The Corner

Obama Rhetoric and Reality

Obama’s decision to allow the SEALs to use force was a good one, and he should be congratulated. But the situation will escalate, and the odds are that U.S. warships won’t be in perpetual patrol in the area. Thus, an American ship will be attacked and hijacked in the future — which will require a far more systematic approach of dealing with the pirates before they go to sea, which in turn will demand, at some point, some unpopular decision-making.

Obama is also right to send troops to Afghanistan, to follow the Petraeus plan in Iraq, to continue the Predator attacks in Waziristan, to go back on promises about wiretaps and renditions, and to drag out his plan to close Guantánamo. That said, all that is masked by the “I’m not Bush” rhetoric; overseas apologies; the use of euphemisms to eliminate words like “terror,” “war,” and “enemy” from the vocabulary of the ongoing war; and multipolar, multicultural, and multilateral easy sloganeering.

So far, such dissimulation has some advantages, since the therapeutic mode allows more latitude with the use of the force than the “smoke ‘em out” lingo. But such a Janus-approach to national security has a brief shelf life. Soon everyone will tire of Obama doing one thing while saying another (think campaign finance, FISA, NAFTA, drilling, nuclear power, coal, etc.).

On the one hand, Obama has to be careful that those on the Right won’t give him credit when credit is due, given his prior serial criticism of the U.S. while abroad, coupled with his tiring false contrasts with Bush to make himself the constant hero.

On the other hand, Obama has to be careful that the Left won’t feel it’s been had and finally come to the conclusion they are getting Bush with a charismatic facade designed purposefully to appease or mislead them.

Bottom line — it is usually better simply to allow rhetoric to reflect reality and keep the two harmonious rather than constantly trying to have it both ways. One can keep quiet and carry a big stick without claiming that one is not carrying a stick at all, or would probably never use it — right before striking.

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