This article originally appeared on TomDispatch.
Let others deal with the details of President Obama’s Afghan speech, with the on-ramps and off-ramps, those 30,000 US troops going in and just where they will be deployed, the benchmarks for what’s called “good governance” in Afghanistan, the corruption of the Karzai regime, the viability of counterinsurgency warfare, the reliability of NATO allies and so on. Let’s just skip to the most essential point which, in a nutshell, is this: Victory at Last!
It’s been a long time coming, but finally American war commanders have effectively marshaled their forces, netcentrically outmaneuvering and outflanking the enemy. They have shocked-and-awed their opponents, won the necessary hearts and minds, and so, for the first time in at least two decades, stand at the heights of success, triumphant at last.
And no, I’m not talking about post-surge Iraq and certainly not about devolving Afghanistan. I’m talking about what’s happening in Washington.
A Symbolic Surrender of Civilian Authority
You may not think so, but on Tuesday night from the US Military Academy at West Point, in his first prime-time presidential address to the nation, Barack Obama surrendered. It may not have looked like that: there were no surrender documents; he wasn’t on the deck of the USS Missouri; he never bowed his head. Still, from today on, think of him not as the commander-in-chief but as the commanded-in-chief.
And give credit to the victors. Their campaign was nothing short of brilliant. Like the policy brigands they were, they ambushed the president, held him up with their threats, brought to bear key media players and Republican honchos and in the end made off with the loot. The campaign began in late September with a strategic leak of Afghan War commander General Stanley McChrystal’s grim review of the situation in that country, including demands for sizeable troop escalations and a commitment to a counterinsurgency war. It came to include rumors of potential retirements in protest if the president didn’t deliver, as well as clearly insubordinate policy remarks by General McChrystal, not to speak of an impressive citizen-mobilization of inside-the-Beltway former neocon or fighting liberal think-tank experts, and a helping hand from an admiring media. In the process, the US military succeeded in boxing in a president who had already locked himself into a conflict he had termed both “the right war” and a “necessary” one. After more than two months of painfully over-reported deliberations, President Obama has now ended up essentially where General McChrystal began.