama’s address at West Point.
It’s extremely disturbing that Obama’s second to last paragraph in his speech was the following:
It is easy to forget that when this war began, we were united – bound together by the fresh memory of a horrific attack, and by the determination to defend our homeland and the values we hold dear. I refuse to accept the notion that we cannot summon that unity again. I believe with every fiber of my being that we – as Americans – can still come together behind a common purpose. For our values are not simply words written into parchment – they are a creed that calls us together, and that has carried us through the darkest of storms as one nation, one people.
Glenn Beck’s 9/12 Project was meant to conjure the spirit and unity America felt after 9/11. It asked Americans to be the people they were after 9/11 on 9/12.
Most are aware of how successful that initiative has been. More than a year later, we can see how Beck has helped us all grow closer to one another through participation in Tea Party protests meant to promote liberty and freedom in America.
That 9/11 had such a prime role in the speech shows the Obama Administration is still under the same delusion the Bush Administration’s foreign policy suffered from: that 9/11 gives us carte blanche to do as we please in the name of security anywhere in the world.
And so, for those who feel deep down inside their mind, body, and spirit an opposition to the move Obama is making, you are not alone.
Obama’s speech was aimed at the criticism citizens have been leveling against the Afghanistan War, it was designed to bypass even the best arguments laid out by those calling on Obama to “rethink Afghanistan,” and plans for withdrawal in 2011 (that could always change) were made to appease liberal and progressives who have been skeptic.
What’s worse — a president who is an unapologetic warmonger or a president who justifies away and away his actions making it evident he has a conscience but that he will ignore what he knows in his heart to be true and will instead rely on what policymakers and analysts in the Pentagon think instead—policymakers and analysts who make a living off creating missions and objectives for wars?