The Eloquence of Omittance [Updated]
No doubt there is a genuine tenderness in the president’s feelings for soldiers. But there is little of the praise of warriors in his words. Gratitude or sympathy for suffering is quite different from honoring a sacrifice. I am sure Obama will honor his pledge to continue to ensure that people in uniform “form the backbone of our middle class.” But the pay, the benefits, the programs alone are never enough and never, ultimately, what make the call to service worth answering.
It is never easy for a civilian to fully empathize with a soldier’s experience, particularly with that of long-service professionals asked to serve constant watch on distant, dusty frontiers, in wars that ebb and flow but do not end. The only wisdom can come from acknowledging this almost unbridgeable gap and trying to mentally leap across it. Soldiers more easily see that we civilians are not like them; we civilians are mistakenly prone to think that soldiers are like us.
For the president, the civilian who stands at the beginning of the chain of command–who, by his constitutional authority as commander-in-chief really resides on the far side of the gap–making the leap is an obligation, not an option. He, above all, should speak to his troops in the language of duty, honor, and country which is their native tongue but seems to be such a foreign dialect to a detached, cool, post-modern politician. President Obama must not simply bind up the soldier’s wounds or care for his widow, but lead him.
Personally, the French Cowboy thinks that while Monsieur Obama stood in front of soldiers in his address you don’t get the impression that he actually spoke to them but that he was more aware of another audience: the mainstream media and those who have voted for him. Also, there seems to be some sort of strict no-no ban of the word “victory” in Obama’s administration. Obviously, even when speaking to Marines this ban doesn’t get lifted.
And there is that one outstandingly awful line that may well qualify as the single worst thing a commander in chief can say to his own troops:
What we will not do is let the pursuit of the perfect stand in the way of achievable goals. [Emphasis original, if you can believe it.]
Listen soldiers, let’s just please not let that overly zealous goal of winning the war stand in the way of the reasonable plan to withdraw without too many losses! (Even as a more general notion this line is bunk. It’s hard to find examples where striving for perfection runs counter attaining “achievable goals”, especially when those goals are supposed to make any sense at all.)
The line that made the French Cowboy laugh out loudly (albeit bitterly) was this one:
Today, I have come to speak to you about how the war in Iraq will end.
Ignoring the “let me tell you about the future” undertone of this sentence, there is the more worrisome implication – made over and over again – that to “end” a war unilaterally is not equivalent to concede victory to the enemy. (To be fair though, this is hard to say explicitly when there is a ban on the use of the word “victory”.)
Krauthammer notices another word missing from the speech:
What is disgraceful is he had a 20 minute speech in which he did not use the word “democracy” once.
The great achievement here is that we have established the only functioning democracy among the 22 Arab states. That is an amazing achievement-the most open society, a free press, a lot of political parties, free association, and free elections.
And he spoke only about establishing his sovereign Iraq. Well, we could have installed a general after the fall of Baghdad and left a sovereign Iraq. Instead, we slogged it out, lost a lot of good men and women in order to establish a democracy.
And he as Commander in Chief did not even acknowledge that.