Commentary Magazine


Topic: Commander in Chief

Obama’s One-Man Wrecking Crew

If possible, Obama has done still more harm to the Democrats who are on the ballot this year. Liz Cheney of Keep America Safe was fast on the draw, calling for Obama to explain what he meant about 9/11:

Americans expect our President to do everything possible to defend the nation from attack. We expect him to use every tool at his disposal to find, defeat, capture and kill terrorists. We expect him to deter attacks by making clear to our adversaries that an attack on the United States will carry devastating consequences. Instead, President Obama is reported to have said, “We can absorb a terrorist attack.” This comment suggests an alarming fatalism on the part of President Obama and his administration. Once again the President seems either unwilling or unable to do what it takes to keep this nation safe. The President owes the American people an explanation.

Soon other Republicans will be denouncing the comment and challenging their opponents to do the same. It seems as though there is no end to the damage Obama can wreak on his party.

Moreover, the comments come in the context of the rest of the eye-popping disclosures in the book, suggesting, at best, an indifferent commander in chief. The slow-motion reaction to the Christmas Day bomber and the fetish for criminalizing the war on terror now seem to have stemmed from a rather lackadaisical stance toward another attack. If it’s coming anyway, why ruin a Hawaii vacation, no? This hardly helps Obama’s standing, either at home or internationally.

And finally, this revelation may potentially reignite the Ground Zero mosque controversy. If 9/11 is simply the first of many anticipated attacks to be “absorbed,” that location and the event itself fade into insignificance. For Obama, maybe the most searing experience in the last generation is just one of any number of spots where Americans can and will die.

All in all, it is yet another revealing moment, in which conservatives whisper to each other in horror, “I never expected him to be THIS bad,” Democrats shudder, and independents confess they were snowed by a candidate who appeared sober and serious at the time.

If possible, Obama has done still more harm to the Democrats who are on the ballot this year. Liz Cheney of Keep America Safe was fast on the draw, calling for Obama to explain what he meant about 9/11:

Americans expect our President to do everything possible to defend the nation from attack. We expect him to use every tool at his disposal to find, defeat, capture and kill terrorists. We expect him to deter attacks by making clear to our adversaries that an attack on the United States will carry devastating consequences. Instead, President Obama is reported to have said, “We can absorb a terrorist attack.” This comment suggests an alarming fatalism on the part of President Obama and his administration. Once again the President seems either unwilling or unable to do what it takes to keep this nation safe. The President owes the American people an explanation.

Soon other Republicans will be denouncing the comment and challenging their opponents to do the same. It seems as though there is no end to the damage Obama can wreak on his party.

Moreover, the comments come in the context of the rest of the eye-popping disclosures in the book, suggesting, at best, an indifferent commander in chief. The slow-motion reaction to the Christmas Day bomber and the fetish for criminalizing the war on terror now seem to have stemmed from a rather lackadaisical stance toward another attack. If it’s coming anyway, why ruin a Hawaii vacation, no? This hardly helps Obama’s standing, either at home or internationally.

And finally, this revelation may potentially reignite the Ground Zero mosque controversy. If 9/11 is simply the first of many anticipated attacks to be “absorbed,” that location and the event itself fade into insignificance. For Obama, maybe the most searing experience in the last generation is just one of any number of spots where Americans can and will die.

All in all, it is yet another revealing moment, in which conservatives whisper to each other in horror, “I never expected him to be THIS bad,” Democrats shudder, and independents confess they were snowed by a candidate who appeared sober and serious at the time.

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The Irresponsible Commander in Chief

The Washington Post is teasing the release of Bob Woodward’s newest book, Obama’s Wars, which focuses on the war in Afghanistan. Usually in Woodward’s offerings, those who cooperate with the author come off the best, and those who don’t — well, don’t. But in this case, Obama did agree to be interviewed, and it is therefore surprising, at least from the Post‘s telling, how poorly Obama comes across. And frankly, those who are forever  searching for some sign of maturity in the commander in chief and pronouncing that he really “gets it” look rather silly themselves.

First off, Obama was obsessed with an Afghanistan exit strategy, determined to get out no matter what the advice of his military advisers:

According to Woodward’s meeting-by-meeting, memo-by-memo account of the 2009 Afghan strategy review, the president avoided talk of victory as he described his objectives.

“This needs to be a plan about how we’re going to hand it off and get out of Afghanistan,” Obama is quoted as telling White House aides as he laid out his reasons for adding 30,000 troops in a short-term escalation. “Everything we’re doing has to be focused on how we’re going to get to the point where we can reduce our footprint. It’s in our national security interest. There cannot be any wiggle room.” … Obama rejected the military’s request for 40,000 troops as part of an expansive mission that had no foreseeable end. “I’m not doing 10 years,” he told Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at a meeting on Oct. 26, 2009. “I’m not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion dollars.”

The disregard for his responsibilities — the equivalent of putting his fingers in his ears and humming — is stunning. It also stands in sharp contrast with his predecessor, who insisted on a review of flawed policy and ultimately the implementation of a winning one:

The president is quoted as telling Mullen, Petraeus and Gates: “In 2010, we will not be having a conversation about how to do more. I will not want to hear, ‘We’re doing fine, Mr. President, but we’d be better if we just do more.’ We’re not going to be having a conversation about how to change [the mission] … unless we’re talking about how to draw down faster than anticipated in 2011.”

Imagine FDR telling General Eisenhower, “I don’t want to hear things aren’t going well in Italy.” It’s inconceivable that Obama’s supposed role model, Abraham Lincoln, would have said, “No more news about McClellan’s shortcomings.” But then Obama’s not much for “victory”:

Obama told Woodward in the July interview that he didn’t think about the Afghan war in the “classic” terms of the United States winning or losing. “I think about it more in terms of: Do you successfully prosecute a strategy that results in the country being stronger rather than weaker at the end?” he said.

After Obama, it is his political advisers who come off worst:

National security adviser James L. Jones privately referred to Obama’s political aides as “the water bugs,” the “Politburo,” the “Mafia,” or the “campaign set.” Petraeus, who felt shut out by the new administration, told an aide that he considered the president’s senior adviser David Axelrod to be “a complete spin doctor.”

But then it is the president who put political hacks in the thick of war-planning.

Obama’s peevishness and determination to avoid facts that conflict with his ideological disposition are chilling. His apparent disinclination to pursue victory should frighten both allies and foes. Has he matured since the events detailed in the book? We have no evidence of that. I think it’s time to stop pretending that Obama is “growing” in the job and that he understands the responsibilities of a wartime president.

The Washington Post is teasing the release of Bob Woodward’s newest book, Obama’s Wars, which focuses on the war in Afghanistan. Usually in Woodward’s offerings, those who cooperate with the author come off the best, and those who don’t — well, don’t. But in this case, Obama did agree to be interviewed, and it is therefore surprising, at least from the Post‘s telling, how poorly Obama comes across. And frankly, those who are forever  searching for some sign of maturity in the commander in chief and pronouncing that he really “gets it” look rather silly themselves.

First off, Obama was obsessed with an Afghanistan exit strategy, determined to get out no matter what the advice of his military advisers:

According to Woodward’s meeting-by-meeting, memo-by-memo account of the 2009 Afghan strategy review, the president avoided talk of victory as he described his objectives.

“This needs to be a plan about how we’re going to hand it off and get out of Afghanistan,” Obama is quoted as telling White House aides as he laid out his reasons for adding 30,000 troops in a short-term escalation. “Everything we’re doing has to be focused on how we’re going to get to the point where we can reduce our footprint. It’s in our national security interest. There cannot be any wiggle room.” … Obama rejected the military’s request for 40,000 troops as part of an expansive mission that had no foreseeable end. “I’m not doing 10 years,” he told Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at a meeting on Oct. 26, 2009. “I’m not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion dollars.”

The disregard for his responsibilities — the equivalent of putting his fingers in his ears and humming — is stunning. It also stands in sharp contrast with his predecessor, who insisted on a review of flawed policy and ultimately the implementation of a winning one:

The president is quoted as telling Mullen, Petraeus and Gates: “In 2010, we will not be having a conversation about how to do more. I will not want to hear, ‘We’re doing fine, Mr. President, but we’d be better if we just do more.’ We’re not going to be having a conversation about how to change [the mission] … unless we’re talking about how to draw down faster than anticipated in 2011.”

Imagine FDR telling General Eisenhower, “I don’t want to hear things aren’t going well in Italy.” It’s inconceivable that Obama’s supposed role model, Abraham Lincoln, would have said, “No more news about McClellan’s shortcomings.” But then Obama’s not much for “victory”:

Obama told Woodward in the July interview that he didn’t think about the Afghan war in the “classic” terms of the United States winning or losing. “I think about it more in terms of: Do you successfully prosecute a strategy that results in the country being stronger rather than weaker at the end?” he said.

After Obama, it is his political advisers who come off worst:

National security adviser James L. Jones privately referred to Obama’s political aides as “the water bugs,” the “Politburo,” the “Mafia,” or the “campaign set.” Petraeus, who felt shut out by the new administration, told an aide that he considered the president’s senior adviser David Axelrod to be “a complete spin doctor.”

But then it is the president who put political hacks in the thick of war-planning.

Obama’s peevishness and determination to avoid facts that conflict with his ideological disposition are chilling. His apparent disinclination to pursue victory should frighten both allies and foes. Has he matured since the events detailed in the book? We have no evidence of that. I think it’s time to stop pretending that Obama is “growing” in the job and that he understands the responsibilities of a wartime president.

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Will Obama Change?

Let’s assume that the Republicans take the House and make large gains in the Senate, that many Obama advisers depart, and there is a great hue and cry among Democrats. Was Obama too liberal, or not tough enough? Did Obama overinterpret his mandate? Is his presidency “over”?

It is not unlike the debate that went on following the Democrats’ defeat in 1994, when Bill Clinton memorably asserted, “The president is still relevant here.” It turned out he was relevant, in part, because he desperately wanted a second term and, more important, had the intellectual and personal flexibility to reconfigure his agenda.

We will know soon enough whether Obama intends to dig in or bend to reality. Will he populate the new team with seasoned advisers outside his own circle and immune from the cult of The One? If he does, we’ll know he’s serious about rescuing his presidency and his prospects for 2012. Will he go along with a full extension of the Bush tax cuts? If he does, we’ll know he’s thrown in the towel on the class-warfare gambit and is seriously considering how to aid, not impede, employers. Will he tone down or drop altogether his Muslim outreach and begin to articulate the nature and motives of our enemy? If  he does, we’ll know he has recognized that his approach has failed to deliver results overseas and that domestically it has alienated if not infuriated average Americans. Will he clean house in the Justice Department? If he does, we’ll know he recognizes the cloud of corruption and politicization that plays into the narrative that the Chicago pols have simply transplanted their machine inside the Beltway. Will he drop the plan to close Guantanamo and give KSM a public trial? If he does, we’ll know he’s put away the childish obsession with being “not Bush” and recognized the substantive and political drawbacks to a national security policy designed to please the ACLU. And finally, will he lift the Afghanistan war troop-withdrawal deadline? If he does, we’ll know he’s accepted the responsibility and demands of being commander in chief and listened to the generals and not the political hacks.

There’s a chance he might do a couple of these. All or most? If he does, we’ll be shocked.

Let’s assume that the Republicans take the House and make large gains in the Senate, that many Obama advisers depart, and there is a great hue and cry among Democrats. Was Obama too liberal, or not tough enough? Did Obama overinterpret his mandate? Is his presidency “over”?

It is not unlike the debate that went on following the Democrats’ defeat in 1994, when Bill Clinton memorably asserted, “The president is still relevant here.” It turned out he was relevant, in part, because he desperately wanted a second term and, more important, had the intellectual and personal flexibility to reconfigure his agenda.

We will know soon enough whether Obama intends to dig in or bend to reality. Will he populate the new team with seasoned advisers outside his own circle and immune from the cult of The One? If he does, we’ll know he’s serious about rescuing his presidency and his prospects for 2012. Will he go along with a full extension of the Bush tax cuts? If he does, we’ll know he’s thrown in the towel on the class-warfare gambit and is seriously considering how to aid, not impede, employers. Will he tone down or drop altogether his Muslim outreach and begin to articulate the nature and motives of our enemy? If  he does, we’ll know he has recognized that his approach has failed to deliver results overseas and that domestically it has alienated if not infuriated average Americans. Will he clean house in the Justice Department? If he does, we’ll know he recognizes the cloud of corruption and politicization that plays into the narrative that the Chicago pols have simply transplanted their machine inside the Beltway. Will he drop the plan to close Guantanamo and give KSM a public trial? If he does, we’ll know he’s put away the childish obsession with being “not Bush” and recognized the substantive and political drawbacks to a national security policy designed to please the ACLU. And finally, will he lift the Afghanistan war troop-withdrawal deadline? If he does, we’ll know he’s accepted the responsibility and demands of being commander in chief and listened to the generals and not the political hacks.

There’s a chance he might do a couple of these. All or most? If he does, we’ll be shocked.

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Stop Him Before He Speaks Again?

It’s not just conservative grouches who find Obama unimpressive and somewhat lost in the Oval office. Richard Cohen writes:

In last week’s prime-time address to the nation, the president sat behind a massive and capaciously empty desk, looking somehow smaller than he ever has — a man physically reduced by sinking polls, a lousy economy and the prospect that his party might lose control of Congress. Behold something we never thought we’d see with Obama: The Incredible Shrinking Presidency.

Part of the problem is that we have heard it all before — most especially, the feint toward a more robust foreign policy immediately undercut by deadlines. We’ve grown to expect that he will strain to push war off the agenda so he can get back to his spend-a-thon. Cohen is right that Obama has no business giving “an Oval Office address unless he has something worthy of the Oval Office to say,” but Cohen is hesitant to get to the heart of the matter.

He wants Obama “to fire some key people.” (I think John Boehner suggested this a week or so ago.) But ObamaCare is the president’s jewel, spending is his true love, and being commander in chief is not. It’s foolish to hope that new staff can stop Obama from doing what he wants to do or invest him with new executive expertise. Is new staff going to remake the president’s demeanor from snippy to gracious? Cohen wants Obama to stop being Obama. A fine idea, but improbable.

It’s not just conservative grouches who find Obama unimpressive and somewhat lost in the Oval office. Richard Cohen writes:

In last week’s prime-time address to the nation, the president sat behind a massive and capaciously empty desk, looking somehow smaller than he ever has — a man physically reduced by sinking polls, a lousy economy and the prospect that his party might lose control of Congress. Behold something we never thought we’d see with Obama: The Incredible Shrinking Presidency.

Part of the problem is that we have heard it all before — most especially, the feint toward a more robust foreign policy immediately undercut by deadlines. We’ve grown to expect that he will strain to push war off the agenda so he can get back to his spend-a-thon. Cohen is right that Obama has no business giving “an Oval Office address unless he has something worthy of the Oval Office to say,” but Cohen is hesitant to get to the heart of the matter.

He wants Obama “to fire some key people.” (I think John Boehner suggested this a week or so ago.) But ObamaCare is the president’s jewel, spending is his true love, and being commander in chief is not. It’s foolish to hope that new staff can stop Obama from doing what he wants to do or invest him with new executive expertise. Is new staff going to remake the president’s demeanor from snippy to gracious? Cohen wants Obama to stop being Obama. A fine idea, but improbable.

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A Damning Admission

In his superb column today, Charles Krauthammer highlights a paragraph from Peter Baker’s New York Times story on Barack Obama as commander in chief:

One adviser at the time said Mr. Obama calculated that an open-ended commitment would undermine the rest of his agenda. “Our Afghan policy was focused as much as anything on domestic politics,” the adviser said. “He would not risk losing the moderate to centrist Democrats in the middle of health insurance reform and he viewed that legislation as the make-or-break legislation for his administration.”

“If this is true,” Krauthammer writes, “Obama’s military leadership can only be called scandalous.”

Quite right. And it’s not the first time such a thing has been said about Obama. Here is a paragraph from a June 23 Washington Post article on the controversy then surrounding General Stanley McChrystal:

McChrystal’s apparent disdain for his civilian colleagues, and the facts on the ground in Afghanistan, have exposed the enduring fault lines in the agreement Obama forged last fall among policymakers and military commanders. In exchange for approving McChrystal’s request for more troops and treasure, Obama imposed, and the military accepted, two deadlines sought by his political aides. In December, one year after the strategy was announced, the situation would be reviewed and necessary adjustments made. In July 2011, the troops would begin to come home. [emphasis added]

These are damning admissions — war policies not only being influenced by partisan considerations but in important respects being driven by them.

In embracing a new counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, President Obama made the right decision. At the same time, he made a political accommodation on the withdrawal date, which we now know is undermining our efforts. Earlier this week, I pointed out that Marine Commandant General James Conway, in speaking about the 2011 deadline, said this: “In some ways, we think right now it’s probably giving our enemy sustenance. We think that he may be saying to himself … ‘Hey, you know, we only have to hold out for so long.’” Intelligence intercepts suggest that Taliban fighters have been encouraged by the talk of the U.S. beginning to withdraw troops next year, according to Conway. Yet in Tuesday’s prime-time address to the nation, Obama, rather than walk back from his arbitrary withdrawal date, went out of his way to re-emphasize it. “Make no mistake,” the president said, “this transition will begin because open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people’s.”

It turns out that the locution “our interests” refers not to America’s national interests but to Obama’s political self-interest instead.

I worked for President George W. Bush for most of two terms. It is not only inconceivable that he would have allowed such a thing to happen, as he showed in his embrace of the surge despite gale-force political winds and intense pressure from Republicans to withdraw from Iraq because it was damaging the GOP. And I would wager a good deal of money that if a political adviser had even suggested such a thing to him, he would have exploded in anger and probably fired the offending party on the spot. And he would have been right to do so.

“Among the thirty-five men who have held the presidential office,” Dean Acheson wrote in Present at the Creation, “Mr. Truman will stand with the few who in the midst of great difficulties managed their offices with eminent benefit to the public interest. … In the last analysis Mr. Truman’s methods reflected the basic integrity of his own character.”

If only such a thing could be said now.

In his superb column today, Charles Krauthammer highlights a paragraph from Peter Baker’s New York Times story on Barack Obama as commander in chief:

One adviser at the time said Mr. Obama calculated that an open-ended commitment would undermine the rest of his agenda. “Our Afghan policy was focused as much as anything on domestic politics,” the adviser said. “He would not risk losing the moderate to centrist Democrats in the middle of health insurance reform and he viewed that legislation as the make-or-break legislation for his administration.”

“If this is true,” Krauthammer writes, “Obama’s military leadership can only be called scandalous.”

Quite right. And it’s not the first time such a thing has been said about Obama. Here is a paragraph from a June 23 Washington Post article on the controversy then surrounding General Stanley McChrystal:

McChrystal’s apparent disdain for his civilian colleagues, and the facts on the ground in Afghanistan, have exposed the enduring fault lines in the agreement Obama forged last fall among policymakers and military commanders. In exchange for approving McChrystal’s request for more troops and treasure, Obama imposed, and the military accepted, two deadlines sought by his political aides. In December, one year after the strategy was announced, the situation would be reviewed and necessary adjustments made. In July 2011, the troops would begin to come home. [emphasis added]

These are damning admissions — war policies not only being influenced by partisan considerations but in important respects being driven by them.

In embracing a new counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, President Obama made the right decision. At the same time, he made a political accommodation on the withdrawal date, which we now know is undermining our efforts. Earlier this week, I pointed out that Marine Commandant General James Conway, in speaking about the 2011 deadline, said this: “In some ways, we think right now it’s probably giving our enemy sustenance. We think that he may be saying to himself … ‘Hey, you know, we only have to hold out for so long.’” Intelligence intercepts suggest that Taliban fighters have been encouraged by the talk of the U.S. beginning to withdraw troops next year, according to Conway. Yet in Tuesday’s prime-time address to the nation, Obama, rather than walk back from his arbitrary withdrawal date, went out of his way to re-emphasize it. “Make no mistake,” the president said, “this transition will begin because open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people’s.”

It turns out that the locution “our interests” refers not to America’s national interests but to Obama’s political self-interest instead.

I worked for President George W. Bush for most of two terms. It is not only inconceivable that he would have allowed such a thing to happen, as he showed in his embrace of the surge despite gale-force political winds and intense pressure from Republicans to withdraw from Iraq because it was damaging the GOP. And I would wager a good deal of money that if a political adviser had even suggested such a thing to him, he would have exploded in anger and probably fired the offending party on the spot. And he would have been right to do so.

“Among the thirty-five men who have held the presidential office,” Dean Acheson wrote in Present at the Creation, “Mr. Truman will stand with the few who in the midst of great difficulties managed their offices with eminent benefit to the public interest. … In the last analysis Mr. Truman’s methods reflected the basic integrity of his own character.”

If only such a thing could be said now.

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Obama Muddies the Waters

Obama not only managed to confuse American audiences with his Iraq speech; he’s baffled the Iraqis as well. An Iraqi politician reveals: “Despite U.S. insistence that Americans remain committed to Iraq, they are halfway out the door.” Mahmoud Othman explains:

“They decided to finish it, but they know it’s not over,” Othman said Thursday. “War with terrorism is here, and Iranian intervention is here. They are lying to tell their people that they left behind a government that is capable and Iraqi security forces that are capable. … There is no government, the people don’t have confidence in the Iraqi security forces, and Iraqi suffering is increasing.”

The report observes that many Iraqis “did not expect Obama’s declaration to sound so final or that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates would acknowledge that the war is over.” The report continues:

The perception of a mixed U.S. message has fed the uncertainty many Iraqis say they feel. They are unsure what they want, they say, unsure if the United States is staying or going, unsure that their future will be any better than their past.

If this seems like deja vu all over again, it is. The same consternation, confusion, and irritation was evident in Afghanistan after Obama’s West Point speech. Unfortunately, with each public utterance, Obama manages to befuddle our side and encourage our opponents. No wonder he is a reluctant commander in chief; we rarely enjoy things we do poorly.

Obama not only managed to confuse American audiences with his Iraq speech; he’s baffled the Iraqis as well. An Iraqi politician reveals: “Despite U.S. insistence that Americans remain committed to Iraq, they are halfway out the door.” Mahmoud Othman explains:

“They decided to finish it, but they know it’s not over,” Othman said Thursday. “War with terrorism is here, and Iranian intervention is here. They are lying to tell their people that they left behind a government that is capable and Iraqi security forces that are capable. … There is no government, the people don’t have confidence in the Iraqi security forces, and Iraqi suffering is increasing.”

The report observes that many Iraqis “did not expect Obama’s declaration to sound so final or that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates would acknowledge that the war is over.” The report continues:

The perception of a mixed U.S. message has fed the uncertainty many Iraqis say they feel. They are unsure what they want, they say, unsure if the United States is staying or going, unsure that their future will be any better than their past.

If this seems like deja vu all over again, it is. The same consternation, confusion, and irritation was evident in Afghanistan after Obama’s West Point speech. Unfortunately, with each public utterance, Obama manages to befuddle our side and encourage our opponents. No wonder he is a reluctant commander in chief; we rarely enjoy things we do poorly.

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A Mess of His Own Making

Politico reports that Obama will probably not go to Ground Zero for 9/11, where he hasn’t visited since his campaign. Well, you can imagine the reaction if he did:

Obama’s aides … are unsure if they want to put him back in the middle of the Park51 controversy, which has damped down somewhat. Obama has not been to ground zero since he ran for president, when he and Republican nominee Sen. John McCain appeared there together on Sept. 11, 2008 — a rare bipartisan moment in a hard-fought campaign.

Last year, in his first commemoration of the Sept. 11 attacks as commander in chief, Obama and the first lady held a moment of silence on the south driveway of the White House. The president later spoke at the Pentagon to families and friends of the 184 people killed there.

This is the proverbial rock and a hard place. (“No matter where he goes, the president’s critics will likely speak out. If he doesn’t go to New York , Obama could be accused of dodging ground zero because of the Islamic center. If he does, he risks facing the anger of some Sept. 11 families and New York officials offended by his position.”)

What other locale has he avoided since the campaign? Why Israel, of course. He’s gotten some flack from American Jewish groups for not going. But once again, imagine the reaction if he showed up in the Jewish state. It would be hard to keep him out of reach of the 90 percent of Israelis who think he’s pro-Palestinian. Bad visuals of Israeli Jews screaming, waving signs, and potentially walking out in the Knesset must terrify the Obami.

We have gone from a president who was lionized by emergency and rescue workers at Ground Zero and who gave one of the best speeches (to the Knesset) on Israel ever given by a U.S. president (what even comes close?) to one who’s afraid to go to both. You can’t get more un-Bush than that. And in case you have forgotten:

Yes, it still makes me cry too.

Politico reports that Obama will probably not go to Ground Zero for 9/11, where he hasn’t visited since his campaign. Well, you can imagine the reaction if he did:

Obama’s aides … are unsure if they want to put him back in the middle of the Park51 controversy, which has damped down somewhat. Obama has not been to ground zero since he ran for president, when he and Republican nominee Sen. John McCain appeared there together on Sept. 11, 2008 — a rare bipartisan moment in a hard-fought campaign.

Last year, in his first commemoration of the Sept. 11 attacks as commander in chief, Obama and the first lady held a moment of silence on the south driveway of the White House. The president later spoke at the Pentagon to families and friends of the 184 people killed there.

This is the proverbial rock and a hard place. (“No matter where he goes, the president’s critics will likely speak out. If he doesn’t go to New York , Obama could be accused of dodging ground zero because of the Islamic center. If he does, he risks facing the anger of some Sept. 11 families and New York officials offended by his position.”)

What other locale has he avoided since the campaign? Why Israel, of course. He’s gotten some flack from American Jewish groups for not going. But once again, imagine the reaction if he showed up in the Jewish state. It would be hard to keep him out of reach of the 90 percent of Israelis who think he’s pro-Palestinian. Bad visuals of Israeli Jews screaming, waving signs, and potentially walking out in the Knesset must terrify the Obami.

We have gone from a president who was lionized by emergency and rescue workers at Ground Zero and who gave one of the best speeches (to the Knesset) on Israel ever given by a U.S. president (what even comes close?) to one who’s afraid to go to both. You can’t get more un-Bush than that. And in case you have forgotten:

Yes, it still makes me cry too.

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RE: Deadlines

The insistence on imposing deadlines on wars, as I argued yesterday, is one of Obama’s most destructive contributions to the war against jihadists. (Declining to call them “jihadists” is another.) Even the Washington Post editors picked up on this dangerous tendency, one that was much in evidence Tuesday night and provoked much of the angst on the right:

The president sought to assure Iraqis that the United States will remain a committed partner — but he reiterated that “all U.S. troops will leave by the end of next year.” He said that “no challenge is more essential to our security than our fight against al-Qaeda” and vowed to prevent Afghanistan “from again serving as a base for terrorists” — but promised to begin withdrawing troops next August, because “open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people’s.” He insisted that “America intends to sustain and strengthen our leadership in this young century” — but then explained that “that effort must begin within our own borders.”

The editors then offer some wise words of council to a president who, as the New York Times aptly reported, is indifferent and/or uncomfortable with embracing the role of commander in chief:

Of course it is true, as Mr. Obama has said many times, that the United States cannot be a leader overseas if it does not sustain a strong economy at home. But a president leading a nation at war doesn’t have the luxury of deciding that the domestic piece of that equation is now his “most urgent task.” … He might wish not to be a wartime president at all. But, as he has said, al-Qaeda has not given him, or the country, that choice.

It is not as if every sentence of every speech is dovish or neo-isolationist. But we have seen the pattern before — a step forward, and then a step back, never willing to shirk his dovish inclinations. Some eager conservatives got very jazzed by the Nobel Prize speech or by the infusion of 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. And they were right to be pleased by the latter. But Obama inevitably returns to form — the West Point speech was followed by the dreadful 60 Minutes interview in which he doubled-down on the troop withdrawal. And this year, conservatives were back pleading with Obama to revoke the troop deadline that months earlier some had downplayed because, they opined, what really mattered was the troop increase. But what really matters is what the president does and says.

As I previously pointed out, Obama’s talk to the troops at Fort Bliss actually made a huge concession to the Iraq war supporters: the war made us more secure. But in the Oval Office, with prepared text (we were told the president spoke “without notes” at Fort Bliss), those were words he dared not utter. Had he meant to really “turn the page,” to shed his campaign persona, and to embrace fully the role of wartime commander in a war in defense of our civilization, he would have explained just that — that we fight these wars to keep us safe. And that task is not one subject to arbitrary timelines.

A final note: it would also help if Obama did not transmute every action into a crass political opportunity. As Hotline reports:

[H]is second Oval Office address may be remembered as vividly as his predecessor’s aircraft carrier speech, albeit for a very different reason: Tuesday was the moment Obama turned toward his own re-election bid. Obama’s address was aimed at claiming credit for a key campaign promise, but it was also an acknowledgment that the hardest part of his presidency — revitalizing an economy that stubbornly refuses to recover — lies ahead. … Sure enough, on Wednesday, a top Organizing for America official e-mailed Obama’s legendary multimillion-member contact list under the subject line “A promise kept.” And perhaps no promise was more central to Obama’s presidency than ending the war in Iraq.

An unfortunate reminder that Obama, while a reluctant commander in chief, is dogged when it comes to seeking political advantage. (Not his party’s, to the chagrin of his fellow Democrats, but his own.) In the preference for politics over war-fighting, he is indeed quintessentially not-Bush.

The insistence on imposing deadlines on wars, as I argued yesterday, is one of Obama’s most destructive contributions to the war against jihadists. (Declining to call them “jihadists” is another.) Even the Washington Post editors picked up on this dangerous tendency, one that was much in evidence Tuesday night and provoked much of the angst on the right:

The president sought to assure Iraqis that the United States will remain a committed partner — but he reiterated that “all U.S. troops will leave by the end of next year.” He said that “no challenge is more essential to our security than our fight against al-Qaeda” and vowed to prevent Afghanistan “from again serving as a base for terrorists” — but promised to begin withdrawing troops next August, because “open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people’s.” He insisted that “America intends to sustain and strengthen our leadership in this young century” — but then explained that “that effort must begin within our own borders.”

The editors then offer some wise words of council to a president who, as the New York Times aptly reported, is indifferent and/or uncomfortable with embracing the role of commander in chief:

Of course it is true, as Mr. Obama has said many times, that the United States cannot be a leader overseas if it does not sustain a strong economy at home. But a president leading a nation at war doesn’t have the luxury of deciding that the domestic piece of that equation is now his “most urgent task.” … He might wish not to be a wartime president at all. But, as he has said, al-Qaeda has not given him, or the country, that choice.

It is not as if every sentence of every speech is dovish or neo-isolationist. But we have seen the pattern before — a step forward, and then a step back, never willing to shirk his dovish inclinations. Some eager conservatives got very jazzed by the Nobel Prize speech or by the infusion of 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. And they were right to be pleased by the latter. But Obama inevitably returns to form — the West Point speech was followed by the dreadful 60 Minutes interview in which he doubled-down on the troop withdrawal. And this year, conservatives were back pleading with Obama to revoke the troop deadline that months earlier some had downplayed because, they opined, what really mattered was the troop increase. But what really matters is what the president does and says.

As I previously pointed out, Obama’s talk to the troops at Fort Bliss actually made a huge concession to the Iraq war supporters: the war made us more secure. But in the Oval Office, with prepared text (we were told the president spoke “without notes” at Fort Bliss), those were words he dared not utter. Had he meant to really “turn the page,” to shed his campaign persona, and to embrace fully the role of wartime commander in a war in defense of our civilization, he would have explained just that — that we fight these wars to keep us safe. And that task is not one subject to arbitrary timelines.

A final note: it would also help if Obama did not transmute every action into a crass political opportunity. As Hotline reports:

[H]is second Oval Office address may be remembered as vividly as his predecessor’s aircraft carrier speech, albeit for a very different reason: Tuesday was the moment Obama turned toward his own re-election bid. Obama’s address was aimed at claiming credit for a key campaign promise, but it was also an acknowledgment that the hardest part of his presidency — revitalizing an economy that stubbornly refuses to recover — lies ahead. … Sure enough, on Wednesday, a top Organizing for America official e-mailed Obama’s legendary multimillion-member contact list under the subject line “A promise kept.” And perhaps no promise was more central to Obama’s presidency than ending the war in Iraq.

An unfortunate reminder that Obama, while a reluctant commander in chief, is dogged when it comes to seeking political advantage. (Not his party’s, to the chagrin of his fellow Democrats, but his own.) In the preference for politics over war-fighting, he is indeed quintessentially not-Bush.

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Some Thoughts About Last Night’s Speech

1. The most Obama could say about George W. Bush is that “no one could doubt President Bush’s support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security.” That’s correct; no one could doubt it, which is why there was no need to say it.

The real issue was whether Obama would praise Bush for the surge — one of the most courageous and wise presidential decisions in the modern era and one Bush pushed through over fierce, widespread opposition, including from Obama and his vice president, Joe Biden. But for Obama to praise Bush for the surge would be to admit his own massive error in judgment in opposing it — and a man of Obama’s vanity could not bring himself to do that. So Obama could only say that Bush was well-intentioned rather than right.

As for his own record on Iraq, the Obama administration is now trying to corrupt the historical record, with press secretary Robert Gibbs making assertions that are not only wrong but the opposite of the truth. Read More

1. The most Obama could say about George W. Bush is that “no one could doubt President Bush’s support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security.” That’s correct; no one could doubt it, which is why there was no need to say it.

The real issue was whether Obama would praise Bush for the surge — one of the most courageous and wise presidential decisions in the modern era and one Bush pushed through over fierce, widespread opposition, including from Obama and his vice president, Joe Biden. But for Obama to praise Bush for the surge would be to admit his own massive error in judgment in opposing it — and a man of Obama’s vanity could not bring himself to do that. So Obama could only say that Bush was well-intentioned rather than right.

As for his own record on Iraq, the Obama administration is now trying to corrupt the historical record, with press secretary Robert Gibbs making assertions that are not only wrong but the opposite of the truth.

2. On Iraq, Obama did say that while our combat mission is ending, “our commitment to Iraq’s future is not.” But you could be forgiven for believing, amid all the talk of page-turning and missions ended and over, that Obama has detached himself from a war he opposed and wants to have nothing more to do with it. He clearly considers it a distraction from his larger ambitions to transform America here at home.

What was also notable in the speech is how Obama — apart from one perfunctory paragraph (he devoted four to the economy) — failed to appropriately acknowledge many of the estimable things that have been achieved by the Iraq war, including deposing a malevolent and aggressive dictator, helping plant a representative (if imperfect) democracy in the heart of the Middle East, and administering a military defeat to al-Qaeda on the ground of its own choosing. Obama hinted at some of this, but it was said without passion or conviction. And we all know why: for Obama, this was a war without purpose, a nihilistic misadventure whose only good result is its end. This is not only wrong; it is a disfigurement of history and a failure to acknowledge what a remarkable thing our combat troops in Iraq achieved.

3. On the most important matter before us, Afghanistan, Obama did substantial damage. The reason can be found in this paragraph:

Within Afghanistan, I have ordered the deployment of additional troops who-under the command of General David Petraeus -are fighting to break the Taliban’s momentum. As with the surge in Iraq, these forces will be in place for a limited time to provide space for the Afghans to build their capacity and secure their own future. But, as was the case in Iraq, we cannot do for Afghans what they must ultimately do for themselves. That’s why we are training Afghan Security Forces and supporting a political resolution to Afghanistan’s problems. And, next July, we will begin a transition to Afghan responsibility. The pace of our troop reductions will be determined by conditions on the ground, and our support for Afghanistan will endure. But make no mistake: this transition will begin – because open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people’s.

What Obama did here was not simply to repeat his commitment to the (arbitrary) summer 2011 drawdown date; he underscored and deepened it. The president’s declaration that the pace of troop reductions “will be determined by conditions on the ground” was overwhelmed by Obama’s declaring that our forces will be in place for “a limited time” and that we should “make no mistake: this transition will begin because open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people’s.”

This statement occurred within a particular context. In his December 2009 address at West Point, Obama made essentially the same argument — though less emphatically than he did last night.

Many people (including me) underestimated just how harmful was Obama’s declaration that we would begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011. Mentioning that it would be conditions-based was almost completely overlooked by both our friends and our enemies. The message they believed was sent, and which they received, is that America’s commitment is limited and we will leave on time and on schedule, come what may.

Don’t take my word for it; here is what Marine Commandant General James Conway said a week ago about the 2011 deadline: “In some ways, we think right now it’s probably giving our enemy sustenance. We think that he may be saying to himself … ‘Hey, you know, we only have to hold out for so long.’” Conway buttressed his claim by saying that intelligence intercepts suggest that Taliban fighters have been encouraged by the talk of the U.S. beginning to withdraw troops next year.

Knowing all this, Obama not only didn’t attempt to undo his previous error; he doubled down on it. This was an injurious message to send.

The Democratic Party can count several great wartime leaders among its ranks, including Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. John F. Kennedy, while denied the time and opportunities that FDR and Truman had, understood the stakes of the Cold War struggle and spoke with force and eloquence about America’s role in the world. These were admirable leaders, presidents whom our allies could count on and our enemies respected and feared.

In Barack Obama, we have someone very different — a president who is at times more eager to apologize for America than to defend her. He is a man not yet comfortable with his role as commander in chief. Obama views war not in terms of victory; he is above all committed to finding exit ramps.

President Obama has already inflicted enormous damage to our nation; last night he added to the wreckage.

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“It Almost Seemed a Chore”

Military historian Victor Davis Hanson observes:

Obama warns against “open-ended wars,” as if they are almost animate things. But wars end, not when they reach a rational, previously agreed-upon expiration date, but usually when tough, specific wartime choices are made that lead to victory or end in defeat. One party must decide – for good or bad reasons – that it doesn’t want to fight to win, or simply doesn’t believe it has the resources for victory. To say that “open-ended wars” are undesirable is a banality that offers no guidance for these real-life choices. A better truism is that America should not fight wars it does not intend to win.

And indeed, it is more dangerous than banal. “War is hell” is a banality, but at least it is true. Obama’s aversion to open-ended wars is the ultimate expression of  his shortcomings as commander in chief. His predecessor refused, despite public clamoring, to put a stopwatch on our troops in Iraq. He understood that as president, he must convey resoluteness and commitment. He understood that the troops want more than the promise of VA benefits — they want to come home victorious. He understood that America’s greatness depends not on how many billions we can throw a statist projects but rather on the fact that we are willing to project and defend our values, give hope to the oppressed, stand by allies, and champion freedom.

Obama’s childlike desire to set arbitrary deadlines is both a sop to the left and indicative of his own annoyance with the money we’ve had to spend on wars. Yes, the latter is the price one pays for being a superpower and the leader of the Free World. Neither Ronald Reagan nor George W. Bush begrudged spending the money — for this was the most essential part of our budget, just as being commander in chief was the most important part of their job.

Hanson also notes: “[T]here was something bizarre about his entire Iraq speech — it was as if it were being delivered by an exhausted Obama factotum, rather than the animate Obama of old. So we got a flat Iraq/flat Afghanistan/flat hope-and-change recession address. It almost seemed a chore.” For Bush, foreign policy was his highest calling, whereas Obama made clear that domestic recovery was “my central responsibility” — an odd declaration in a foreign policy speech to be viewed closely by adversaries.

Despite recent polling results, we can’t have Bush back. We have this president instead, and we will have to muddle through as best we can.

Military historian Victor Davis Hanson observes:

Obama warns against “open-ended wars,” as if they are almost animate things. But wars end, not when they reach a rational, previously agreed-upon expiration date, but usually when tough, specific wartime choices are made that lead to victory or end in defeat. One party must decide – for good or bad reasons – that it doesn’t want to fight to win, or simply doesn’t believe it has the resources for victory. To say that “open-ended wars” are undesirable is a banality that offers no guidance for these real-life choices. A better truism is that America should not fight wars it does not intend to win.

And indeed, it is more dangerous than banal. “War is hell” is a banality, but at least it is true. Obama’s aversion to open-ended wars is the ultimate expression of  his shortcomings as commander in chief. His predecessor refused, despite public clamoring, to put a stopwatch on our troops in Iraq. He understood that as president, he must convey resoluteness and commitment. He understood that the troops want more than the promise of VA benefits — they want to come home victorious. He understood that America’s greatness depends not on how many billions we can throw a statist projects but rather on the fact that we are willing to project and defend our values, give hope to the oppressed, stand by allies, and champion freedom.

Obama’s childlike desire to set arbitrary deadlines is both a sop to the left and indicative of his own annoyance with the money we’ve had to spend on wars. Yes, the latter is the price one pays for being a superpower and the leader of the Free World. Neither Ronald Reagan nor George W. Bush begrudged spending the money — for this was the most essential part of our budget, just as being commander in chief was the most important part of their job.

Hanson also notes: “[T]here was something bizarre about his entire Iraq speech — it was as if it were being delivered by an exhausted Obama factotum, rather than the animate Obama of old. So we got a flat Iraq/flat Afghanistan/flat hope-and-change recession address. It almost seemed a chore.” For Bush, foreign policy was his highest calling, whereas Obama made clear that domestic recovery was “my central responsibility” — an odd declaration in a foreign policy speech to be viewed closely by adversaries.

Despite recent polling results, we can’t have Bush back. We have this president instead, and we will have to muddle through as best we can.

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A Concession from President Obama

Today, in addressing the troops at Fort Bliss, Obama properly gave our military hearty praise. He added this:

There’s still a lot of work that we’ve got to do to make sure that Iraq is an effective partner with us. But the fact of the matter is that because of the extraordinary service that all of you have done, and so many people here at Fort Bliss have done, Iraq has an opportunity to create a better future for itself, and America is more secure.

Well, that’s a very positive sign: he is heeding the advice of many conservatives to abstain from the “you’re on your own” language and to stress our ongoing commitment. But the second part is extraordinary. For the first time I can recall, Obama said that the Iraq war has made America more secure. I would point out that as candidate, he not only opposed the war but did so on grounds that it would make us less safe. It is quite a concession, as one of my colleagues pointed out.

This will no doubt infuriate the president’s leftist base. But maybe Obama has written it and the 2010 elections off (forget pumping up the enthusiasm among Democrats, because it is hopeless). If so, this is a positive development and we should encourage more of the same — a full-throated endorsement of our commitment to Afghanistan, a renunciation of the deadline for troop withdrawal, a robust statement that military force remains an option in Iran, and a stinging denunciation of the murders in Israel today. After 18 months, maybe the president has decided to step up into the role of commander in chief. Time will tell.

Today, in addressing the troops at Fort Bliss, Obama properly gave our military hearty praise. He added this:

There’s still a lot of work that we’ve got to do to make sure that Iraq is an effective partner with us. But the fact of the matter is that because of the extraordinary service that all of you have done, and so many people here at Fort Bliss have done, Iraq has an opportunity to create a better future for itself, and America is more secure.

Well, that’s a very positive sign: he is heeding the advice of many conservatives to abstain from the “you’re on your own” language and to stress our ongoing commitment. But the second part is extraordinary. For the first time I can recall, Obama said that the Iraq war has made America more secure. I would point out that as candidate, he not only opposed the war but did so on grounds that it would make us less safe. It is quite a concession, as one of my colleagues pointed out.

This will no doubt infuriate the president’s leftist base. But maybe Obama has written it and the 2010 elections off (forget pumping up the enthusiasm among Democrats, because it is hopeless). If so, this is a positive development and we should encourage more of the same — a full-throated endorsement of our commitment to Afghanistan, a renunciation of the deadline for troop withdrawal, a robust statement that military force remains an option in Iran, and a stinging denunciation of the murders in Israel today. After 18 months, maybe the president has decided to step up into the role of commander in chief. Time will tell.

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Obama: ‘I Do Not Want to Screw This Up’

I’ve finally gotten around to reading Peter Baker’s massive front-page story in the Sunday New York Times about Obama as commander in chief. I share some of the disquiet expressed by Jennifer Rubin about the president’s lack of knowledge and interest in defense affairs, but that’s hardly unusual for a chief executive. With his focus on domestic policy and his view that foreign crises are an unwelcome “distraction,” Obama echoes most recent presidents, including both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Bush, of course, shed that outlook after 9/11, whereas Obama hasn’t — yet. I predict he will before long because he will realize what most presidents realize: that they have the greatest impact in foreign affairs and national-security policy, whereas on domestic issues, they have to beg for help from a recalcitrant Congress. So far, Obama has managed to push most of his agenda through the Hill, but that is likely to change after the November elections bring big gains for Republicans; after that he will probably find foreign affairs a relief rather than a burden.

In the meantime, however, I was not wholly depressed by Baker’s article. There were, I believe, some positives in it, including the revelation that it was Obama’s personal brainstorm to replace General McChrystal with David Petraeus in Afghanistan (Bob Gates evidently wanted to keep McChrystal on with a reprimand). That was surely a brilliant stroke and speaks well to his creativity and his ability to be decisive. More than that, I was cheered by this line:

When he held a videoconference on Iraq on his first full day in office, officials recalled, he said: “Guys, before you start, there’s one thing I want to say to you and that is I do not want to screw this up.”

That sentiment — “I do not want to screw this up” — explains a lot. It explains why Obama has gone more slowly on the Iraq withdrawal than the left would have liked and why he has bucked his liberal base to build up U.S. forces in Afghanistan. For all his obsession with domestic issues, he evidently realizes that losing wars is bad for a president’s reputation. That’s good for those of us who believe that it’s vitally important for the country’s interests to win the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. However reluctantly, Obama apparently has come to share that belief.

I’ve finally gotten around to reading Peter Baker’s massive front-page story in the Sunday New York Times about Obama as commander in chief. I share some of the disquiet expressed by Jennifer Rubin about the president’s lack of knowledge and interest in defense affairs, but that’s hardly unusual for a chief executive. With his focus on domestic policy and his view that foreign crises are an unwelcome “distraction,” Obama echoes most recent presidents, including both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Bush, of course, shed that outlook after 9/11, whereas Obama hasn’t — yet. I predict he will before long because he will realize what most presidents realize: that they have the greatest impact in foreign affairs and national-security policy, whereas on domestic issues, they have to beg for help from a recalcitrant Congress. So far, Obama has managed to push most of his agenda through the Hill, but that is likely to change after the November elections bring big gains for Republicans; after that he will probably find foreign affairs a relief rather than a burden.

In the meantime, however, I was not wholly depressed by Baker’s article. There were, I believe, some positives in it, including the revelation that it was Obama’s personal brainstorm to replace General McChrystal with David Petraeus in Afghanistan (Bob Gates evidently wanted to keep McChrystal on with a reprimand). That was surely a brilliant stroke and speaks well to his creativity and his ability to be decisive. More than that, I was cheered by this line:

When he held a videoconference on Iraq on his first full day in office, officials recalled, he said: “Guys, before you start, there’s one thing I want to say to you and that is I do not want to screw this up.”

That sentiment — “I do not want to screw this up” — explains a lot. It explains why Obama has gone more slowly on the Iraq withdrawal than the left would have liked and why he has bucked his liberal base to build up U.S. forces in Afghanistan. For all his obsession with domestic issues, he evidently realizes that losing wars is bad for a president’s reputation. That’s good for those of us who believe that it’s vitally important for the country’s interests to win the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. However reluctantly, Obama apparently has come to share that belief.

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Sadly, Obama Needs the Advice

Bill Kristol has penned an open note to the president with suggestions for his speech on Iraq. It should be read in its entirety, for it is chock-full of sage advice (e.g., thank the generals responsible, praise the Iraqis who fought and died). Most important is this plea:

And I hope you would also explain that, whatever one’s views of the decision to go to war, we now have a moral obligation and strategic opportunity to help a free and democratic Iraq succeed. This means emphasizing that we expect to work closely with Iraq in the future, and that we are open to stationing troops there. It means not repeating the vulgar and counter-productive emphasis in your Saturday address—”But the bottom line is this: the war is ending. Like any sovereign, independent nation, Iraq is free to chart its own course. And by the end of next year, all our troops will be home.”

None of this is controversial, none of it is partisan. But it is remarkable that the advice need be given at all and that Obama to date hasn’t explained what we have accomplished or the importance of establishing a stable, non-despotic, non-terror supporting state in the Middle East. He perpetually focuses on the draw-down, the fulfillment of a promise by a candidate who opposed the winning strategy.

On one level, it is shocking — that a president would downplay success in one battlefield while we remain engaged in another. Had Iraq disintegrated into genocidal chaos, our task in Afghanistan would have been infinitely more difficult; and — to the extent that Obama’s agonizing and withdrawal deadline has not undercut it — the Iraq war has demonstrated that America will not abandon allies or oppressed people (Muslims, specifically — how’s that for Muslim outreach?). One would think that would be an argument Obama would want to make.

But as we learned from the stunning New York Times report, he’s really not that much into being commander in chief. Well, he is commander in chief, and he should start acting like it rather than a candidate auditioning for the MoveOn.org endorsement.

Bill Kristol has penned an open note to the president with suggestions for his speech on Iraq. It should be read in its entirety, for it is chock-full of sage advice (e.g., thank the generals responsible, praise the Iraqis who fought and died). Most important is this plea:

And I hope you would also explain that, whatever one’s views of the decision to go to war, we now have a moral obligation and strategic opportunity to help a free and democratic Iraq succeed. This means emphasizing that we expect to work closely with Iraq in the future, and that we are open to stationing troops there. It means not repeating the vulgar and counter-productive emphasis in your Saturday address—”But the bottom line is this: the war is ending. Like any sovereign, independent nation, Iraq is free to chart its own course. And by the end of next year, all our troops will be home.”

None of this is controversial, none of it is partisan. But it is remarkable that the advice need be given at all and that Obama to date hasn’t explained what we have accomplished or the importance of establishing a stable, non-despotic, non-terror supporting state in the Middle East. He perpetually focuses on the draw-down, the fulfillment of a promise by a candidate who opposed the winning strategy.

On one level, it is shocking — that a president would downplay success in one battlefield while we remain engaged in another. Had Iraq disintegrated into genocidal chaos, our task in Afghanistan would have been infinitely more difficult; and — to the extent that Obama’s agonizing and withdrawal deadline has not undercut it — the Iraq war has demonstrated that America will not abandon allies or oppressed people (Muslims, specifically — how’s that for Muslim outreach?). One would think that would be an argument Obama would want to make.

But as we learned from the stunning New York Times report, he’s really not that much into being commander in chief. Well, he is commander in chief, and he should start acting like it rather than a candidate auditioning for the MoveOn.org endorsement.

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He Really Doesn’t Want to Be Commander In Chief

It is not that we didn’t know this before, but reading the New York Times surely designed to be as favorable toward Obama as the reporter could possibly manage — one is left slack-jawed. Obama doesn’t like being commander in chief, isn’t good at it, and has relied on one tutor, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who is leaving next year. The report should be read in full. But a few low-lights:

A year and a half into his presidency, Mr. Obama appears to be a reluctant warrior. Even as he draws down troops in Iraq, he has been abundantly willing to use force to advance national interests, tripling forces in Afghanistan, authorizing secret operations in Yemen and Somalia, and escalating drone strikes in Pakistan. But advisers said he did not see himself as a war president in the way his predecessor did. His speech on Tuesday is notable because he talks in public about the wars only sporadically, determined not to let them define his presidency.

A former adviser to the president, who like others insisted on anonymity in order to discuss the situation candidly, said that Mr. Obama’s relationship with the military was ‘troubled’ and that he ‘doesn’t have a handle on it.’ …

Reliant on Mr. Gates, Mr. Obama has made limited efforts to know his service chiefs or top commanders, and has visited the Pentagon only once, not counting a Sept. 11 commemoration. He ended Mr. Bush’s practice of weekly videoconferences with commanders, preferring to work through the chain of command and wary, aides said, of being drawn into managing the wars. …

Last December, the president gave the military 30,000 more troops, but also a ticking clock. … “He didn’t understand or grasp the military culture,” said Lawrence J. Korb, a former Pentagon official at the liberal Center for American Progress. “He got over that particular quandary and put them back in the box by saying, ‘O.K., I’m giving you 18 months.’ ”

As we all suspected, he compromised our Afghanistan war strategy for the sake of domestic politics:

One adviser at the time said Mr. Obama calculated that an open-ended commitment would undermine the rest of his agenda. “Our Afghan policy was focused as much as anything on domestic politics,” the adviser said. “He would not risk losing the moderate to centrist Democrats in the middle of health insurance reform and he viewed that legislation as the make-or-break legislation for his administration.”

He simply doesn’t want to do the things that are expected of the commander in chief, and the military’s ire is profound:

The schisms among his team, though, are born in part out of uncertainty about his true commitment. His reticence to talk much publicly about the wars may owe to the political costs of alienating his base as well as the demands of other issues. Senior Pentagon and military officials said they understood that he presided over a troubled economy, but noted that he was not losing 30 American soldiers a month on Wall Street. …

“From an image point of view, he doesn’t seem to embrace it, almost like you have to drag him into doing it,” said Peter D. Feaver, a Bush adviser with military contacts. “There’s deep uncertainty and perhaps doubt in the military about his commitment to see the wars through to a successful conclusion.”

This was a man not only unprepared to be president but disposed to shirk the most important aspect of the job. It is a measure of his hubris and stubbornness that he has refused to, as Feaver succinctly puts it, “embrace” the role, that is, to commit in word and deed his full attention and effort to leading the country in war. He doesn’t want to be a wartime president? Well, sorry — he is.

The only comfort one can draw from this appalling portrait is that perhaps, just perhaps, after November, when his dream of transforming America is crushed by an electoral blow-back, he will belatedly do his job.

It is not that we didn’t know this before, but reading the New York Times surely designed to be as favorable toward Obama as the reporter could possibly manage — one is left slack-jawed. Obama doesn’t like being commander in chief, isn’t good at it, and has relied on one tutor, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who is leaving next year. The report should be read in full. But a few low-lights:

A year and a half into his presidency, Mr. Obama appears to be a reluctant warrior. Even as he draws down troops in Iraq, he has been abundantly willing to use force to advance national interests, tripling forces in Afghanistan, authorizing secret operations in Yemen and Somalia, and escalating drone strikes in Pakistan. But advisers said he did not see himself as a war president in the way his predecessor did. His speech on Tuesday is notable because he talks in public about the wars only sporadically, determined not to let them define his presidency.

A former adviser to the president, who like others insisted on anonymity in order to discuss the situation candidly, said that Mr. Obama’s relationship with the military was ‘troubled’ and that he ‘doesn’t have a handle on it.’ …

Reliant on Mr. Gates, Mr. Obama has made limited efforts to know his service chiefs or top commanders, and has visited the Pentagon only once, not counting a Sept. 11 commemoration. He ended Mr. Bush’s practice of weekly videoconferences with commanders, preferring to work through the chain of command and wary, aides said, of being drawn into managing the wars. …

Last December, the president gave the military 30,000 more troops, but also a ticking clock. … “He didn’t understand or grasp the military culture,” said Lawrence J. Korb, a former Pentagon official at the liberal Center for American Progress. “He got over that particular quandary and put them back in the box by saying, ‘O.K., I’m giving you 18 months.’ ”

As we all suspected, he compromised our Afghanistan war strategy for the sake of domestic politics:

One adviser at the time said Mr. Obama calculated that an open-ended commitment would undermine the rest of his agenda. “Our Afghan policy was focused as much as anything on domestic politics,” the adviser said. “He would not risk losing the moderate to centrist Democrats in the middle of health insurance reform and he viewed that legislation as the make-or-break legislation for his administration.”

He simply doesn’t want to do the things that are expected of the commander in chief, and the military’s ire is profound:

The schisms among his team, though, are born in part out of uncertainty about his true commitment. His reticence to talk much publicly about the wars may owe to the political costs of alienating his base as well as the demands of other issues. Senior Pentagon and military officials said they understood that he presided over a troubled economy, but noted that he was not losing 30 American soldiers a month on Wall Street. …

“From an image point of view, he doesn’t seem to embrace it, almost like you have to drag him into doing it,” said Peter D. Feaver, a Bush adviser with military contacts. “There’s deep uncertainty and perhaps doubt in the military about his commitment to see the wars through to a successful conclusion.”

This was a man not only unprepared to be president but disposed to shirk the most important aspect of the job. It is a measure of his hubris and stubbornness that he has refused to, as Feaver succinctly puts it, “embrace” the role, that is, to commit in word and deed his full attention and effort to leading the country in war. He doesn’t want to be a wartime president? Well, sorry — he is.

The only comfort one can draw from this appalling portrait is that perhaps, just perhaps, after November, when his dream of transforming America is crushed by an electoral blow-back, he will belatedly do his job.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Don’t you expect Eric Holder will want to “spend more time with his family” before Republicans get a majority — and subpoena power — in the House and/or Senate? “Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri is a man with blood on his hands.A year before 9/11, the Saudi al Qaeda operative masterminded the bombing of the guided-missile destroyer USS Cole, killing 17 sailors as the vessel refueled in the Yemeni port of Aden.A Guantanamo tribunal was ready to arraign him last year, but since the Obama administration took office, it’s been a case of trial and error. No trial — plenty of error. … Attorney General Eric Holder said last year that because the Cole bombing was an attack on the military, Nashiri’s trial should proceed in a military tribunal. Did it really take nine months to figure that out?”

Don’t faint: “BBC Exonerates Israel.” When will J Street?

Don’t underestimate the cluelessness of liberal politicians: “The Muslim center planned near the site of the World Trade Center attack could qualify for tax-free financing, a spokesman for City Comptroller John Liu said on Friday, and Liu is willing to consider approving the public subsidy.The Democratic comptroller’s spokesman, Scott Sieber, said Liu supported the project. The center has sparked an intense debate over U.S. religious freedoms and the sanctity of the Trade Center site, where nearly 3,000 perished in the September 11, 2001 attack.”

Don’t think Florida Democrats should be celebrating Rick Scott’s win: “The first Rasmussen Reports post-primary survey of the Florida governor’s race finds Republican Rick Scott and Democrat Alex Sink in a close contest.Scott, the winner of Tuesday’s bruising GOP Primary, earns the support of 41% of Likely Voters in the state, while Sink picks up 36% of the vote.”

Don’t be surprised if Charlie Crist comes in third in the Senate race. A distant third.

Don’t you wonder what compelled James Fallows, after his magazine invited one of the most effective neocon pundits to join in a week-long symposium, to go out of his way to “disassociate” himself not once but twice from his guest’s views? Could be that the left-leaning readership threw a hissy fit (how dare Atlantic allow a conservative to make mincemeat of their arguments!), or maybe it’s just a dirth of graciousness. These are not mutually exclusive explanations. (To his credit, Jeffrey Goldberg — “kudos to the assorted luminaries” — did not follow his colleague’s lead.)

Don’t miss Peter Berkowitz’s latest column. A sample: “In late 2008 and early 2009, in the wake of Mr. Obama’s meteoric ascent, the idea that conservatism would enjoy any sort of revival in the summer of 2009 would have seemed to demoralized conservatives too much to hope for. To leading lights on the left, it would have appeared absolutely outlandish. … Messrs. [George] Packer, [E.J.] Dionne and [Sam] Tanenhaus underestimated what the conservative tradition rightly emphasizes, which is the high degree of unpredictability in human affairs. They also conflated the flagging fortunes of George W. Bush’s Republican Party with conservatism’s popular appeal.”

Don’t hold your breath waiting for Obama to say “victory” or “democracy” in connection with Iraq. It’s all about keeping his campaign promise. And more money spent on the VA. I had hoped he would grow into the role of commander in chief. Hasn’t happened yet.

Don’t you expect Eric Holder will want to “spend more time with his family” before Republicans get a majority — and subpoena power — in the House and/or Senate? “Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri is a man with blood on his hands.A year before 9/11, the Saudi al Qaeda operative masterminded the bombing of the guided-missile destroyer USS Cole, killing 17 sailors as the vessel refueled in the Yemeni port of Aden.A Guantanamo tribunal was ready to arraign him last year, but since the Obama administration took office, it’s been a case of trial and error. No trial — plenty of error. … Attorney General Eric Holder said last year that because the Cole bombing was an attack on the military, Nashiri’s trial should proceed in a military tribunal. Did it really take nine months to figure that out?”

Don’t faint: “BBC Exonerates Israel.” When will J Street?

Don’t underestimate the cluelessness of liberal politicians: “The Muslim center planned near the site of the World Trade Center attack could qualify for tax-free financing, a spokesman for City Comptroller John Liu said on Friday, and Liu is willing to consider approving the public subsidy.The Democratic comptroller’s spokesman, Scott Sieber, said Liu supported the project. The center has sparked an intense debate over U.S. religious freedoms and the sanctity of the Trade Center site, where nearly 3,000 perished in the September 11, 2001 attack.”

Don’t think Florida Democrats should be celebrating Rick Scott’s win: “The first Rasmussen Reports post-primary survey of the Florida governor’s race finds Republican Rick Scott and Democrat Alex Sink in a close contest.Scott, the winner of Tuesday’s bruising GOP Primary, earns the support of 41% of Likely Voters in the state, while Sink picks up 36% of the vote.”

Don’t be surprised if Charlie Crist comes in third in the Senate race. A distant third.

Don’t you wonder what compelled James Fallows, after his magazine invited one of the most effective neocon pundits to join in a week-long symposium, to go out of his way to “disassociate” himself not once but twice from his guest’s views? Could be that the left-leaning readership threw a hissy fit (how dare Atlantic allow a conservative to make mincemeat of their arguments!), or maybe it’s just a dirth of graciousness. These are not mutually exclusive explanations. (To his credit, Jeffrey Goldberg — “kudos to the assorted luminaries” — did not follow his colleague’s lead.)

Don’t miss Peter Berkowitz’s latest column. A sample: “In late 2008 and early 2009, in the wake of Mr. Obama’s meteoric ascent, the idea that conservatism would enjoy any sort of revival in the summer of 2009 would have seemed to demoralized conservatives too much to hope for. To leading lights on the left, it would have appeared absolutely outlandish. … Messrs. [George] Packer, [E.J.] Dionne and [Sam] Tanenhaus underestimated what the conservative tradition rightly emphasizes, which is the high degree of unpredictability in human affairs. They also conflated the flagging fortunes of George W. Bush’s Republican Party with conservatism’s popular appeal.”

Don’t hold your breath waiting for Obama to say “victory” or “democracy” in connection with Iraq. It’s all about keeping his campaign promise. And more money spent on the VA. I had hoped he would grow into the role of commander in chief. Hasn’t happened yet.

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Marine Commandant: Obama Deadline Helps the Enemy

Obama’s timeline for the withdrawal of troops has been roundly criticized by conservatives as well as responsible Democrats like Sen. Diane Feinstein. Gen. David Petraeus and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates have been prevailed upon to fall in line with the president. But not the Marine commandant. He has the luxury of speaking his mind, for he is on the verge of retirement:

[R]etiring General James Conway said he believed Marines would not be in a position to withdraw from the fight in Southern Afghanistan for years, even though he acknowledged that Americans were growing “tired” of the 9-year-old war.

Conway’s unusually blunt assessment is likely to fan criticism of Obama’s war strategy ahead of U.S. congressional elections in November, as public opinion of the conflict sours further and casualties rise.

“In some ways, we think right now it is probably giving our enemy sustenance,” Conway, the Marine Corps’ commandant, said of the July 2011 deadline.

“In fact we’ve intercepted communications that say, ‘Hey, you know, we only need to hold out for so long.’” …

Conway, quoting one of his own commanders, told reporters: “We can either lose fast or win slow.”

If that is accurate — and we have no reason to doubt that it is — then the president has inexcusably endangered our troops, made the American war effort more difficult, and refused, despite available evidence, to reverse himself.

The error in strategy should have been corrected long ago, and it is important for congressional oversight committees to probe the evidence to which Conway refers. The president, however, can still do the right thing:

The timetable for withdrawal is certain to come under close scrutiny in a White House strategy review in December, which Obama called for last year when he announced the July 2011 deadline and 30,000 additional forces.

“We know the president was talking to several audiences at the same time when he made his comments on July 2011,” Conway told reporters at the Pentagon.

“Though I certainly believe that some American units somewhere in Afghanistan will turn over responsibilities to Afghanistan security forces in 2011, I do not think they will be Marines.”

Conway is certainly accurate about the West Point rollout speech, in which Obama simultaneously tried to follow his military leaders’ advice about the deployment of more troops and to satisfy the left wing of his party (no “open-ended commitments” for them). That’s no way to win a war and a disservice to the troops who are risking life and limb. Obama is especially loath to admit error, but in this case there is no alternative if he intends to fulfill his responsibilities as commander in chief.

Obama’s timeline for the withdrawal of troops has been roundly criticized by conservatives as well as responsible Democrats like Sen. Diane Feinstein. Gen. David Petraeus and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates have been prevailed upon to fall in line with the president. But not the Marine commandant. He has the luxury of speaking his mind, for he is on the verge of retirement:

[R]etiring General James Conway said he believed Marines would not be in a position to withdraw from the fight in Southern Afghanistan for years, even though he acknowledged that Americans were growing “tired” of the 9-year-old war.

Conway’s unusually blunt assessment is likely to fan criticism of Obama’s war strategy ahead of U.S. congressional elections in November, as public opinion of the conflict sours further and casualties rise.

“In some ways, we think right now it is probably giving our enemy sustenance,” Conway, the Marine Corps’ commandant, said of the July 2011 deadline.

“In fact we’ve intercepted communications that say, ‘Hey, you know, we only need to hold out for so long.’” …

Conway, quoting one of his own commanders, told reporters: “We can either lose fast or win slow.”

If that is accurate — and we have no reason to doubt that it is — then the president has inexcusably endangered our troops, made the American war effort more difficult, and refused, despite available evidence, to reverse himself.

The error in strategy should have been corrected long ago, and it is important for congressional oversight committees to probe the evidence to which Conway refers. The president, however, can still do the right thing:

The timetable for withdrawal is certain to come under close scrutiny in a White House strategy review in December, which Obama called for last year when he announced the July 2011 deadline and 30,000 additional forces.

“We know the president was talking to several audiences at the same time when he made his comments on July 2011,” Conway told reporters at the Pentagon.

“Though I certainly believe that some American units somewhere in Afghanistan will turn over responsibilities to Afghanistan security forces in 2011, I do not think they will be Marines.”

Conway is certainly accurate about the West Point rollout speech, in which Obama simultaneously tried to follow his military leaders’ advice about the deployment of more troops and to satisfy the left wing of his party (no “open-ended commitments” for them). That’s no way to win a war and a disservice to the troops who are risking life and limb. Obama is especially loath to admit error, but in this case there is no alternative if he intends to fulfill his responsibilities as commander in chief.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Independents are fleeing from Obama and the Democrats: “Independents who embraced President Barack Obama’s call for change in 2008 are ready for a shift again, and that’s worrisome news for Democrats. Only 32 percent of those citing no allegiance to either major party say they want Democrats to keep control of Congress in this November’s elections, according to combined results of recent Associated Press-GfK polls.”

Johnny Rotten is showing more brains and character than what passes for the liberal intelligentsia: “”If Elvis-f***ing-Costello wants to pull out of a gig in Israel because he’s suddenly got this compassion for Palestinians, then good on him. But I have absolutely one rule, right? Until I see an Arab country, a Muslim country, with a democracy, I won’t understand how anyone can have a problem with how they’re treated.”

Dore Gold is warning about the Obami’s infatuation with the “1967 borders” (in other words, the status quo after the 1990 armistice, a nonstarter for Israel, and another instance of reneging on the Bush-Sharon 2004 letter, which recognized that “it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949″). But then this is all moot so long as the PA refuses to get in the room with the Israelis and lacks the will and ability to make a binding peace deal.

The left is reeling from Obama’s backtracking on the Ground Zero mosque: “Glenn Greenwald, a lawyer and liberal blogger, summed up the frustration of those on the Left … by tweeting on the microblogging website Twitter: ‘Well, it was nice spending a day thinking Obama did something courageous.’” Silly them.

The shills are straining to explain Obama’s reversal. David A. Harris of the NDJC: “I applaud his clarion statements on this matter that cut to the heart of what our country stands for — including religious liberty for all peoples and the separation of church and state.” The clarion statement praising a mosque on the graves of 3,000 dead Americans or the clarion statement that he didn’t mean it?

The Democratic leadership is sounding desperate to shut up not just the public but also the media and even Obama. “Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and appeared on CNN’s ‘State of the Union’ to talk about the upcoming election, was asked for his personal view on whether the mosque should be built in New York. ‘It would be wrong to politicize the issue,’ he said, adding that the decision should be ‘up to the people of New York’ on where the Islamic center should be built.’” The people of NYC don’t want it, and Obama made it front-page news, so I think he’ll have to do better than that.

Conservative blog readers are putting it together. Here’s a particularly apt summary of Obama’s behavior on the Ground Zero mosque debacle: “He is a man of the Left, and for him and many others in this country 9/11 was the big comeuppance. There were many people who came out after 9/11 to say America had it coming, and one of them was Obama’s old friend and ghost autohagiographer Bill Ayers. In his ideas about America’s relationship with the Muslim world, Obama has much more in common with Imam Rauf than with he does with ordinary Americans and he’s not afraid to say so; he’s just really really bad at handling the blow back.”

Obama is still tanking in the polls, reaching a new low in Gallup.

Gen. David Petraeus is struggling to get out from under his commander in chief’s troop deadline for Afghanistan: “‘I don’t find it that stifling,’ he said. ‘I’m not bowed over by, you know, the knowledge that July 2011 is out there. In fact the president has been very clear, Vice President [Joe] Biden has been very clear as well more recently that this is a date when a process begins, that is conditions-based. And as the conditions permit, we transition tasks to our Afghan counterparts and the security forces and in various governmental institutions, and that enables a quote ‘responsible’ drawdown of our forces.’”

Independents are fleeing from Obama and the Democrats: “Independents who embraced President Barack Obama’s call for change in 2008 are ready for a shift again, and that’s worrisome news for Democrats. Only 32 percent of those citing no allegiance to either major party say they want Democrats to keep control of Congress in this November’s elections, according to combined results of recent Associated Press-GfK polls.”

Johnny Rotten is showing more brains and character than what passes for the liberal intelligentsia: “”If Elvis-f***ing-Costello wants to pull out of a gig in Israel because he’s suddenly got this compassion for Palestinians, then good on him. But I have absolutely one rule, right? Until I see an Arab country, a Muslim country, with a democracy, I won’t understand how anyone can have a problem with how they’re treated.”

Dore Gold is warning about the Obami’s infatuation with the “1967 borders” (in other words, the status quo after the 1990 armistice, a nonstarter for Israel, and another instance of reneging on the Bush-Sharon 2004 letter, which recognized that “it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949″). But then this is all moot so long as the PA refuses to get in the room with the Israelis and lacks the will and ability to make a binding peace deal.

The left is reeling from Obama’s backtracking on the Ground Zero mosque: “Glenn Greenwald, a lawyer and liberal blogger, summed up the frustration of those on the Left … by tweeting on the microblogging website Twitter: ‘Well, it was nice spending a day thinking Obama did something courageous.’” Silly them.

The shills are straining to explain Obama’s reversal. David A. Harris of the NDJC: “I applaud his clarion statements on this matter that cut to the heart of what our country stands for — including religious liberty for all peoples and the separation of church and state.” The clarion statement praising a mosque on the graves of 3,000 dead Americans or the clarion statement that he didn’t mean it?

The Democratic leadership is sounding desperate to shut up not just the public but also the media and even Obama. “Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and appeared on CNN’s ‘State of the Union’ to talk about the upcoming election, was asked for his personal view on whether the mosque should be built in New York. ‘It would be wrong to politicize the issue,’ he said, adding that the decision should be ‘up to the people of New York’ on where the Islamic center should be built.’” The people of NYC don’t want it, and Obama made it front-page news, so I think he’ll have to do better than that.

Conservative blog readers are putting it together. Here’s a particularly apt summary of Obama’s behavior on the Ground Zero mosque debacle: “He is a man of the Left, and for him and many others in this country 9/11 was the big comeuppance. There were many people who came out after 9/11 to say America had it coming, and one of them was Obama’s old friend and ghost autohagiographer Bill Ayers. In his ideas about America’s relationship with the Muslim world, Obama has much more in common with Imam Rauf than with he does with ordinary Americans and he’s not afraid to say so; he’s just really really bad at handling the blow back.”

Obama is still tanking in the polls, reaching a new low in Gallup.

Gen. David Petraeus is struggling to get out from under his commander in chief’s troop deadline for Afghanistan: “‘I don’t find it that stifling,’ he said. ‘I’m not bowed over by, you know, the knowledge that July 2011 is out there. In fact the president has been very clear, Vice President [Joe] Biden has been very clear as well more recently that this is a date when a process begins, that is conditions-based. And as the conditions permit, we transition tasks to our Afghan counterparts and the security forces and in various governmental institutions, and that enables a quote ‘responsible’ drawdown of our forces.’”

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No Quick Fix for War Woes

Here’s a New York Times headline double-whammy for the anti-war crowd: On Afghanistan, “U.S. Military to Press for Slower Afghan Drawdown,” and on Iraq, “U.S. and Iraqi Interests May Work Against Pullout.”

It turns out there is more to ending wars than railing against George W. Bush and making speeches about international norms. Barack Obama has taken to citing U.S. accomplishments in Iraq only as justification for a withdrawal of troops. (Notice how things have inverted. The anti-war Democrat now claims mission accomplished, while the pro-Iraq War conservatives describe the job as unfinished.) Yet the president notes the challenges in Afghanistan also as justification for a fixed withdrawal date. For this commander in chief, both achievement and deficiency are grounds for laying down weapons. If the global order’s chief protector—which looks credibly weaker today than it has at any point in the past thirty years—decides that military victory is an inconvenient burden, the consequences will prove catastrophic in ways we can’t yet imagine.

Here’s a New York Times headline double-whammy for the anti-war crowd: On Afghanistan, “U.S. Military to Press for Slower Afghan Drawdown,” and on Iraq, “U.S. and Iraqi Interests May Work Against Pullout.”

It turns out there is more to ending wars than railing against George W. Bush and making speeches about international norms. Barack Obama has taken to citing U.S. accomplishments in Iraq only as justification for a withdrawal of troops. (Notice how things have inverted. The anti-war Democrat now claims mission accomplished, while the pro-Iraq War conservatives describe the job as unfinished.) Yet the president notes the challenges in Afghanistan also as justification for a fixed withdrawal date. For this commander in chief, both achievement and deficiency are grounds for laying down weapons. If the global order’s chief protector—which looks credibly weaker today than it has at any point in the past thirty years—decides that military victory is an inconvenient burden, the consequences will prove catastrophic in ways we can’t yet imagine.

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The Uncomfortable Commander in Chief

Obama gave a speech yesterday at the Disabled Veterans of America Conference. It was another disturbing example of Obama’s refusal to embrace fully his role as commander in chief. On the Iraq war, in what should have been a moment of triumph, a high point in our war against Islamic terrorists, he still could not bring himself to use the term victory or to explain the long-term significance of a unified, democratic Iraq. The best he could do was this:

As a candidate for President, I pledged to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end. (Applause.) Shortly after taking office, I announced our new strategy for Iraq and for a transition to full Iraqi responsibility. And I made it clear that by August 31st, 2010, America’s combat mission in Iraq would end. (Applause.) And that is exactly what we are doing — as promised and on schedule.  (Applause.)

Already, we have closed or turned over to Iraq hundreds of bases. We’re moving out millions of pieces of equipment in one of the largest logistics operations that we’ve seen in decades. By the end of this month, we’ll have brought more than 90,000 of our troops home from Iraq since I took office — more than 90,000 have come home. (Applause.)

Today — even as terrorists try to derail Iraq’s progress — because of the sacrifices of our troops and their Iraqi partners, violence in Iraq continues to be near the lowest it’s been in years.  And next month, we will change our military mission from combat to supporting and training Iraqi security forces.  (Applause.)  In fact, in many parts of the country, Iraqis have already taken the lead for security.

Obama was very concerned about reminding the crowd that he had kept his campaign promise. He was far less interested in explaining that a great victory had been achieved. And he was even less interested in explaining how we won. He preferred to credit the troops rather than the strategy or the president who championed it (over Obama and the left’s objections): “When invasion gave way to insurgency, our troops persevered, block by block, city by city, from Baghdad to Fallujah.” No, he didn’t use the word surge or even mention Gen. Petraeus’s name. Shocking, really.

Then on Afghanistan, he was surprisingly brief. He explained — in contrast to his muteness on Iraq — why we are there and what is at stake. That’s commendable. But on the fighting itself, he said only this:

We will continue to face huge challenges in Afghanistan. But it’s important that the American people know that we are making progress and we are focused on goals that are clear and achievable.

On the military front, nearly all the additional forces that I ordered to Afghanistan are now in place. Along with our Afghan and international partners, we are going on the offensive against the Taliban — targeting their leaders, challenging them in regions where they had free reign, and training Afghan national security forces. (Applause.) Our thoughts and prayers are with all our troops risking their lives for our safety in Afghanistan.

And on the civilian front, we’re insisting on greater accountability. And the Afghan government has taken concrete steps to foster development and combat corruption, and to put forward a reintegration plan that allows Afghans to lay down their arms.

The best he could come up with is “achievable goals”; he is apparently allergic to the word victory.

The major part of his speech had to do with veterans’ benefits. Even the Washington Post noticed the imbalance:

White House officials billed Obama’s remarks to the veterans group as a significant Iraq policy address, but a relatively small part of the roughly 20-minute speech was devoted to the subject. The president spoke most passionately about veterans benefits and received the most applause when he did.

Veterans’ benefits is an important topic. But it is all too apparent that this president is most comfortable when talking about social services and quite uncomfortable talking about victory in war. For those who hoped he would grow into the job of commander in chief, this is yet another sober reminder that he still doesn’t comprehend or excel at the most critical aspect of his job.

Obama gave a speech yesterday at the Disabled Veterans of America Conference. It was another disturbing example of Obama’s refusal to embrace fully his role as commander in chief. On the Iraq war, in what should have been a moment of triumph, a high point in our war against Islamic terrorists, he still could not bring himself to use the term victory or to explain the long-term significance of a unified, democratic Iraq. The best he could do was this:

As a candidate for President, I pledged to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end. (Applause.) Shortly after taking office, I announced our new strategy for Iraq and for a transition to full Iraqi responsibility. And I made it clear that by August 31st, 2010, America’s combat mission in Iraq would end. (Applause.) And that is exactly what we are doing — as promised and on schedule.  (Applause.)

Already, we have closed or turned over to Iraq hundreds of bases. We’re moving out millions of pieces of equipment in one of the largest logistics operations that we’ve seen in decades. By the end of this month, we’ll have brought more than 90,000 of our troops home from Iraq since I took office — more than 90,000 have come home. (Applause.)

Today — even as terrorists try to derail Iraq’s progress — because of the sacrifices of our troops and their Iraqi partners, violence in Iraq continues to be near the lowest it’s been in years.  And next month, we will change our military mission from combat to supporting and training Iraqi security forces.  (Applause.)  In fact, in many parts of the country, Iraqis have already taken the lead for security.

Obama was very concerned about reminding the crowd that he had kept his campaign promise. He was far less interested in explaining that a great victory had been achieved. And he was even less interested in explaining how we won. He preferred to credit the troops rather than the strategy or the president who championed it (over Obama and the left’s objections): “When invasion gave way to insurgency, our troops persevered, block by block, city by city, from Baghdad to Fallujah.” No, he didn’t use the word surge or even mention Gen. Petraeus’s name. Shocking, really.

Then on Afghanistan, he was surprisingly brief. He explained — in contrast to his muteness on Iraq — why we are there and what is at stake. That’s commendable. But on the fighting itself, he said only this:

We will continue to face huge challenges in Afghanistan. But it’s important that the American people know that we are making progress and we are focused on goals that are clear and achievable.

On the military front, nearly all the additional forces that I ordered to Afghanistan are now in place. Along with our Afghan and international partners, we are going on the offensive against the Taliban — targeting their leaders, challenging them in regions where they had free reign, and training Afghan national security forces. (Applause.) Our thoughts and prayers are with all our troops risking their lives for our safety in Afghanistan.

And on the civilian front, we’re insisting on greater accountability. And the Afghan government has taken concrete steps to foster development and combat corruption, and to put forward a reintegration plan that allows Afghans to lay down their arms.

The best he could come up with is “achievable goals”; he is apparently allergic to the word victory.

The major part of his speech had to do with veterans’ benefits. Even the Washington Post noticed the imbalance:

White House officials billed Obama’s remarks to the veterans group as a significant Iraq policy address, but a relatively small part of the roughly 20-minute speech was devoted to the subject. The president spoke most passionately about veterans benefits and received the most applause when he did.

Veterans’ benefits is an important topic. But it is all too apparent that this president is most comfortable when talking about social services and quite uncomfortable talking about victory in war. For those who hoped he would grow into the job of commander in chief, this is yet another sober reminder that he still doesn’t comprehend or excel at the most critical aspect of his job.

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Obama’s War to Lose

In the most recent USA Today/Gallup poll, there is only bad news for Obama:

Support for Obama’s management of the war fell to 36%, down from 48% in a February poll. Now, a record 43% also say it was a mistake to go to war there after the terrorist attacks in 2001. The decline in support contributed to the lowest approval ratings of Obama’s presidency. Amid a lengthy recession, more Americans support his handling of the economy (39%) than the war. Even Obama’s handling of the war in Iraq received record-low approval, despite a drawdown of 90,000 troops and the planned, on-schedule end of U.S. combat operations there this month. Those surveyed Tuesday through Sunday disapproved 53%-41% of the way Obama is handling his job, his lowest ratings since he took office in January 2009.

Obama’s lackluster efforts to explain the stakes in the war and his refusal to drop the timetable for withdrawal of troops have, one can gather, left liberals, conservatives, and those in between unsatisfied. Having lost so much ground with the American people and having frittered away his credibility on a variety of topics, Obama is in a poor position now to rally support. The best he can do on Afghanistan is to allow Gen. David Petraeus to try to win the war. Maybe the most he can do at this stage is get out of the way. Oh, and it wouldn’t hurt to lift that withdrawal deadline.

It is very hard to win a war, especially a long one against a cagey enemy, without a fully engaged commander in chief and a wholehearted commitment to victory. And one thing is for certain: if Obama is unpopular now, imagine what his ratings will be if he presides over defeat in a war he declared critical to our national security. Let’s hope these poll results, if nothing else, motivate Obama to show some leadership in an increasingly unpopular war. That takes a steel spine — and perhaps Obama can put aside his personal peevishness and ask George W. Bush for some pointers in that department. After all, if not for Bush, we would not now be celebrating a successful conclusion in that battlefront in the war against Islamic terrorists.

In the most recent USA Today/Gallup poll, there is only bad news for Obama:

Support for Obama’s management of the war fell to 36%, down from 48% in a February poll. Now, a record 43% also say it was a mistake to go to war there after the terrorist attacks in 2001. The decline in support contributed to the lowest approval ratings of Obama’s presidency. Amid a lengthy recession, more Americans support his handling of the economy (39%) than the war. Even Obama’s handling of the war in Iraq received record-low approval, despite a drawdown of 90,000 troops and the planned, on-schedule end of U.S. combat operations there this month. Those surveyed Tuesday through Sunday disapproved 53%-41% of the way Obama is handling his job, his lowest ratings since he took office in January 2009.

Obama’s lackluster efforts to explain the stakes in the war and his refusal to drop the timetable for withdrawal of troops have, one can gather, left liberals, conservatives, and those in between unsatisfied. Having lost so much ground with the American people and having frittered away his credibility on a variety of topics, Obama is in a poor position now to rally support. The best he can do on Afghanistan is to allow Gen. David Petraeus to try to win the war. Maybe the most he can do at this stage is get out of the way. Oh, and it wouldn’t hurt to lift that withdrawal deadline.

It is very hard to win a war, especially a long one against a cagey enemy, without a fully engaged commander in chief and a wholehearted commitment to victory. And one thing is for certain: if Obama is unpopular now, imagine what his ratings will be if he presides over defeat in a war he declared critical to our national security. Let’s hope these poll results, if nothing else, motivate Obama to show some leadership in an increasingly unpopular war. That takes a steel spine — and perhaps Obama can put aside his personal peevishness and ask George W. Bush for some pointers in that department. After all, if not for Bush, we would not now be celebrating a successful conclusion in that battlefront in the war against Islamic terrorists.

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