Thursday, September 2, 2010

Obama, almost presidential

This is an image I saw today in the aftermath of President Obama's second address to the nation from the Oval Office the other night.  He spoke of turning the page, announcing the end of combat operations in Iraq.

It always struck me as curious at the time President George W. Bush was putting together his cabinet nominees.  I said to anyone who cared at the time that it looked to me like he was preparing to go to war. 

There were all the old familiar names from days gone by -- all the old steady hands on deck, seemingly, to shore up the young and inexperienced new president who had no foreign policy experience.  He had Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Robert Gates, Condoleezza Rice, George Tenet and others with oodles of war and intelligence experience surrounding him.  Maybe it was just the old guard holdovers from his father's administration, but whatever it was I had the unsettled feeling at the time this was a cabinet stacked with military minds.  They somehow picked up the label "neoconservatives." 

In the end, it just meant they were BIG government, BIG business, BIG military spendthrifts who could not constrain their deficits.  It all ended with TARP.  And it opened the fiscal and monetary floodgates.

It was almost as if Bush expected trouble.  Of course, none of us really saw it coming a few months later, but when 9/11/2001 hit, the war team was in place.  Providential, lucky or planned, whichever it was, it was a team prepared for war.  The inevitability of their war mission was seemingly destined before its eventuality emerged on that fateful day.  The Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive war was born.  If they were suspected of having evil intentions against us, we were justified in going after them.

It seems now as if it were almost tempting fate when George W. Bush, donning his flight suit and contrary to the advice of some of his advisors, climbed into a jet and then sat in the second seat as the pilot landed on the banner draped USS Abraham Lincoln declaring "Mission Accomplished."  It was a great photo op, no doubt about it.  Let's just say it was a little premature and leave it at that. 

The word "victory" was tossed about freely without reservation.

Speeches were made that day aboard the massive carrier.  America's military greatness had been on full display from the moment war was declared on Iraq and the first bombs were dropped on Baghdad in what got top billing on cable news networks beaming their signals across the globe as "shock and awe." 

Over and over again as the images rolled across the screen we were being told the bombs were not doing harm to the civilian population because of their laser-like precision.  Critical infrastructure targets were being systematically taken down one by one.  And the reconstruction of that society continues to this day and will for years beyond. 

This was all in reaction to Saddam Hussein's belligerence.  He defied the world community.  We all believed he had weapons of mass destruction.  Everyone did.  Colin Powell, ever the obedient warrior, was marched out in front of the United Nations Security Council with satellite reconnaissance photos to make the case that war against Iraq was not only necessary but essential for the freedom of the world.

It has been a long, sad chapter in the aftermath of 9/11.  It has been said that presidents don't find their foreign policy until the foreign policy finds them.  So it was, and so shall it ever be.  In an effort to avoid foreign entanglements, it seems, America has a long history of becoming entangled.  Wars fuel economies, but they also drain economies.

Obama said the war in Iraq had cost the United States $1 Trillion, as if to justify his massive domestic spending, now up to $4 Trillion, as a fair offset.  It was needed, we were told again, to rebuild the middle class that had somehow been neglected because of our foreign intrigues.  There is nothing in the current spending spree that is benefitting the middle class.  Please don't take that bait. 

He almost gave George Bush some props for being a patriot, even though they disagreed about the war.  Almost.  He called him on the phone the afternoon of the speech.  Almost an "attaboy." 

He couldn't quite form the words with his lips, "I opposed the surge that brought an end to combat operations, and I was wrong, you guys were right after all." 

He almost said it, but the words got caught in his throat.  But we learned there are patriots who opposed the war as well as those who conducted it. 

There was no acknowledgement  by President Obama that America won in Iraq, that we were noble beyond belief in how we conducted ourselves there, but the troops did get the appreciation of their Commander in Chief and a grateful nation.  We are now safer than we were, and he was the one in 2007 as a sitting Senator who proclaimed there was no one he had spoken to privately who gave the surge even a prayer of succeeding.

It was just so weird.  It kind of resembled presidential leadership, but only almost

He didn't claim victory for the valiant troops, or for America, or even for Iraq.  The word "victory" just got stuck in his craw.  He couldn't say it.  Instead, just an end of combat operations and an absence of a surrender ceremony.  Let's just "turn the page." 

Which was kind of like saying we won, but only almost.

He is the Commander in Chief by title, but is he presidential?  Almost.


  1. Honestly, the surge was a battle for improving a War, not winning it. Our military did everything asked of them and more and frankly deserve better than be spread too thin for far too long without being adequately equipped. Thank God we are getting out, what a waste of our Youth and Treasury set on a bed of lies. According to “W” we already had a Mission Accomplished Ceremony, right? History will credit “W” for deregulation and for our current financial mess, isn’t that enough!

  2. Ah, yes, George Galloway, the source of the YouTube video cited, and his testimony in 2005 before a Senate committee. Judge for yourselves. It is clear, looking back now, that Bush's pre-emptive war in Iraq was justified on a crafty deception by Hussein. . . and, well, you fill in the blanks. . .

    Zeal without knowledge is just zeal, and America had plenty of zeal, misdirected and misguided as it eventually turned out to be.

    My point in this post is that Barack Obama's summary of our withdrawal to fulfill a campaign promise, linked to the need to borrow even more money to "rebuild" the middle class is yet another "whopper" in presidential politics. The bigger the lie, the more acceptable it is these days.

    I'm looking for a transformative leader, to be sure, rather than a detached and aloof empty suit who's on a constant vacation and fills the rug in his newly decorated office with pithy inspiring quotes.

    I'm having a severe case of buyer's remorse with the last string of U.S. Presidents.

    Just give me a guy (or gal) who can tell the truth. Is that too much to ask?

  3. I share your remorse. Since Reagan's 2nd term, I've been writing in a President or leaving the ballot blank for that office. In Reagan's 2nd, I wrote in 'Hugh Nibley'. I must have been on a Nibley kick back then, but I don't idolize him like I used to. It was just a statement, a weird one at that, but so were the other 2 write-ins, although somewhat more practical: Ezra Taft Benson & Dallin Oaks.

    Don't get me wrong about Nibley, I think he has made a great contribution and much of what he said we should ponder seriously and act upon. Just that as I have learned more about him, I see the human foibles, which we all have, as well as the genius. And no, I'm not referring to his daughter Martha(?) Beck.

    I've looked into the Constitution Party. For the most part, their heads and hearts are in the right place, but they are in their infancy and don't field the type of candidates that have the stature and base of experiences that I feel are necessary to entrust to someone in high office, i.e. they are not statesmen or seem to be on the path to statesmanship. Thus, voting has become a real chore, perhaps as it should be, but what is most alarming is the realization that I have no confidence and little trust in virtually any seeker of high office.

    I echo the lamentation of Pres. Hinckley made years ago at a Freedom Forum in Provo. With arms raised he asked "Where are the leaders?"

    But before we get too critical, let us examine ourselves.

    Yes, I long for a leader who would be frank with us and speak the truth, a real leader. But as Jack Nicholson famously said in a movie "You can't handle the truth!" I'm afraid that this is the sorry state we're in, myself included, and perhaps this is why no real leaders with noble intentions run for office. The only politician who I feel meets the criteria I've set forth here is Ron Paul.

    By the way, thanks for responding to my health care query some weeks ago, I haven't read it but I will soon. Haven't read anything here in-depth since then until yesterday. I appreciate the things you blog about (politics, employment, doctrine and spiritual subjects), though I think you should be less strident in your political entries and be more measured in your tone.

  4. Thanks, I try, but honestly under current conditions it's hard for me to muzzle my discontent. I'm trying to "measure twice and cut once," as President Monson advises, but too often I just let 'er rip.