The morning after Barack Obama’s disappointing but certainly not wholly unexpected electoral win over John McCain, I got to thinking about what we needed to see out of Americans from that day forward. Despite the loss the night before, I felt we needed to remember that time and time again we have proven to be a center-right nation, and that in order to survive the Obama presidency and thrive in its aftermath, we needed to “return to the message that captivates those of us who work hard, who fear God, who believe in the fundamental, unequivocal, unconditional greatness of the United States of America.”
I don’t think, at the time, I realized just how much of a role the notion of American exceptionalism–and, most conspicuously, a lack of appreciation of it from certain segments of our ruling class–would play over the course of the next year-and-a-half. To me, the notion of American exceptionalism was a given; right or left, Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, I just could not fathom that anybody truly wanted to see our nation knocked down a peg or two.
And it’s not as though I wasn’t familiar with Barack Obama, who he was, and the type of people he counted as friends, looked up to as mentors, and elevated as idols. It’s not as though I failed to understand that there were Americans who fundamentally disliked America. I had simply never watched one of them in action before.
Since then, however, from his overseas apology tour to his intentionally unsustainable fiscal policy to his interference in Wall Street to his acquiescence to the Russians to his penchant for bowing submissively to anyone with a flag-adorned Mercedes, our president has proven that his America was little more than a schoolyard bully in desperate need of a comeuppance.
In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, the brilliant Karl Rove pointed out that during last week’s joint press conference featuring President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron, in discussing Afghanistan War policy, neither leader seemed willing to accept victory as even the most remote of possibilities. From the piece:
The president and prime minister declared their solidarity on the Afghanistan war. Both leaders “reaffirmed our commitment to the overall strategy,” in Mr. Cameron’s words. Mr. Obama said that approach aimed to “build Afghan capacity so Afghans can take responsibility for their future,” a point Mr. Cameron called “a key part” of the coalition’s strategy.
All well and good. But neither leader uttered the word “victory” or “win” or any other similar phrase. They made it sound as if the strategic goal was to stand up the Afghan security forces, leave as soon as that was done, and hope the locals were up to keeping things together.
Neither man called for the defeat of the Taliban or declared its return to power unacceptable. Instead, Mr. Obama offered a lesser goal, namely to “break the Taliban’s momentum.” That is hardly a strategy that will galvanize people—as the King James Bible expressed it, “For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?”
Later on in the piece, despite acknowledging that Obama has “acted impressively” by reinstalling Gen. David Petraeus and changing strategy and increasing troop levels as necessary, Rove rightfully questioned the president’s resolve. “But is Mr. Obama’s heart in this fight?” he asked. “The commander in chief has said stunningly little about the war. He rarely explains to the American people what is happening or asks for their support.”
On television, Rove has acknowledged that the Afghan war puts the president in a tough spot, politically. In the Journal piece, he even noted that Obama must “deal with” a growing number of restless anti-war Democrats and demonstrate, unequivocally, that when it comes to the war, “he’s all in.” What Rove does not seem to get–or, more likely, does not seem to wish to confront–is that the president’s overt reticence is not rooted in politics — it’s rooted in ideology.
To Barack Obama, the notion of American exceptionalism is laughable. It’s something to be overcome, not something to be lauded. And it’s certainly not something to be perpetuated. And what better way to strike at the heart of the notion than to consciously remove “victory” from the American lexicon?
Well, darn, maybe President Obama can explain it better than I can. Here:
Uncomfortable with victory. American victory. Personally, I don’t really care whether we fight ourselves fighting against nation-states or loose bands of foreign terrorists or anything in between — in war, you either win or you lose, and with the lives of brave American men and women at stake each and every day, anything but victory really does not strike me as an option. And, if this president or the last president or any other president is willing to put those American lives at stake with the intent of achieving anything less, (a) we shouldn’t be getting involved at all, and (b) I don’t want that president as my president.
Furthermore, when it comes to the perpetuation of American exceptionalism through acknowledgment of our military prowess, last week’s press conference with the British PM was not the first time President Obama has gone out of his way to avoid talk of triumph. Back in December, if you recall, Obama delivered a major speech to an audience of cadets at West Point after taking more than 80 days to acknowledge Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s request for more troops and a new strategy; there, he also failed to use the word “victory” even once.
(If you don’t remember that speech, it was that night that MSNBC’s Chris Matthews described West Point as the “enemy camp.” Here at AR, after showing the video, I asked Chris: “If the cadets at West Point are the enemy, Chris, what does that make the Taliban?”)
So, while Karl Rove was right in questioning whether President Obama’s heart was “in it” when it comes to the war in Afghanistan and right to point out that, “in it” or not, Obama needs to convince people of his commitment, I think Mr. Rove missed the big picture. Barack Obama’s heart is most definitely not in the war in Afghanistan, regardless of good decisions made, because his heart is not in the idea of America as victor.
To Barack Obama, America the Victor is America the Oppressor. America the Victor and her speculators have brought economic ruin upon a spendthrift world. America the Victor has brought radical Islamic terrorism upon itself. America the Victor is the root cause of all the inequities of the world. And America the Victor needs to be knocked down a peg or two.
Back on that Wednesday morning in November, as dawn broke on a changed world, despite all the evidence to the contrary I still didn’t want to believe that there were folks who honestly looked at the United States of America that way. I was not wholly divorced from reality; I simply had never seen it for myself before. Now, however, when I look at those currently in power, it’s all I see.