July 23, 2008
As known by readers of these posts, I consider it rare for my views to meet approbation when first expressed. It usually takes months or years for agreement to arise, if then. People do resist logic and facts, you know.
Some of this sounds pretty arrogant, I suppose. But it’s the way I feel. (Paul Krugman occasionally expresses a similar feeling, as sometimes commented here.) I feel this way to the extent that, if my views meet immediate approval among the cognoscenti, I jokingly say that perhaps I should reassess my opinions.
I was therefore very surprised when yesterday, Tuesday, two major Washington figures expressed views very similar to ones posted here the day before, on Monday. Monday’s post questioned the wisdom of the position taken by both McCain and Obama that we should fight a larger war in Afghanistan. This seems to be a position Obama is repairing to in order to gain political cover for his desire to withdraw from Iraq, or perhaps to obtain middle of the road and other votes, or perhaps out of true belief, or perhaps out of some combination of these. But yesterday, on Tom Ashbrook’s On Point, both Zbigniew Brzezinski and Lawrence Wilkerson expressed opposition to a heavy additional militarization of our efforts in Afghanistan. Their positions seemed not greatly different from my own, although, in the part of the program that I listened to (I didn’t hear all of it), I don’t recollect them delving too deeply into reasons, especially some offered here on Monday. Maybe this is a failure of memory on my part, or maybe they elaborated during some part of the program I didn’t hear. Whatever the case, and without reiterating the reasons given in Monday’s post, it was very surprising to hear two Washington figures, at least one of whom is a Democrat, take a position similar to my own and contrary to Obama’s. It was so surprising that this current post was written to take notice of it.
As for Obama himself, he seems to be drinking the same Kool Aid that was drunk by, and destroyed the presidencies of, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. He is spouting apocalyptic visions combined with a possible need for unilateral warmaking. In a Sunday, July 20th transcript of an interview with CBS News (which I read on Tuesday the 22nd), Obama says Afghanistan must be the “central front,” it is where “they can plan attacks” and “have sanctuary,” where they gather huge sums from the drug trade. He says we must “rebuild roads” and “provide electricity” and show people we are there “to stay over the long haul.” It is all very reminiscent of -- in parts identical to -- Johnson’s and Nixon’s statements about Nam, Nixon’s about Cambodia (a claimed sanctuary for planning and refitting), Bush II’s about Iraq. Without getting into reasons canvassed on Monday as to why this all seems doomed foolishness in Afghanistan, suffice to say here that statements made by Obama to CBS News would indicate he has learned nothing from the debacles in Indo China and Iraq. They are especially dumb for having been made by a guy who is quite smart (unlike Hillary Clinton or McCain). They illustrate that one courts disaster when one makes statements for political purposes regardless of their truth or accuracy (which I think a possibility here). If Obama, as President, were to really follow the prescriptions he gave CBS News, it would destroy his Presidency almost as surely as Nam and Iraq destroyed Johnson’s, Nixon’s and Bush II’s. Britain and Russia, both at the height of empire, met disaster in Afghanistan, and so would Obama in all probability. As Brzezinski said on Ashbrook’s program, one can create apocalyptic visions that lead one to disaster in an effort to ward off the envisioned apocalypse. (In Nam the apocalyptic vision was the domino theory, which is just a version of the lamentable, false lawyer’s logic which says if A, then necessarily B, if B, then necessarily C, if C, then necessarily D, etc., etc., until we supposedly will be fighting the commies in the streets of San Francisco.)
If, on the other hand, Obama retreats from his prescriptions when they come under attack -- attacks that could well occur when you consider that Washington insiders like Brzezinski and Wilkerson, already disagree with them -- he will be accused again of flip flopping. This could be especially harmful to him if he has to retreat before November 4th, since he already is being accused of being a flip flopper, of being someone who trims his sails to the political winds. He thus seems to have gotten himself into a trap, at least if the attack on his views comes before the election, a trap in which he must either continue with an apocalyptic position, or flip flop, or seek, not very convincingly, to deny what is plain on the face of the transcript.
The whole business reminds one of a story about FDR and, I think it was, Sam Rosenman, one of his major aides. Before an election, in a speech in Pittsburgh, FDR made some promise or other. After being elected (or reelected), FDR did the opposite of what he promised (like the first Bush raising taxes after saying “No new taxes”). Roosevelt began taking heat for his flip flop, so he asked Rosenman to take a look at what he had said in Pittsburgh in order to try to reconcile his later action with his earlier Pittsburgh statements. Rosenman read the Pittsburgh speech and reported back his conclusion. The only thing you can do, he told FDR, is to deny you were ever in Pittsburgh.
Just so. Obama has trapped himself. The only thing he can do to escape may be to deny he ever was interviewed by CBS News.*
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