It Looks Like We're Wimpy

Wimpy was one of the characters in the Popeye the Sailor cartoon series from 1929 to 1994. Popeye was the quintessential American hero. He traveled the world fighting such villains as Brutus (aka Bluto) and Sea Hag. No matter how tough the challenge, in the end, Popeye always saved the day with the super-human strength he gained from eating his canned spinach. Wimpy, on the other hand, was a lovable but annoying moocher. His two pastimes were eating hamburgers and running scams to avoid paying the check. It was Wimpy who coined the famous line:

I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.

Does this sound like anyone else we know?  From Warren Buffett's 1987 Letter to Shareholders:

As they say in Poker: If you've been in the game 30 minutes and you don't know who the patsy is, you're the patsy!

That's right, folks. We're Wimpy and we prove it every day. The American consumer saves a pitiful 3% of disposable income while stacking up consumer debt (excluding mortgages) to 130% of disposable income. Well, we want what we want when we want it. Pitiful Peter Piper perpetually postpones paying for pecks of pickled peppers other people picked. Don't bother saying it fast. It's depressing at any speed.

No one wants to be considered Wimpy, but everyone wants to be Popeye. What's not to like about saving the day? Even Barack Obama would probably like to be viewed as Popeye. Unfortunately he's too closely aligned with the likes of Bill Ayers, Reverend Wright, Saul Alinsky, Karl Marx, Mao Tse-Tung, Rahm Emanuel, Van Jones, and Anita Dunn to be convincing as Popeye. Besides, President Obama would probably prefer fresh arugula over canned spinach anyway.

To further compound matters for American consumers, we're not responsible for just our own personal finances. It's also our civic duty to elect politicians to manage our nation's financial affairs. Our national debt is now over $11.9 trillion and climbing fast. If, collectively, we can't exercise sufficient financial discipline in our own homes, how can we be expected to recognize fiscal discipline in those who are trained to deceive us? Congress knows we love hamburgers, so they keep plying us with more and pushing off the bill until Tuesday. China is starting to wonder which Tuesday we're talking about. We're addicted to foreign oil, and we're also addicted to running up personal debt beyond our means to pay. How can we fairly blame Congress for running up our country's tab with the Chinese?

Unfortunately, there's another kind of wimpy we have to deal with now. We're also wimpy as in: we look wimpy to the rest of the world. Back in August, General Stanley McChrystal delivered his 66-page assessment of the Afghanistan theatre. In that report, he requested an additional 40,000 troops to conduct the strategy that Commander-in-Chief Barack Obama announced in March. It's worth noting here that Commander-in-Chief Barack Obama himself appointed General McChrystal to his present assignment as Commander of American forces in Afghanistan.

It might be helpful to repeat 'Commander-in-Chief Barack Obama' whenever possible. Repetition will help us become accustomed to the idea and perhaps even give it some measure of credibility. Repetition can be very effective. Candidate Barack Obama repeated ad nauseam during the campaign that President Bush had his priorities wrong, that the focus should be on Afghanistan, not Iraq. We apparently believed him because we elected him to be Commander-in-Chief Barack Obama. Some of us may have even assumed that he had some ideas of his own about what should be done in Afghanistan. Many of us, however, were not optimistic that Commander-in-Chief Barack Obama would support a surge in Afghanistan because he voted against the surge in Iraq. Others among us held out hope that Commander-in-Chief Barack Obama would indeed support a surge in Afghanistan, provided that it was an Obama surge and not a Bush surge. Most of us don't really care much about the brand. We just want our troops to have the resources they need to win and then come home safely.

On the morning talk shows last Sunday, Obama Administration officials tried to explain the delay in deciding when to decide about possibly deciding about possibly committing the additional troops that General McChrystal has requested. Rahm Emanuel explained to John King of CNN that we need to wait until we have a "true partner" in Afghanistan. Since it was a Sunday, it was also a good day to blame George Bush. Likewise, the Popeye cartoons wouldn't have been nearly as interesting without a villain such as Brutus or Sea Hag to contrast with the hero.

On Wednesday, Dick Cheney stopped the cartoon and gave us a little reality. He announced that Commander-in-Chief Barack Obama had actually adopted a strategy for Afghanistan "that bore a striking resemblance" to what the Bush Administration had suggested during the transition. From Dick Cheney's speech last week at the Center for Security Policy:

President Obama has said he understands the stakes for America. When he announced his new strategy, he couched the need to succeed in the starkest possible terms, saying, quote, "If the Afghan government falls to the Taliban -- or allows al-Qaeda to go unchallenged -- that country will again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they possibly can." End quote.

Five months later, in August of this year, speaking at the VFW, the President made a promise to America's armed forces. "I will give you a clear mission," he said, "defined goals, and the equipment and support you need to get the job done. That's my commitment to you."

It's time for President Obama to make good on his promise. The White House must stop dithering while America's armed forces are in danger.

Make no mistake: signals of indecision out of Washington hurt our allies and embolden our adversaries. Waffling while our troops on the ground face an emboldened enemy endangers the troops and hurts our cause.
Recently, President Obama's advisors have decided that it's easier to blame the Bush Administration than support our troops. This weekend, they leveled a charge that cannot go unanswered. The President's Chief of Staff claimed that the Bush Administration hadn't asked any tough questions about Afghanistan, and he complained that the Obama Administration had to start from scratch to put together a strategy.

In the fall of 2008, fully aware of the need to meet new challenges being posed by the Taliban, we dug into every aspect of Afghanistan policy, assembling a team that traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan, reviewing options and recommendations, and briefing President-elect Obama's team. They asked us not to announce our findings publicly, and we agreed, giving them the benefit of our work and the benefit of the doubt. The new strategy they embraced in March, with a focus on counterinsurgency and an increase in the numbers of troops, bears a striking resemblance to the strategy we passed to them. They made a decision - a good one, I think - and sent a commander into the field to implement it.

Now they seem to be pulling back and blaming others for their failure to implement the strategy they embraced. It's time for President Obama to do what it takes to win a war he has repeatedly and rightly called a war of necessity.

We blame Congress for our obscene level of national debt which is, in fact, a direct result of our own collective lack of financial discipline. The Obama Administration must feel emboldened to continue blaming the Bush Administration. We seem to get away with blaming others for our problems; why shouldn't they? We should expect the 'blame Bush' drumbeat to continue. Meanwhile, we should all be very thankful that Commander-in-Chief Franklin Roosevelt did not wait for a "true partner" in either Germany or Japan.

As consumers, it looks like we're Wimpy. Now, for a nation that's supposed to be a super-power, it looks like we're wimpy.