Opaque Obama

During the most violent summer of a war soon to enter its tenth year, Andrew Bacevich writes:

Much as Iraq was Bush’s war, Afghanistan has become Obama’s war. Yet the president clearly wants nothing more than to rid himself of his war. Obama has prolonged and escalated a conflict in which he himself manifestly does not believe. When after months of deliberation (or delay) he unveiled his Afghan “surge” in December 2009, the presidential trumpet blew charge and recall simultaneously. Even as Obama ordered more troops into combat, he announced their planned withdrawal “because the nation that I’m most interested in building is our own.”

The Americans who elected Obama president share that view. Yet the expectations of change that vaulted him to the presidency went well beyond the issue of priorities. Obama’s supporters were counting on him to bring to the White House an enlightened moral sensibility: He would govern differently not only because he was smarter than his predecessor but because he responded to a different — and truer — inner compass.

Events have demolished such expectations. Today, when they look at Washington, Americans see a cool, dispassionate, calculating president whose administration lacks a moral core. For prosecution exhibit number one, we need look no further than the meandering course of Obama’s war, its casualties and costs mounting without discernible purpose.

Bacevich concludes by asking:

Who is more deserving of contempt? The commander-in-chief who sends young Americans to die for a cause, however misguided, in which he sincerely believes? Or the commander-in-chief who sends young Americans to die for a cause in which he manifestly does not believe and yet refuses to forsake?

Any president who sends young Americans to die for no good reason is undoubtedly deserving great contempt, yet to observe that Obama’s war is a war he doesn’t believe in, begs an even more troubling question: Does Obama believe in anything?

How can a man whose ambitions, character, strengths and weaknesses were all hard to measure before he entered office, be even harder to read now that he has acquired a presidential track record — relatively short as that might be?

While George Bush might have entered office with a transparent sense of entitlement, what propelled Obama? Were his ambitions wrecked by impossibly difficult circumstances, or did they never hold any more substance than the nebulous promises of his campaign?

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7 thoughts on “Opaque Obama

  1. John Merryman


    I have a lot of respect for your view, but the fact remains that reality is far more complex than our ideals. It seems that no matter our political or religious convictions, there is the assumption that an ideal exists to which we are drawn. Though everyone has different ideas in which direction it is.
    What if this is not so? In a purely mathematical sense, the absolute, the universal state, is basis, not apex. If there is a moral, spiritual and intellectual absolute which reflects this fact, rather than one based on our most fervent wishes, than this source is the essence from which we rise, not an ideal from which we fell.
    In that case, all these conflicts to which we are so devoted are relational. All propping each other up and all destined to fall together. Good and bad are not us versus them. Light versus darkness. They are the basic biological binary code of the attraction of the beneficial and repulsion of the detrimental. What is good for the fox, is bad for the chicken, but there is no clear line where the chicken ends and the fox begins. Life is just bootstrapping itself up out of the primordial swamp and taking hundreds of millions of years to do so, with our momentous times as little more than a bump in the road.
    So maybe Obama really is hollow inside. But then, maybe he knows it at a far deeper level than most are willing to venture? Maybe he has sold his soul to the devil of the status quo in the forlorn hope of reforming it, having seen in brutal detail how easily it quashes those who fight for something more. He is the man in the middle, but it’s the middle of a vortex, with every point of reference spinning around and going down.
    If there is a grand plan here, it’s in the physics, not the politics. Mass contracts and energy expands. The future you want to see will be the grass and weeds growing up in the rubble when all this collapses.
    Obama is just a man who tried to climb to the top and actually made it, only to find it collapsing around him. People like you and I would have never made it there, because we are not true believers. That is why we are on the outside, looking in.
    In the long run, all our progress and technology is no more advanced than what biology was developing a hundred million years ago, as multi-celled organisms started to form. Human civilization is just the planetary organism growing itself a central nervous system. It has many generations to go before it becomes functional though.
    Sorry for the rant, but I’m feeling a little sorry for Obama.

  2. hquain

    Bacevich’s remarks are tendentiously phrased; their aim is to attach political negatives to Obama, not to understand his actions or possibilities. You can tell us this from the way he bounces from catch-phrase to catch-phrase — “Obama’s war” for starters (as if he could have disavowed it) — and ends up asking us to decide whether Obama is contemptible or super-contemptible because, in a final catch-phrase, he “sends young Americans to die” (as if he could just call the whole thing off).

    The “President” doesn’t really exist as a person; “President” is the name for a collectivity of administrators and decision-makers (or -avoiders), of which the human President is the public face. Obama’s team is remarkably ineffective, but it is misconceived to construct this as essentially a personal failure.

    Let’s suppose that Obama-the-person does not in fact “believe in” the war (to use another of Bacevich’s odd catch-phrases); i.e. that he understand that it is senseless and doomed to ghastly failure. Let’s suppose that he therefore wants to end it as soon as possible, on terms as favorable as possible to legitimate interests (of some kind). How is Obama-the-President going to get this to happen? This is the question worth asking; a presidency is defined by its results, not by some fictional innerness. The sad fact is that even a truly effective strategy could involve Obama in a public charade of the sort that he’s been pursuing.

    The country is as completely owned as a company town — that’s the lesson we learn from the current administration — and its politics are easily manipulated through appeal to ethnic and sectional sentiments. You can look, and perhaps be, mighty powerful when like Cheney-Bush you facilitate the owners and the sentiments. You look, and certainly are, haplessly feeble if you contemplate much else.

    Obama and his team have played a weak hand weakly. The proper response is not contempt, but despair.

  3. Stephen Ward

    What I have heard Bacevich say in the past is that Obama knows he can’t win re-election unless he appears to be vigorously prosecuting the Afghan war. So he is cold bloodedly trading lives, both American, British, and Afghan, for his own political gain, something that is more reprehensible that what Bush did.

  4. Werner Simon

    It appears that Obama, the politican is winning out over Obama, the statesman. Obama bashing is a sterile exercise, but provides a personal psychological outlet for frustrated voters who believed in candidate Obama’s call for “change.”

  5. Norman

    There is the possibility that he, “O” , or the other power point people around him, (Military) , are considering an Iran exercise. Today, there is word that the AIPAC & the same people who ginned up the War in Iraq, are at it again to bomb/invade Iran before they get the W.M.D.s which will threaten the U.S.A. This looks like the same crap used in the Vietnam War excuse, the “Domino Theory”. The country, (U.S.A.) is bleeding, yet this Government insists on spending Treasury in a place where there is no value to the taxpayers, only to the contractors. When one looks at how the Iraqi debacle has turned out, Afghanistan is headed the same way. So, Israel goads the U.S., read “O” into striking Iran, then what, Jordan, Syria, any other Muslim/Arab country that try to up grade their country? Personally, I believe that every person, both male & female who advocate the continuance of this madness, be put into uniform, sent into the war zone, that includes the sympathizers of the Israelis in the U.S. too, regardless of their ages. If the P.O.T.U.S. falls for the charade, then he should don a uniform too and join them.

  6. Roger Lafontaine

    I wonder if the presidency as such has ceased to exist. We are ruled by a committee, and truly, by the security apparatus, the shadow state. Obama found out or probably already knew that the president has no power. Carter struggled against that and was sabotaged in that fatal raid in Iran. Kennedy dared confront that and was assassinated. That’s how our democracy works since the advent of the National Security State.

  7. Renfro

    Bacevich echos my view of Obama.
    People thought they were getting a leader above the herd with Obama. So far he has turned out to be just another politican….re-elections and the party and campaign donors come ahead of the country.

    I have said for a long time voting doesn’t work any longer…the system is far too corrupt for anyone ethical to slip through and survive for long in the WH or congress.

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