Stirewalt: Obama delivers a cynical speech to a cynical nation

President Obama's invocations of Sept. 11 in his West Point speech on Afghanistan landed with a clatter.

To anti-war liberals, it was a reminder of their revulsion every time George W. Bush used the attacks as a pretext for his foreign policy. From the moment Bush grabbed the bullhorn at the ruins of the World Trade Center, they felt that he had co-opted a national tragedy for his own agenda.

So it came as a particularly cruel irony for many of the president's most ardent supporters when he argued for escalating a war most liberals believe should be ended, framing his argument in the same terms that launched the Bush doctrine.

Obama won the Democratic nomination because of his anti-war credentials and liberal anger at Hillary Clinton's vote to authorize the Iraq war.

Obama said we should have been focused on capturing Osama bin Laden instead of getting “bogged down” in Iraq, but candidate Obama certainly didn't suggest we needed 100,000 troops to build a Western-style society in the perpetually failed state of Afghanistan.

Obama was talking about an effort to capture an international criminal mastermind, not an open-ended commitment to a clash of civilizations.

Democrats once joked about the Republican fixation on Sept. 11. Recall how then-presidential candidate Joe Biden mocked Rudy Giuliani in 2007 saying: “There's only three things he mentions in a sentence: a noun, and a verb, and 9/11.”

Biden may have been a perfectly absurd presidential contender, but his derision for Giuliani's 9/11-based worldview was hardly out of the Democratic mainstream.

That's why Obama is asking Americans to support his plan for Afghanistan in the same spirit that they initially embraced the war after 9/11, not in the factious manner we currently address foreign policy.

“The decision to go into Iraq caused substantial rifts between America and much of the world,” Obama lamented.

But the Left, including Obama, would have been appalled if Bush had sent a huge occupation force to Afghanistan in the spring of 2002. And if Bush had undertaken a covert war by land and air in Pakistan of the scale Obama is now pursuing, liberals certainly would have been outraged.

Obama says that such extraordinary measures are now necessary because Bush bungled the job in Afghanistan. But liberals hardly sound convinced that the way out of Afghanistan is to go in deeper. The anger on the Left over Obama's war is very real and likely permanent.

Doves hate Obama's politically cynical move to call for more troops while simultaneously promising an exit.

They don't believe the withdrawal will begin in 18 months. They see that the president has left himself enough wiggle room to keep the 100,000 troops, or most of them, in place for a very long time.

Obama's pitch likely sounds pretty cynical to less-ideological Americans.

Consider the fact that Obama says domestic economic conditions should be a consideration in deciding whether or not to continue or curtail our commitment to the war.

Many are shocked at the idea of sending men and women to get killed for a mission so ephemeral that the president might pull the plug if it takes too much money away from his domestic agenda.

A war that's good enough to die for, but not worth going into debt for would be a hard argument to make for a president who plans to double the national debt over the next decade on re-engineering American society.

But for hawks, it's the cynicism that they like most about Obama's war plan.

They may be trashing Obama's strategy, but they're still urging Congress to fund the plan.

Hawks hate his deadlines, debilitating rules of engagement, and nation building, but are willing to go along for the sake of perpetuating the war.

Like the opponents of the surge, supporters are betting that Obama knows he will have to send more troops to fight longer and harder than he says. Both hawks and doves believe the president is talking for purposes of public consumption, not a realistic plan.

The biggest casualty in Tuesday night's speech was Obama's credibility. Even his detractors were taken aback that he would be so calculating, even on matters of life and death.

Chris Stirewalt is the political editor of The Washington Examiner. He can be reached at cstirewalt@dcexaminer.com

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