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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

On the Run-Up To President Obama's Afghanistan Speech

"Now is the winter of our discontent" Richard III

What role will Pakistan play in the President's speech tonight? To what degree do Zardari and the ISI figure into the President's political calculus? That is the question talking heads in the beltway are asking. Also, more cynically, how will this speech affect independents?

All talk of Obama's speech is prefaced with the fact that his approval rating has dipped below 50% for -- they tell us breathlessly -- the first time (gasp). Have we all now become a nation of political calculators? Are we wholly mesmerized by the metrics to the exclusion of actual substance? Is this a symptom of our collective attention decline?

The speech comes on the verge of the Tareq and Michaele Salahi gatecrasher mess. Lesser minds have blown this otherworldly nexus between *reality* teevee and state dinners up into a national story. Even Charlie Rose, usually above this sort of thing (but sometimes not), wondered aloud last night if it would have an effect on U.S.-Indian relations. Hardly, Charlie: hardly.

Ralph Peters, the crankiest ex-military columnist in the Western world, rails against the military theatrics of the address:

"Flags, formality and hallowed tradition will be at the service of a policy announcement that, by tomorrow morning, the establishment media will hail as rivaling the Gettysburg Address (to the journalistic herd, every Obama utterance is greater than the last -- from Cairo to Fort Hood to West Point).

So it's clear why Obama's packagers chose West Point: military glamour, a star-struck audience of undergraduates and the subliminal message that anyone who questions the president's wisdom opposes "duty, honor, country."

Borborygmus is this man's fucking howling. Desist, Ralph, desist! But he is not alone examining the theatrics and not dealing with the substance. SNL's Harvard Lampoon alum writers, jumping the gun on Obama's China visit, proclaimed the visit fruitless. They do their college no favor in doing so, as the Chinese acquiescence on the Iran vote in the IAEA made that skit -- the coldest cold opening ever -- look foolish in retrospect.

What we do know: the President is expected to give Army General Stanley McChrystal nearly all of the 40,000 troops he requested. I do not think that it's effect on the independents was a major part of this decision (though, politically, it helps). Obama is now a part of the confederacy of Presidents. That exclusive brotherhood -- thus far, alas, no sisters -- trumps race and political creed. His war is a continuation of the sins of his other brother, Dubya. Progressives, without question, will be furious, no matter what dressing or theatrics or spin the President puts on things. This is his base. One wonders what this disappointment will mean to all the dewy-eyed "Change" first-time voters.

One wonders if Obama's follow-ups in Copenhagen and in accepting the Nobel Peace Prize -- from what Gore Vidal called on the occasion of Kissinger's award "those ironists of outer Europe" -- can lessen the blow that the choice of a new generation is, on Afghanistan, not to different from his previous presidential brethren.

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