1 Speech, 14,000 Miles, 1 Day Fenzied News Coverage, 1 Colossal Campaign
As usual with this president, Obama‘s trip to and speech from Afghanistan had way more to do with politics than any real substance.
An entire news day, one of only 189 precious ones left before Nov. 6, not focused on Solyndras, prostitution scandals, GSA parties, $5 trillion in new national debt, no federal budget for three years running, high unemployment, sluggish growth, legal crucifixions nor Mitt Romney.
Seven thousand miles, one way, is a long journey to share war remarks with countrymen that he should have and could have shared back home many months ago. Despite the administration’s best backgrounding sales efforts, the document he signed with Afghan President Hamid Karzai is a meaningless basic agreement to talk later about forging a real agreement.
Nothing was essentially changed by what the media lovingly called his “secret trip” to the war zone, which was simply unannounced for security reasons.
The remarks (Scroll down for the full text, as usual) were well-written, even with literary flourishes about a new dawn coming as the president spoke at 4 a.m. Afghan time. He wanted to avoid any sense of “Mission Accomplished.” And at 11 minutes, blessedly brief for the Real Good Talker.
Here’s what Obama got politically from this stagecraft: Bonus public attention focused on the Osama bin Laden assassination anniversary. Photos of troops clamoring for his fist bumps. An entire day focused on him, his words and non-stop talk of the 10-year war winding down.
Nevermind the Kabul explosions, killing at least six, a couple of hours after his brief visit.
While Obama earned attention for a 2002 anti-Iraq war speech, the Afghan conflict has always been the “good war” in his eyes. Obama denounced President Bush’s Iraq troop surge that ultimately enabled Obama to claim he ended that war, But Obama ordered two of his own, larger troop surges into Afghanistan.
Back in the hand-to-hand primary combat with Hillary Clinton in 2007-08, Obama controversially said he would bomb Pakistan if necessary to rout al Qaeda leaders. He did and they were. Just last week Obama loosened the reins on human targets the CIA could vaporize with its drones in Yemen, now emerging as terrorists’ favored haunting grounds.
In the end, conservatives gave Obama more war support than his own Democrats, which neutralizes one of the GOP’s traditional strong suits of national security.
But something began happening more than a year ago. Maybe you didn’t notice with all the parochial D.C. bickering. But Obama and chief strategist David Axelrod did. Support for the war, initially fueled by revenge over 9/11, was waning. It still is.
Last month an ABC News-Washington Post Poll found for the first time a majority of Republicans felt the Afghan war has not been worth the cost. They join a larger majority of two-thirds of Americans who say the same.
Now, someone could suggest that had the current commander-in-chief done something, anything in the way of leadership, to explain and sell his hardline, erase-al-Qaeda stand, public support would be stronger. Had Obama made even 10% of the pretend, cross-country effort he invested in selling his DOA Buffet Rule, more Americans might have been more patient.
But Obama didn’t. In fact, Tuesday night’s speech from Kabul emphasizing withdrawal was his first substantive statement in eleven (11!) months. Nothing to the nation from its leader on an ongoing war for nearly one year, while finding time for 124 campaign fundraiser speeches, more golf games and vacations.
Those poll numbers were still pretty persuasive for a president who struggles to reach 50% approval in an election year. As a result, contrary to the recommendations of generals, Obama launched a significant withdrawal last year, which continues this year and has all combat troops out by the end of next year.
One little-noticed provision of the agreement Obama and Karzai signed Tuesday, however, is that American troops will remain in Afghanistan for not one, not two, not even three more years. They will be there for 12 more years, until 2024, helping. So, John McCain was correct after all about lengthy U.S. troop stationings.
In his speech last night the president noted the more than a half-million Americans who’ve served in Afghanistan. But in remarks that Obama wanted focused on an optimistic end to the conflict, he failed to mention the 1,957 Americans who’ve died there since 2001, 68% of them during his presidency. And 93 in the last 122 days.
Nor, as it turns out, could the politically-inclined president of the United States find room anywhere among his 1,556 words for the seven letters that could make his surges and all those sacrifices seem more worthwhile: “victory.”
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