The president said some good things, but unfortunately, his long academic lecture on the nature of war itself had all the characteristics of we have come to accept from a Barack Obama sermon:
1) Verbosity (4,000 words plus!) and extraneousness (he finally even referenced the world’s farmers); 2) I/me exhaustion (34 times) and the messianic cult of personality; 3) the 50/50, split-the-difference trope; 4) the straw man: on the one hand there are realists, on the other idealists, and I Obama singularly reject this either/or dichotomy (as if no one else does as well); 5) veiled attacks on the previous administration; 6) reference to his own unique personal story; 7) good-war/bad-war theory of Afghanistan and Iraq; 8) the hopey-changy rhetorical flourish.
Is there a Microsoft program somewhere that writes these things out?
Obama did not mention the word “Iraq” a single time, instead presenting his good-war/bad-war dichotomy thus: “One of these wars is winding down. The other is a conflict that America did not seek; one in which we are joined by 43 other countries — including Norway — in an effort to defend ourselves and all nations from further attacks.”
The president apparently does not realize that in Iraq too there was a coalition, that the Iraq War was approved by both houses of Congress on 23 grounds (only two dealing with WMD), and that more and more evidence is emerging concerning the terrorist ties between Saddam and radical Islam. And why, exactly, is it “winding down”? Maybe a word of praise for the U.S. soldiers who took a genocidal thug out and later ensured that the war, whose name cannot be spoken, would be “winding down”?
And why emphasize Afghanistan’s supposedly better coalition when later in the speech you plan to emphasize that unilateralism can be justified as well? “There will be times when nations — acting individually or in concert — will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.”
Indeed, Iraq as the bad war is a subtext of the entire speech. But this Manichaeism, as it has in the past, gets him into big trouble. For example, if the Balkan war was necessary and right (and I think Obama is right that it was), it is still not an example of the U.S. acting in Obama’s preferred legal context: Clinton did not ratify the war, as did Bush in Iraq, with a Congressional mandate, and he did not even attempt to go to the U.N. to sanction it.
After giving a Platonic take on the duration and near inevitably of age-old war, an exasperated President Obama then offers that even He cannot end war itself: “I do not bring with me today a definitive solution to the problems of war.”
I don’t know what Obama quite meant with “Only when Europe became free did it finally find peace.” So far, “finally” means that we are 60-some years into peace in Europe (excluding things like Milosevic) — we haven’t even reached the century-long achievement of the Congress of Vienna (1815–1914).
Why another reference to Guantanamo? It still is not closed, and won’t be on its promised January 20 date. And it only evokes all the other “Bush did it”s of the 2008 campaign — rendition, tribunals, Predators, intercepts, Patriot Act, etc. — that Obama later embraced.
Obama offers us, “But we do not have to think that human nature is perfect for us to still believe that the human condition can be perfected.” That thought of the perfectibility of the human condition, in lieu of deterrence and military preparedness, throughout history has gotten millions killed. The human condition can be improved, but only by acknowledgment of the lethal propensities of some — and by readiness to prevent those propensities’ becoming manifest. Most of the great wars of the 20th century were fought against those who were convinced that “the human condition can be perfected.”
In short, Obama, in a mere 4,000 words, was trying to explain that even Noble Laureates like himself have to use force, but that they will do so in a way unlike that of George Bush.