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Flailing Empire: Afghanistan and the Great American Unraveling

It's not really much of a mystery what happens to overextended imperial powers that find themselves fighting "little" wars they can’t win as their treasuries head south.
 
 
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It’s already gone, having barely outlasted its moment -- just long enough for the media to suggest that no one thought it added up to much.

Okay, it was a  little more than the  military wanted, something less than Joe Biden  would have liked, not enough for the growing crew of  anti-war congressional types, but way too much for John  McCain, Lindsey  Graham, & Co.

I’m talking about the 13 minutes of  “remarks” on “the way forward in Afghanistan” that President Obama  delivered in the East Room of the White House two Wednesday nights ago.  

Tell me you weren’t holding your breath wondering whether the 33,000 surge troops he ordered into Afghanistan as 2009 ended would be removed in a 12-month, 14-month, or 18-month span.  Tell me you weren’t gripped with anxiety about whether 3,000, 5,000, 10,000, or 15,000 American soldiers would come out this year (leaving either 95,000, 93,000, 88,000, or 83,000 behind)?

You weren’t?  Well, if so, you were in good company.

Billed as the beginning of the end of the Afghan War, it should have been big and it couldn’t have been smaller.  The patented Obama words were meant to soar, starting with a George W. Bush-style invocation of 9/11 and ending with the usual copious blessings upon this country and our military.  But on the evidence, they couldn’t have fallen flatter.  I doubt I was alone in thinking that it was like seeing Ronald Reagan on an unimaginably bad day in an ad  captioned“It’s never going to be morning again in America.”

Idolator President

If you clicked Obama off that night or let the event slide instantly into your mental trash can, I don’t blame you.  Still, the president’s Afghan remarks shouldn’t be sent down the memory hole quite so quickly.

For one thing, while the mainstream media's pundits and talking heads are always raring to discuss his policy remarks, the words that frame them are generally ignored -- and yet the discomfort of the moment can’t be separated from them.  So start with this: whether by inclination, political calculation, or some mix of the two, our president has become a rhetorical idolator.

These days he can barely open his mouth without also bowing down before the U.S. military in ways that once would have struck Americans as embarrassing, if not incomprehensible.  In addition, he regularly prostrates himself before this country’s special mission to the world and never ceases to emphasize that the United States is indeed an exception among nations.  Finally, in a way once alien to American presidents, he  invokes God’s blessing upon the military and the country as regularly as you brush your teeth.

Think of these as the triumvirate without which no Obama foreign-policy moment would be complete: greatest military, greatest nation, our God.  And in this he follows directly, if awkwardly, in Bush's footsteps.

I wouldn’t claim that Americans had never had such thoughts before, only that presidents didn’t feel required to say them in a mantra-like way just about every time they appeared in public.  Sometimes, of course, when you feel a compulsion to say the same things  ad nauseam, you display weakness, not strength; you reveal the most fantastic of fantasy worlds, not a deeper reality.

The president’s recent Afghan remarks were, in this sense, par for the course.  As he plugged his plan to bring America’s “long wars” to what he called “a responsible end,” he insisted that “[l]ike generations before, we must embrace America’s singular role in the course of human events.”  He then painted this flattering word portrait of us:

 
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