March 30, 2007
Honor, Obama, and HonoréBy Michael J. O'Shea
Barack Obama has come to embody a dream of many, a dream of a black president. We all have our dreams, though. Suppose it came down to two - Barack Obama vs. General Russel Honoré, of Hurricane Katrina fame: would it even be close?
Soaring the one:
Rooted the other :
Tall both, black both, of mixed heritage both, yet in the end, lad vs. leader.
Barack Obama has done much in his 45 years, yet little compared with many of his political ancestors. When the Declaration of Independence was signed, George Washington was 44, Thomas Jefferson 33, John Adams 41, Alexander Hamilton 21, James Madison 25.
Recall our Founders' words :
We might hear them on Obama's lips, but we can see them in Honoré's jaw.
Who would sacrifice himself for something greater than himself, as did Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Jason Dunham? It's easy to lead those who want to be led, hard to tell them hard truths. Honoré has
But Obama and hard truth? When he addressed fellow blacks at the anniversary of the Selma March, he chose to speak lyrically of Moses. He failed to say that Moses had to be less shepherd and more cattle-prod wielding trail boss; that God Himself called his followers "corrupt," "wicked," "stiff-necked"; that they grumbled, longed to return to slavery, threatened to stone Moses, cursed their fate: and died in the desert because they weren't living up to their promise.
He did note that Moses didn't reach the Promised Land; he didn't recall that his followers didn't. Their children, not they, entered the "land of milk and honey." And the children only made it because Moses goaded them on, because they learned God would always be with them if they were always with God.
When Obama spoke poetically of Joshua, he neglected to note that Joshua was a warrior, that the price of the Promised Land was not just faith but also blood, that his people turned against each other, were on the verge of a civil war, but were saved only a reminder of the faith that both sides, by the grace of God, deep down still shared.
Had Honoré decided to speak of Moses and Joshua, can you doubt he would have been as stark as Scripture, more Bill Cosby than Jesse Jackson, Juan Williams than Al Sharpton, insisting that his people be all they can be?
Even, and especially, the poor. Obama's compassion for them is certainly heartfelt. Honoré's is bone-deep.
Long before he became a three-star General, Russel Honoré was a dirt-poor Louisiana farm boy, one of twelve children, caring for Weasel the cow and Big Dan the horse, growing corn, cotton, and deep in his Catholic faith. Thomas Jefferson's said, "those who labour in the earth are the chosen people of God." Russel Honoré embodies that truth: "chosen" because he's "humble" in the literal meaning of the word - from "humus," Latin for ground, earth, soil, land, country: in short, down to earth. In Russel Honoré's case, earthy, too.
It's ironic: the more grounded a man is, the more uplifting he can be.
A farmer has to dig as much into himself as he does into the earth, grow himself as much as he does crops. Or as the General put it:
Barack Obama may not waste daylight, but he has wasted opportunities, and not just at Selma. Catching the Katrina wave, he excoriated the federal government for failing to perform, citing black poverty, wretched education, horrid housing, inexcusable lack of hurricane protection - and not once addressing four successive black mayors presiding over that vomitable status, nor corruption so deep dozens of local and state officials have been indicted, with most already pleading guilty.
Had Obama peered beneath the surface, he would known that, a full year before Katrina, Hurricane Ivan almost smashed New Orleans, that The Washington Post wrote
A full year before Katrina, the Post described the havoc Ivan caused:
Not a word on that from Obama.
A full year before Katrina, the Post went on:
WWL-TV quoted the Superdome spokesman - a year before Katrina:
Not a word about that from Obama.
WWL noted - a year before Katrina:
WWL added - a year before Katrina:
But not a word from Obama to mayor, governor, local levee officials, or Congressmen about what they hadn't done after Ivan - a full year before Katrina; only lashes at FEMA.
Contrast that with Honoré:
Russel Honoré knew that of 9/11's 2,752 deaths, 442 were first responders, that with Katrina there could have been more.
Had Obama really wanted to help, he would have addressed mundane-but-life-saving matters - logistics, tracking systems, alternate routes when highways and bridges are washed out - and confronted local leaders about schools and housing rancid years before Katrina hit.
Neither FEMA nor the Corps of Engineers caused schools and housing to rot. If Obama wants to speak truth to power, then he should have spoken it to powers in New Orleans. Honoré would have, had he been in Obama's shoes.
But, then, try to picture Obama in Honoré's Katrina shoes.
Obama or Honoré to face down Faubus in Little Rock, Wallace in Tuscaloosa, Saddam in Iraq?
Passing laws and resolutions is fine, but, if that's all they are, they're about as helpful as passing gas: they have to be enforced.
Obama has repeatedly called the Iraq war "dumb." Does he know what inspectors Ekeus and Butler said before the war and inspector Duelfer said after Saddam fell? Does he think Khadaffi would have given up WMD had there been no invasion, that Saddam would have let the Libyan upstage him, would have permitted Iran to surpass him?
Ahmadinejad talks of attacking Israel: Saddam did. What better way to show himself supreme than destroy despised Jews - not with SCUDs but with nuclear-tipped missiles? Saddam then would not have been limited to Iraq: he could have swayed the Middle East and beyond, with Uday and Qusay lusting to succeed him.
What good are arms controls if a Saddam refuses to obey them? Were he still free to get them, A.Q. Khan might still be free to sell them. What nightmare: nuclear India vs. nuclear Pakistan, nuclear Iraq vs. nuclear Iran, nuclear Libya, nuclear North Korea, and God knows nuclear-who-else.
Barack Obama said of Saddam in 2002:
Oil for Food evidently taught the Senator nothing. Saddam mocked sanctions - on the verge of ending entirely - and planned to resume WMD once they were gone.
Scorn the government for not heeding warnings about levees, rebuke Bush for heeding them about Saddam from every intelligence agency in the world except Baghdad, believe yourself that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons and was eager to gain nuclear ones - and then call the war "dumb": amazing.
Tell that to Kuwait. Israel. Iran. Tell it to the American no-fly zone pilots.
Would that evil were predictable. But, then, who would ever have predicted Al Qaeda would gut the America embassy in Kenya, Barack Obama's father's homeland, where "sisters and brothers" - and grandmother - still live, thank God, today?
Afghanistan as a nation didn't attack the US: madmen did, not an Afghan among them. They're dead; most of their leaders are, too: invading Afghanistan must then surely have been "dumb." Afghanistan, ranked 221 out of 229 countries in GDP, with poppies the major "P" in its GDP. What a threat.
Some 370 US troops have died in Afghanistan, eight-and-a-half times more sacrificed all in Iraq - while 99% return home alive, 98.6% come back unwounded, freeing 50 million people, gaining hundreds of thousands of troops speaking the terrorists' tongue, knowing terrorists' terrain, fighting terrorists to the death: and yet "dumb." Stunning.
Suicide bombers didn't start in Iraq but they were backed by Iraq against Israelis. Learning to stop them now - along with IEDs - will boost, not cripple, troops in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world.
Then there's America's word. Iraq has been a troubled pregnancy, as pregnancy at times are no matter the medical or moral advice. Obama advocates an abortion, late-term, but an abortion still, and expects others to trust America still, expects Al Qaeda not to feast on a withdrawal, its ranks not to boom with a feat - and a defeat - like that.
General Honoré knows better:
And will kill.
Barack Obama seems to have given that no thought. A leader would.
Wise men for centuries were guided by stars; stars of a different kind guide some today. Who guides Obama - Moses or Michael Moore, Let my people free or Leave those people be, decades in the desert or decades under Saddam with more to come?
Barack Obama stated:
The only one: it's senseless then to build up Iraqi troops and police, senseless to see that "Clear, Hold, and Build" applies first to those forces themselves - "Clearing" out corrupt ones, "Holding" onto good ones, "Building" up their competence and courage. Most would think that as urgent in Baghdad as it is in New Orleans.
Senator Obama doesn't appear to realize that progress in Iraq has led to the horrors in Iraq, that terrorists capitalize on every advance - from the more than 600,00 cars imported since Saddam fell to tooling some of them into suicide bombs; that the millions of cell phones impossible before but ubiquitous now also become terrorist tools; that satellite TV outlawed before spouts Al Jazeera terror taunts now; that Internet links insignificant before are integral now to Al Qaeda beheadings, training, intimidation.
He opposes the "surge," apparently unaware that it was impossible until now because Iraqi forces weren't ready until now. Only now do most match Americans in valor, dying three times more often yet daily uprooting terrorists, seizing weapons caches, saving Iraqi civilians, gaining Iraqi trust, respect - and tips.
American soldiers have had centuries to get it right; in just months, they already call Iraqi counterparts "brothers," one reason why tens of thousands, year after year, volunteer to go back.
How sad that Illinois' first black senator would pervert the first black chairman of the Joint Chiefs' words. Over a decade ago, Colin Powell said of the then-Iraqi army, "First we're going to cut if off, then we're going to kill it." That's what Barack Obama would do to the American army today: cut it off from completing its mission, kill its morale, wound it in the eyes of enemies around the world certain that America would either bluff or back out.
Israel's wall has, slashing suicide attacks there, leaving Israel safer, more productive, more peaceful. Baghdad alone has almost as many people as all of Israel - crammed into 1/30th the space. The senator seems to believe that it, backed by US and Iraqis troops, can't eventually breathe as freely as Israelis do.
Anyone sensible knows there can be no political solution without a military one nor a military one without a political one. Anyone aware knows a political solution - with UN delays and Sistani stubbornness - has been underway for four year, finally bringing Kurds, Shias, and Sunnis together, chiseling a constitution, electing interim leaders, choosing full-powered ones in office less than a year. In that year, who's done more - the American Congress or the Iraqi Parliament?
Immigration demands a political solution: Congress, with no bombs exploding, hasn't delivered it - or health care reform, Social Security stability, energy independence. Congress has had 218 years to get its kinks out; Iraq's parliament has had one. And has watched governors, mayors, and others working to rebuild Iraq assassinated by assassins who also blow up boys and girls.
What kind of animal kills just to kill? The press scorns big game hunters who do. Animal rights activists abhor slaughter - but in Iraq it's not just OK, it's the way those people are.
There are savages in this world. There are gangs more ruthless. There are leaders more remorseless still. And there are the most satanic of all - killers who kill in the name of God.
Terrorists know terrorism sells. Look at headlines. Watch TV. Politicians would kill for coverage like that. Terrorists do.
Obama says Iraq is a "civil war": the Organization of the Islamic Conference - including Iraqi Sunni and Shia clerics both - says it's not, the preeminent Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis adds that fundamental Islamists are as representative of Islam as the KKK is of Christianity: but Obama, who reads Arabic numbers, knows better.
If Sunnis and Shias are eternal enemies, then his Sunni father must have despised the 560,000 Shias in his native Kenya, Kareem Abdul Jabbar must be a killer in waiting, Hakeem Olajuwon an assassin in disguise. And American ambassador Zal Khalilzad: whom does he murder first - Sunni father or Shia mother?
Harvard taught Obama how to read law: one would have hoped life taught him how to read good men.
Men like American Major General Joseph Fil.
When the commanding general of the Multinational Division in Baghdad says there can be peace in Iraq, you'd think Barack Obama would listen.
Maybe he prefers John Lennon's style of peace: but, then, along came Mark David Chapman.
There will always be a Chapman, a Saddam. Even in the Garden of Paradise, said to have been between the Tigris and the Euphrates, in Iraq, there was a snake, an evil one. And even in that Garden, Adam had to work. He tended trees, had to get his hands dirty, was something of a farmer.
As Russel Honoré still is today, growing beans, peas, peppers, pumpkins, while he trains troops for Iraq, where his son served and where he himself earlier fought during Desert Storm. The General relaxes listening to B.B. King, known for "The Thrill Is Gone," and Tina Turner famed for "We Don't Need Another Hero."
Russel Honoré says he's no hero, just a soldier. Maybe that's why he knows what's a stake at home ("You can't swing a stick at a location where people don't need help") and abroad ("We will win this fight."). He added.
In an era of Web surfing, channel surfing, skimming the surface of seemingly everything, a Jacques Cousteau at home in the deep may seem quaint, as may a farmer plowing soil. But, when you've seen an explorer and a grower, a surfer just won't do.
Russel Honoré isn't running; would that he would. He's a soldier, not a Marine, yet he embodies the Marine motto: "No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy." Would that Barack Obama matched his mettle.