Obama's Afganistan speech before the 'Long Gray Line'

As the country gears up for President Obama's long-awaited decision on Afghanistan, Helene Cooper's New York Times story-headline of November 25th trumpeted, "Obama Will Use West Point as Backdrop to Present Afghan Strategy."

The operative word here is "use." Yes, Obama will use--as in exploit and manipulate--the United States Military Academy and its future 2nd Lieutenants in order to promote the illusion that he is a president who can identify with the soldiers of whom he is Commander-In-Chief, and that he understands their mission.

No matter that he hasn't had much time to speak to their General or that he probably won't find himself able to approve an increase in their budget. One wonders how Obama will even talk about the mission when his administration has whitewashed war talk from its vocabulary.

Obama must be counting on these facts receding into the background as his backdrop provides the necessary visual to persuade the American public that Obama knows how to be a wartime, or is that an Overseas Contingency Operation, president.

Does he?

As the Times says, Obama's choice to speak at West Point is "calculated" to show that he is "well aware of the toll" that the wars are taking on the military. Should this be his approach, Obama will again demonstrate his inability to understand the military and military service. As Bing West pointed out in an article in National Review back in April of 2009, Obama has a problem when it comes to understanding the warrior ethos.

Another reason President Obama is off to an inauspicious start is that he doesn't understand the nature of warriors. He recently flew to North Carolina to address the Marines he is sending to Afghanistan. His subject was withdrawing from Iraq, and his remarks and tone might have been appropriate for, say, the Council on Foreign Relations. He told the troops they "got the job done" by removing Saddam Hussein and establishing a sovereign government. He then dwelled on the theme of loss. He said the Marines had "endured tour after tour," "bled for your best friends," and "borne an enormous burden." He used the word "sacrifice" repeatedly, portraying the warriors as victims rather than as the strongest tribe. He concluded by saying, "Thanks to the sacrifices of those who have served, we have forged hard-earned progress."

Progress? Our troops won in Iraq, al-Qaeda lost, and a democratic government emerged. That merits more than a nod toward "progress." The Marines respectfully listening were primed for the fight; they intend to kill Taliban, not to be killed. Warriors want to be praised for winning, not consoled for being battered.

Like the Marines, the Corps of Cadets at West Point will be a respectful audience. But just as Obama doesn't need to console Marines, neither will he need to console the cadets to whom he will be speaking. Those who will be sitting before him are young men and women who have chosen to sit in those seats. There may even be one or two who sit there precisely because of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Will Obama's advisors remind the president that we have a volunteer military? Can Obama understand that West Point is far more than a mere backdrop to be used for his personal, political gain?

The thin line that the Times wants the public to believe the president walks is not the line between "demonstrating resolve" vs. "reassuring" Americans that Afghan will not be another Vietnam. It's the line Obama must walk between not appearing too Bush-like or too hawkish to his liberal, anti-war, anti-military base while simultaneously trying to prove to the rest of the country that he is gritty and grown-up enough to understand what it means to be Commander-in-Chief of the country's armed forces.

Amy De Rosa - Amyleap229@aol.com