Allegations of success 0

The Washington Post, reviewing Obama’s first year in office, stops short of hagiography, but scrapes the bottom of an almost empty barrel to find justification for its praise.

What does it pull out? Well, he made a good shot in a basketball game in front of servicemen, although he had a painful hip:

Obama was tired from the long flight, and a hip injury limited a basketball game to an informal shoot-around session. But the Senate staff members accompanying him were stunned when, on arriving at the gym, they discovered that more than 1,000 service members had packed the stands to watch. Some of Obama’s aides worried that a poor showing would yield images of Commander Air Ball.¬†“Just make a shot or two, and that’ll be all right,” Antony J. Blinken, then the director of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff and now Vice President Biden’s national security adviser, told Obama.”Oh, I’ll make the shot,” he answered. He squared up behind the three-point arc for a jump shot that zipped through the net. The troops erupted, and a potentially awkward encounter ended in a moment of schoolyard glory, with future commander and troops appearing largely as equals.

And he made a few decisions that sounded good to most ears:

In his first year in office, Obama has set in motion plans to triple the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan; expanded operations against U.S. enemies in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen; and, in one early instance of his willingness to use deadly force, authorized Special Forces snipers to kill three Somali pirates holding an American hostage.

Yes, that was good. But the article, more remarkable for what it leaves out than what it found to spin, does not mention, for instance, any of the administration’s foreign policy failures with Iran, the Middle East, China, Russia, or North Korea.

And what of all the intense criticism of his failure to act as a president might reasonably be expected to do in moments of crisis? For instance, when ‘on Christmas Day, a 23-year-old Muslim man from Nigeria allegedly tried to bomb a Northwest Airlines plane as it approached Detroit’ he waited three days to condemn what was manifestly an act of terrorism. Ah, the Washington Post can reveal the deep wisdom behind that:

On vacation in Hawaii at the time, Obama took several days before addressing the nation. By waiting, he had hoped to deprive al-Qaeda of a public relations victory of a presidential overreaction.

But why did he delay for months to decide on General McChrystal’s request for more troops in Aghanistan? Well, you see, it’s like this:

He has emerged as a president uncomfortable with the swagger and rhetoric traditionally used to rally troops, favoring an image of public solemnity as he wrestles with the moral consequences of war.

In any case, says the Post, he has been pretty aggressive really, when you come down to it:

Even as Obama has sought to convey an image of a deliberate leader preoccupied with the battle’s human toll, he has used military power at least as aggressively as his Republican predecessor did during the waning years of his administration.

Bravo, say we all. Or not quite all. Aren’t those the very things that his leftist base objects to? Yes, but look, says the Post to them, hasn’t he done or nearly done what you want?

Within days [of being in office], he banned the use of torture in interrogation and ordered the closing of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, by Jan. 22, 2010 —

All right, it is ‘a deadline that will be missed’ – but give him credit for his intentions:

The executive orders were part of a review of the Bush-era protocols that framed the “global war on terror,” a term Obama immediately discouraged his advisers from using because he said it overstated al-Qaeda’s strength. To the former constitutional law lecturer, the refinements in language and policy strengthened the moral argument for war.

He needed a moral argument for war because of the demands of ‘civil libertarians’:

Obama, in his new role, disregarded the advice of his military commanders and heeded the demands of civil libertarians after a campaign in which he promised a more transparent government.

The Post does not tell us what happened to that promise. But it has an explanation for why he hardly ever met with his generals between his promise to send more troops to Afghanistan at the beginning of his presidency – the promise the Post has held up for admiration – and his eventual decision made late in the year to send 30,000:

Obama intended a more formal, arm’s-length relationship with his generals than the one favored by George W. Bush, who spoke frequently with his then-commander in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus, even though several officers were above him at the time.

“This is a president who is going to respect the chain of command,” said another senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the president’s thinking. “He feels like it is the most efficient way to receive information and maintain control of the process.”

So that was why. Dismiss any thoughts that he did not seem to be very concerned about Afghanistan, or that he was ‘dithering’; because, you see, he was brooding on it all the time:

During White House deliberations on national security, Obama has kept his own counsel as he has made decisions, according to his aides and senior officials. But this methodical style, during the fall review of the Afghanistan strategy, provoked criticism — mainly from Republicans — that he was dithering.

In any case, don’t you see, he had those critics on the left to worry about who thought he should be brooding instead (which we suspect he was, actually) on the ‘domestic reform agenda’ (read: transformation of America into a socialist state):

Obama’s Democratic Party worried that a novice commander in chief would succumb to the wishes of his generals at the expense of his wide-ranging domestic reform agenda, which was already threatened by the rising costs of war.

How does he square his ideological pacifism, his desire that America give up its nuclear arms, and his acceptance of a Nobel peace prize, with his role as commander in chief while America is engaged in war on two fronts? He tried to explain how in his Nobel lecture. To make a case for a ‘just war’ he had his speech-writers delve into the theological works of Thomas Aquinas and Reinhold Niebuhr. It seems that the Post thinks he brought off the stunning trick of simultaneously assuring the judges that he ¬†really was a man of peace and assuring America that he took his responsibility for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan seriously. To help one assess whether he did, there’s the speech itself and the passages about it in the Post, which would take up too much space here. What we saw in Oslo was a man struggling, not with his conscience, but with the impossibility of reconciling irreconcileables.

Posted under Terrorism by Jillian Becker on Tuesday, January 19, 2010

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