Obama's War Speech Offered Something for Everybody -- But Who's Buying It?

The Rodney King of American politics was at it again in his speech at West Point, pleading with the assembled plebes and a national primetime television audience of tens of millions: “People, I just want to say, you know,  can we all get along?”

The Afghan escalation speech was classic Obama. His enigmatic and epigrammatic split the baby in half Yoda/Spock-speak offered something for everyone: good-news-bad-news; back and forth; give and take; get in to get out; speed up to slow down; and in the end, let’s all come together and get along to end the war – by waging the war more intensely…but only for eighteen months, and then we all get to go home.

Got that? You know, “Can we all get along?”

Someone give that man a peace prize!

Yes, it was back to the future again…back to the “surge,” then further back to the 9/11 attacks and a time “we were united,” and back to an Afghanistan we cared about — before we didn’t care any more, because what we cared about was Iraq…

It even took me back to “blue-eyed soul” and Robert Palmer, of all people, because after all – well, let’s just cue the music:

“We want the best of both worlds

We want it slow and hot

We like to taste revenge, yeah

But we can’t waste the shot…”

“Eighteen months to transition to Afghan responsibility?” Are you kidding me? Have you ever been to Afghanistan? Have you ever been experienced?

I have… Back in the day – namely 2002, in those supposedly halcyon years when “we were united” but when most American politicians and their media lapdogs had already turned their backs on Afghanistan – I went to Kabul to make a documentary film, and to try to report about a strange, wonderful and medieval country that had been at war nonstop for decades, with illiteracy and infant and maternal mortality rates off the charts… Before leaving the US, I tried to offer Afghan-related footage and stories to every mainstream media outlet I knew of — but none was interested. Despite the fact that the impending invasion of Iraq was still six months away, every executive I pitched seemed to have gotten some mysterious media memo I somehow missed– you know, the one that said, “Forget about Afghanistan if you want to advance your career. Iraq, Iraq, Iraq…”

“We want to see from both sides

We like it cool and fast

We want to get it over

We like to make it last…”

And now…back to Vietnam? No, says Obama, it’s different this time. Afghanistan is no Vietnam, because there are 43 nations fighting with us there…. Some might even call it a “coalition of the willing.”

If you think you’ve seen this movie before—you’re right. You have. Several times, in fact. It always seems to end the same way.

Obama’s escalation of the war has just become the defining moment of his entire presidency. Soon there will be 100,000 troops in harm’s way in Afghanistan — more than half sent by the Nobel Peace Prize winner. Anyone who believes they will leave in eighteen months is a fool. (In an astonishing moment of post-speech commentariat clarity, the still-estimable Bob Scheiffer of CBS News surprised Katie Couric by blurting out two questions that many others must have been thinking, but dared not verbalize: “How can we do this? And how can we understand the logic of it?”

The answers came in the cold clear light of the morning after, in a quote buried in the seventeenth paragraph of the Page One New York Times report on Obama’s speech. After noting that “Senior Administration officials suggested…that any initial withdrawal starting in mid-2011 could be very limited, depending on the military situation at that point,” the Paper of Record then recorded under secretary of defense Michele A. Flournoy’s cautionary remarks: “The pace, the nature, and the duration of that transition are to be determined down the road by the president [italics mine] based on conditions on the ground.”

“I think about the war that is no fight at all

I think about the peace that is a fight for all

The best of both worlds…

Tight as a drum, loose as a gun holster

Yeah, it’s getting closer…”

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