Entry from August 18, 2009

A story in today’s Los Angeles Times by Maeve Reston quotes President Obama as telling the Veterans of Foreign Wars, gathered in Phoenix, that the War in Afghanistan was not “a war of choice” but “a war of necessity,” adding that “the insurgency would not be defeated overnight.” I imagine that the vets — at least those whose faculties are as yet undimmed by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, against which they are all now to be protected (says The New York Times), thanks to the Obama administration, could have worked that much out for themselves. “Those who attacked America on 9/11,” the President continued, “are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which Al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans.”

The language of “war of necessity” vs. “war of choice” is itself a characteristic barb cast at his predecessor in office, but lest that prove too subtle he also animadverted, according to Ms Reston, as follows:

With U.S. forces scheduled to leave Iraq by 2011, Obama pledged that in the future, he would only send service members “into harm’s way when it is absolutely necessary.” “When I do,” the president said, “it will be based on good intelligence and guided by a sound strategy. I will give you a clear mission, defined goals and the equipment and support you need to get the job done.”

Just in case the vets, or her readers, might be too senile to catch the allusion, our reporter adds that this is “a clear criticism of the George W. Bush administration’s actions in Iraq.” Yet that’s not quite the whole story is it? It’s not really a Bush administration failure he’s talking about. After all, from the post-surge vantage point, the war in Iraq is beginning to look, even to the Obama administration, like a success. I doubt that he particularly wants to remind people that he opposed the surge.

Instead, he is focusing, as he did throughout last year’s campaign and as the media have done for years now, on a particular moment in time when President Bush and his generals and intelligence chiefs made a bad mistake. It’s as if Harry Truman in 1945 had addressed victorious World War II vets and promised never to preside over a mistake like Pearl Harbor or the Battle of the Kasserine Pass. Why is he talking about those setbacks now, the vets might legitimately wonder? Moreover, how could he possibly know in advance, any more than Mr Obama can, that the intelligence will be good and the strategy sound? Of course, he can’t. The subtext here is the same as it was throughout the election. Relying on the drumbeat of media criticism to establish that President Bush was stupid, all that the then-Senator Obama — and such intellectual giants among his Democratic colleagues as his later vice presidential choice, Joe Biden — had to do was persuade people that they were smarter than this idiot and thus, presumably, immune to the ordinary contingencies of war. Or, for that matter, of life.

Why do you suppose that so many people have been and still are willing to believe anything so absurd? One answer is what Charles Krauthammer called “Bush Derangement Syndrome” — one of the symptoms of which was the belief that President Bush could do nothing right and that, therefore, anyone who, like George Costanza, would simply “do the opposite” couldn’t go wrong. But the more interesting explanation is that reliance on intelligence is a persistent illusion of the utopian left, who would not have any political program at all if it didn’t believe that, with enough intelligence, you can design the perfect society. It’s one measure of the influence of such utopianism on today’s left that this speech of President Obama’s, like his promises on health care, are treated with such credulity by the media. About their belief in his intelligence they are as jealous as they are about their belief in George W. Bush’s intellectual deficiencies, to which it is so closely related. Both are essential to the left and thus to the Obama presidency.

As a post-script to the above, just look at Benjamin Wallace-Wells’s effort in The New Republic to persuade that liberal magazine’s readers that those who recalled David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest on the death last month of Robert McNamara were misunderstanding the book’s “lesson.” This, according to Mr Wallace-Wells, was (or ought to have been) that “the disaster of Vietnam, in Halberstam’s full telling, was the consequence not of too much faith in technocratic expertise, but, rather, of too little.” I guess that’s no harder to believe than to believe that, merely by taking thought, the President will always have good intelligence and sound strategies, but you’ve got to marvel at the number of intelligent people who are determined to believe it.

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