December 2, 2009

Obama's most political speech ever

Bill Clinton had as a political strategy the idea of triangulation. Obama apparently uses the principle central point singularity, and he doesn't even do that well. The premise of Obama's logic seems to be to find the center of an issue and pick that so that you don't upset hard core liberals too much and you manage to maintain respectable numbers of moderates and non-aligned voters.

There are a few problems with that approach. Firstly, Obama's concept of the central point is skewed quite leftward from the true center. Based on his past associations, he might believe he has found the true center, but that's only among his associations, which are all skewed leftward. Secondly, by trying to play the centrist and reinforce his own hyped post partisan image, some bizarre decisions have resulted. The Afghanistan speech last night was a prime example. Lastly, if the idea of this approach is to get grudging support from both the left and the middle, it is failing miserably. His ideas are proving to appeal to virtually no one. His polling numbers continue to slide everywhere - across all political persuasions across all polls.

This brings us to the curious, curious speech last night about the Afghanistan mission. It was Obama's most political speech ever.  Obama while on one hand managed to cough up a pledge of a scaled down troop surge (reminiscent of the failed Carter hostage rescue three decades ago), on the other hand set a timetable for troop withdrawal.

The curiosity is that if the problem in Afghanistan is as he says still an al Qaida threat to Americans, then how does he know the problem will be solved by 2013? This is an especially salient point with a surge scaled down from the military recommendation. The answer to that is that he cannot possibly know. By telegraphing a withdrawal date he is effectively telling his al Qaida opponents his next move. You don't do it in chess, you don't do it in football and you don't do it in military operations. It gives your opponent an advantage. Surely Obama doesn't want to water down American exceptionalism to the point of a level playing field for the military. Why not give al Qaida Global Predator drones if that were true?

Surely his generals are secretly seething over it. On some nefarious level, it puts the troops at further risk. So why did Obama telegraph his plans? He did it because of politics and Obama's central point singularity. He believes he has found the middle. He is essentially saying we will give this our best shot - a surge - and if it doesn't work, or does, we're done and out. The liberals get their withdrawal date (not so curiously after the 2012 Presidential election, just like health care reform), and moderates and conservatives get their troop surge. He thinks everyone will be happy.

The truth is no one will be. This is already being panned by Democrats and Republicans and it will only get worse. A scaled back troop surge is going to have a slightly demoralizing effect on the troops who will trust their generals on military matters more than a civilian President - that's only natural. But they are professionals. The real problem is that unlike a government department that inflates budget requests, the military is typically more interested in precision that politics. That is not to say they are flawless, but there is no Congressional Budget Office to vet troop strength. You really ought to trust your generals on this.

Worse still, is the fact that al Qaida knows that it has certain options available to it now. For example it can sit tight, outside of Afghanistan's borders for the next three years and meet up in Kandahar in 2013 after U.S. troops have left. Or it can focus its attention elsewhere until then - perhaps going back to Iraq or working on international terrorism plots. Or it could decide to ramp up its efforts in 2013 to coincide with the withdrawal to maximize its propaganda credibility by proclaiming that it was responsible for driving America out. That's going to look really good on the al Qaida recruitment posters "We beat America, and now you can help."

Democrats politicized the war in Iraq early on, despite the initial relatively bi-partisan support for it. As a candidate Barack Obama chose to politicize anti-terrorism by drawing a distinction between Afghanistan and Iraq. He trapped himself in a box as a result - he had to up the troops because he said that's where they needed to be. He had to offer and exit timetable because he called for one in Iraq and to not do the same for Afghanistan, now perceived his own war, would be hypocritical. But President Obama also views it as being the singular central point - the point where the balance between left and right are in absolute equilibrium. The President has made his decision, based seemingly predominantly on political grounds. In doing so, he has managed to further politicize a military operation. Politics don't belong in the Afghan mission, just as they didn't belong in the Iraq war, period.


  1. There were claims made yesterday that his decision was based on politics and polls, and Bob Beckle said such claims skated perilously close to treason. And I thought analyzing the speech and forming an opinion fell under free speech. Gee, go figure.

    Bush may have made a lot of mistakes, but he always put what he thought was right over what was popular. The problem with Obama is that he has no moral stance on anything and can't determine what the right thing to do actually is. He has no choice but to base his decisions on politics and polls.

  2. Beckle wouldn't know a smart remark from a lamp shade. He's such a political hack he even looks like one.

    Thanks for the comments, as always!


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