Obama's speech to Marines at Camp Lejune was on the radio the other morning, and I heard what sounded like the majority of it on my commute. It is perhaps the most I've listened to him since Saddleback, which is basically more than five minutes. Somehow, this time he didn't annoy me into shutting him up.
Listening to Obama reminds me a lot of how extraordinary Bill Clinton is as a politician. Bill Clinton spews very intelligent and logical rhetoric. Obama sounds mushy by comparison. Clinton's words work on surface emotions with quick political effect whereas Obama appears to want to go for emotional tectonic plates. He's tranquil but always letting you know how deep he is, which is why I find him so disturbingly effaced when he reverses course and buries his political liabilities. It's something I'll have to get accustomed to just in order to hear him out. Since I care a lot and spent quite a bit of time learning about Iraq I did hear him out.
On Iraq, Obama wasn't exactly saying nothing and talking loud but the things he said sound all pointed back towards Americans who simply disagreed with Bush on everything rather than to Iraqis. He clearly comes across with a paternalistic attitude towards the poor bastards who suffered through all the killing of war which he linked to every war in sad resignation. In Obama's version, the entire Iraq war is shaped into a tragic kind of sacrifice that nobody really wanted - a purposeless accident of human failure in general but from which honor emerges nonetheless. And so there was no mention of any goal of war except the toppling of a dictator for which he gives America back-handed credit. The honor is in the suffering and the sacrificing, not in the courage or the vision. And so he offered relief for the suffering and sacrifice of the American troops in the form of higher pay and benefits, but he offered no courage or vision.
For the Iraqis, his message is clear. It can best be summarized thusly, you're on your own, you're not so special any more our efforts in regional diplomacy are our new priorities, you've used our guys long enough. No new military, just new diplomats. And by the way we're talking to everyone because our idea of progress is like that. He offered some vapid statements about 'cradle of civilization' and 'two great rivers' like some eighth grade book report which were stunning in their departure from any specifics about who from his team was actually doing what in Iraq. It was a statement of exhaustion of a kind of shaking the cobwebs out of the head of a downed boxer, saying what am I doing here in round 10? OK, round 12 I'm out of here. It is exactly the expression of an impossible and undefinable victory - a logical, pragmatic best-laid plan of escape.
Obama offered weary troops visions of engraved markers on bridges and town squares with yellow ribbons, a new GI bill and a salutory welcome home to cheers and applause. He made examples of young heroes cut down in brave defense of their fellows and called them by their first names. It would have been interesting to see his face as he did so.
This is Obama's forte, delivery of the promises of long andticipated succor and relief. So long as his teats are full of the milk of domestic revenue and diplomatic sweet-talk, they will bounce enticingly. How long?
Obama sidled up to a hard line against a nuclear Iran.
This reflects a fundamental truth: We can no longer deal with regional challenges in isolation. We need a smarter, more sustainable and comprehensive approach. That is why we are renewing our diplomacy while relieving the burden on our military.
That is why we are refocusing on Al Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan, developing a strategy to use all elements of American power to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, and actively seeking a lasting peace between Israel and the Arab world.
Yesterday it was Dan Carlin who suggested the difference between Republicans and Democrats in foreign policy worked something like this. The Republicans send out a swaggering steely eyed gunslinger who says out loud in broad daylight, if you don't do what we want I'm going to kick your ass. It's like showdown at the OK Corral, eyeball to eyeball with everybody watching. The Democrats send out a wealthy, fickle ingenue who waltzes the opponent out of public view into a back alley and whispers in their ear if you don't do what we want I'm going to kick your ass. It's a transparent game of Mutt and Jeff spanning administrations. Under such conditions, countries should best desire to be left alone, except that our gunslingers and ingenues are irresistible. The problem is that one is left with the idea that Obama comes to the realization of a nuclear Iran a bit late. Four years of sweet talk to Iran, badmouthing Israel and seducing the Saudis and Syrians could be a genuine naivete the effect of which stretches American patience to the breaking point. A canny Obama could set up the perception that anyone who refuses his offers will never get a better deal from Americans. The problem is that he's not explicit enough to do anything but signal that dialog is in order.
Not that the economic homefront is giving him time to do all that.
Obama continues to indicate to me that he can throw money and kind words at every problem. It's the kind of responsibility he believes in. And so we're off to Afghanistan.