'/> Uncommon Hours: Déjà-Bush?
Blogging on culture, politics, and the environment since 2008.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


by Bob Sommer
Uncommon Hours

You couldn’t miss the déjà-Bush-all-over-again elements of Obama’s speech last night – the military setting, the audience of uniformed cadets all sitting stiffly and attentively as their Commander-in-Chief addressed them on a matter of war. Officers, generals, the Secretary of Defense, the Military Academy at West Point: Who was the real audience?

Unlike Bush, who turned soldiers into props and military bases into stage settings, Obama seemed to have a different purpose in going to West Point, one that may be even more troubling than Bush’s play-soldiering.

“As cadets,” Obama told his live audience, “you volunteered for service during this time of danger. Some of you have fought in Afghanistan. Many will deploy there. As your Commander-in-Chief, I owe you a mission that is clearly defined, and worthy of your service.” [my emphasis]

If the right wing was worried about Obama bowing to a foreign leader (which didn’t trouble me at all), I worry about him bowing to the military. Ever since McCrystal returned from Afghanistan and demanded 40,000 troops, it seemed that the military was the decision-maker in this process. What was McCrystal doing on TV a few weeks back stoking up the public? Michael Moore was right: he should have been fired then.

Maybe eight years of Bush incessantly declaring that “the generals on the ground” would tell him what to do has finally evolved into a kind of unwritten law – a paradigm for military decision-making in the state of endless war that Bush & Co. bequeathed us. And precisely what the Founders wanted to avoid when they made a civilian leader the commander-in-chief of the military.

The JFK analogies that seemed so apt (and hopeful) last year during the campaign dissolved last evening. During the Cuban missile crisis, Kennedy not only stared down Khrushchev, but also his own generals, who were more than eager to punch the nuke button. And he had to distance himself from the military mystique which the Cold War had inherited from the living memory of World War II, in which he’d also played a significant role. Like then, the military has gained an extraordinary mystique in the post-9/11 period. How do you stare these generals down after eight years of war?

MacArthur may have succeeded in getting Truman to cross the Pacific to meet him – and even in making Truman wait for him once he arrived – but Truman had his own mind about what should happen next, and he wasn’t about to let MacArthur decide for him.

What a shame it was, then, not only to see Obama cave on escalating this war, but believe he needed to go to West Point because he owed them a mission.

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