I hate opinion pieces like these. Peter Beinart advances the useless notion that President Obama’s address to the West Point Academy wasn’t stirring enough:
Obama is clearly trying to ensure that the Afghan war no longer be run on a blank check. That’s why he famously brought OMB Director Peter Orszag to be photographed at an Afghanistan strategy session, and why, according to Jonathan Alter’s new book, The Promise, he demanded that the U.S. begin drawing down troops next summer, over the objections of top military brass. As I suggest in my own forthcoming book, The Icarus Syndrome, I think Obama’s effort to restore humility to American foreign policy will be his defining intellectual and political struggle. But it’s a struggle. And the West Point speech shows why. Because Obama believes that America must limit the amount of money and time it devotes to Afghanistan, he has limited America’s goals. Rather than defeating the Taliban we’re going to “break” their “momentum.” Rather than birthing a stable Afghan democracy, we’re going to “train Afghan security forces.” That’s a limited mission, all right. The problem is that at West Point, Obama was addressing cadets who are being called to make an unlimited sacrifice. Telling them they and their buddies are going to risk their lives to break the Taliban’s momentum is not exactly the stuff of Churchill.
So what’s your point, Peter? Should Obama go full throttle and commit the troops to total eradication of the Taliban — a dubious prospect that only a neocon could love? Or should he pull up roots and bring everyone home, consequences be damned? Neither of these are scenarios that Beinart favors, but the unhappy middle fails to put a rise in his pants, or at least the pants of American jingoist culture as he may see it.
And as such, Obama’s speech, laying out a three point plan of Wilsonian provenance that should give Beinart and the rest of us pause, is simply a political “clunker.” Beinart himself identifies the Wilsonian doctrine of “collective security” (i.e., keeping the interests of Western imperial nations safe through mucking up the rest of the world) as “the default liberal foreign policy vision” informing Obama’s current appeals to keep Western allies on the battlefield or at least in the aid tent. Shouldn’t he be alarmed that the same thinking that brought us the ineffectual League of Nations, that provided “humanitarian” cover for the disastrous First World War, and served as one half of the mad ideological chess game with the Soviet Union for 50 years is now guiding our president’s disingenuous rhetoric?
No, instead Beinart pithily concludes, “It may be a defensible strategy, but it’s not an inspiring one. And it’s not a strategy for which the American public is prepared to lose many lives. Perhaps the president should avoid West Point graduations for a while.”
Emphasis mine. He has part of that right: the American public is pretty fed up with the wars that have wasted so many lives the past few years. But would they be more willing — would they “have the stomach” as neocons love to put it with such bullying gusto shortly after 9/11 — if Obama put on a flight suit and stood on a pile of rubble, calling for Taliban blood through a bullhorn? I think not.