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Martin LeFevre: Barack Loses His Base

Meditations - From Martin LeFevre in California

Barack Loses His Base

US President Obama outlines his strategy on Afghanistan and Pakistan at West Point.
White House Photo, Pete Souza, 12/1/09.

In a weak address on Tuesday evening, falling far short of his best oratory, President Barack Obama made his case to the American people, the Afghan people, and the world for literally ‘doubling down’ in Afghanistan I was prepared to come down hard on Obama, but I just don’t have the heart for it.

For this writer at least, Obama’s long-awaited speech on his latest Afghan strategy sadly answered one question. The question I have held since Barack become president is: Is this man a true believer, or a cynical calculator?

Now it’s clear--Obama is a calculating believer, not a believing calculator. And for that reason, as flawed as his speech was, and as screwed up as his premises, logic, and strategy are, I can’t condemn the man. Clearly, he doesn’t believe in this war.

When Obama spoke of the “source of America’s moral authority,” he wasn’t using political boilerplate, though it came off as such. When Barack said, “it’s easy to forget that when this war began, we were united…and I refuse to accept that we cannot summon that unity again,” it revealed the dying flame of his core beliefs, withering in the high, cold desert that America has become.

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It’s almost unbelievable, but Barack means it when he says, “I believe with every fiber of my being” in American exceptionalism, America’s moral authority, and American leadership. And because Bush Junior destroyed the last vestiges of its truth, and because Barack Obama is a decent man, the whole sorry mess sticks in my throat.

“Our cause is just,” Obama said of the misbegotten and wrongheaded invasion of Afghanistan; “right makes might.” In another context, at another time, those words would have stirred the heart of a nation, and opened floodgates of support at a time of war.

Afghanistan is not a war however, but an ill-conceived police action. Obama is sending 30,000 more troops into an incorrigibly corrupt country defined by arbitrary tribal allegiances, while the CIA conducts a secret war in Pakistan. Hanging over everything is a blood feud between nuclear-armed Pakistan and India. To complete the logical and logistical mess, Obama arbitrarily declared a deadline of July 2011, when he said America will begin to pull out

No president can be successful with his policies, much less win a second term, if he loses his base. Yet one could almost hear the last of the helium whooshing out of the balloon that floated Barack Obama to such stratospheric heights a year ago.

The inherently false premises of George Bush were still present, in different language, more tired and taxing to the spirit than ever. “We must fight al-Qaeda there so we don’t have to fight them here,” becomes, in Obama’s words, “America was viciously attacked from Afghanistan,” and we must “keep the pressure on al-Qaeda.” (Even our military admits there’s less than a thousand al-Qaeda left in that country.)

Obama said we have to continue with the status quo (while saying he’s not, of course), because, “unlike Vietnam, we are joined by a broad coalition of 43 nations.” NATO and the UN have followed America into Afghanistan, lining up like cheerleaders in a losing game as the former champions are run ragged on a foreign field.

Over and over again, Obama uttered the bullshit that “we need to generate the conditions needed to train Afghan security forces.” The line rang as hollow as the cadets’ applause.

“We’re in Afghanistan to prevent a cancer from spreading,” Barack spoke. But what has actually happened since the now defunct phrase but still embedded policy of “the global war on terror” began? The cancer has spread from Afghanistan to Pakistan to Indonesia to Somalia and to God knows where. We are witnessing the very definition of self-fulfilling prophecy, and Barack Obama does not have the grit to change course.

At another level, the speech transcended Obama’s presidency. For those who watched it carefully, one saw a superpower clinging desperately to its superpower status. Another empire has fallen, and only the sad echo of denial lingered in the hall.

Did Obama cynically or sentimentally choose West Point, America’s premier military college, for his address? The answer seemed obvious until I heard him speak. Then it was clear. Like his predecessor, Barack is afflicted with sentimentality, just in a deeper and more ‘nuanced’ way.

George Junior was an extraordinarily shallow president with an incredibly incurious mind. Barack Obama has an intellectual curiosity and nimbleness that is the antipode of Bush. But Obama still believes in the 20th century American myth, in both the true and false sense of that word.

At the end of his insipid and unconvincing address, Obama valiantly tried to rise to the occasion, gazing into the camera and saying, “America, we are passing through a great trial.” If only that were true. Peoples that can summon spiritual and psychological reserves pass through trials. But peoples whose time has come and gone, pass through transitions.

Sorrowfully, one could see Obama’s grip on the premises that impelled him to the presidency slipping away, right before one’s eyes there at West Point.


- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: martinlefevre@sbcglobal.net. The author welcomes comments.

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