Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Short Analysis of the Obama Afghanistan Speech

Fuckin’ A.

Thank you and good night.






Oh, you want more?

Fine, I wish I’d heard that speech, oh, about eight years ago

I wish to hell that about eight years ago we’d had a president who put the same amount of deliberation and actual consideration into sending this nation into war. 

The man outlined an actual plan.  An actual fucking plan. With specific objectives, benchmarks, and an end. A plan actually based on ground truth as determined by the commanding general – who also took his time to get it right.  That ground truth is unpleasant and worse than we wanted to hear, a lot worse, and yet it is the situation we must face if we are to succeed.  The president gave the military commander exactly what he wanted, 30,000 more troops – despite the fact that giving the military what it wanted cost Obama personally with his own base and liberal supporters, an act of moral courage that you never, ever saw from the previous occupant of the office – and he outlined a very specific use for those forces.  He spoke to the troops like an actual goddamned commander in chief – he didn’t sugar coat it, he didn’t blow smoke up our asses, and he very specifically reminded the nation what the bill has been so far and what it is likely to be in the future. He didn’t try to scare the nation into forming up some halfbaked wild west posse and he never used the word “emboldened” once. 

His speech reminded me of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s address before Congress in the days after Pearl Harbor.

His voice rang with confidence and pride in the forces before him, he sounded like he knew what he was talking about because he’d taken the time to educate himself and consult with experts and not party hacks, he sounded like the man in charge - as opposed to the last eight years where the man giving the speech sounded like he was scared shitless.

He very specifically addressed the partisan divide in America, he reminded all of us about our resolve after 911 to stand together, and he reminded us who we are and who the actual enemy is.

I think that the course of action President Obama outlined is exactly right.

What proof do I offer?

Well, first it’s what General McChrystal asked for.

Second, it pissed off the far right – who can’t stand the fact that Obama…uh…ooooh…socialism! Liberals! Ooooh!

Third, It pissed off the far left – because they want us out of Afghanistan and Obama…uh…ooooh…Vietnam! Quagmire! Oooh!

And it pissed off the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and was condemned by the folks at Al Jezeera.

I find no little irony that the far left, the far right, and Al Jezeera are all on the same side here.

No little irony at at all.


Was there nothing I took exception too?

Well, OK.  I hate the way Obama says Tallyban and Pokkastan. What the hell is that all about? It freaked me out a little, like when Tina Turner showed up with that weird European accent.


But other than that I think his speech was right on. 

I look forward to seeing how the pundits will spin it.

I really do.

My much less flippant and more detailed analysis that specifically looks at publically setting a withdrawal date for Afghanistan can be found here.


  1. I get a warm fuzzy when the president actually acts... you know... presidential.

  2. Obama is presidential.

    Regan acted presidential.

    Clinton and Bush the lesser pretended to be presidential.

    I've no interest in trying to rebuild Afganistan, I just want Osama captured, or at least killed while attempting to escape. Finding a grave with DNA would be good also.

  3. Warner, I understand where you're coming from - but we either build a secure and functioning Afghanistan - and Iraq - or my kid goes back over in ten years to fight the next generation of assholes. I'd prefer to avoid that if at all possible.

  4. Bravo, sir. This is why I keep coming back to your blog.

  5. Fuckin' A - agreed.

    The rest of the stuff, agreed there, too.

    Plan, metrics, end. I was thinking about what you've always harped on while listening last night, and I thought you'd like those parts.

    I also had the feeling the reception was genuine, and not just the respect owed the commander.

    inatedro - failure to remember what Ted said in any speech.

  6. Well said, sir. I linked to your analysis rather than cook my own.

  7. For the record let me state that I like POTUS and I voted for him. However that does not mean that I agree with all of his decisions. I do like the approach he is taking in this case, however I think he has an opportunity to be a stronger leader. I do not understand some of your analysis?
    How his speech could have reminded you of FDR's " Infamy Speech" is beyond me. I read and listened to both, again after reading your assumption, I do not did not get it. POTUS went places in his speech that he did not need to go. It was highly political, the manner in which he brought in Iraq, I felt, was taking the low road and I would like a President that takes the high road, as he promised in his campaign. Why he felt the need to address pundits views on Viet Nam, was ridiculous. He was speaking to the lowest common denominator. He should have, once again, taken the high road. It did not seem Presidential.
    While you correct about his reminding us about our resolve after 9/11, he did not ask us, or challenge us to do something with that resolve. That was an opportunity lost and showed a lack of leadership.
    I also disagree with you about how he says Tallyban and Pokkastan. I like it.
    Additionally you made a comment "we either build a secure and functioning Afghanistan.....". We cannot do that, the afghan people need to do that and it needs to be their vision not ours or it is bound to fail. We can assist in the process, but the burden is theirs.
    For the most part I liked his speech, and agree with his direction. I do think it is important to be able to look at situations, such as this, objectively and not subjectively. I submit that your analysis was subjective.

  8. Jim

    I hear what you are saying, but I was in during Vietnam. I've 50,000 dead brothers and sisters from the logic of Alsop in 1966 of 'We Can Win in Vietnam'.

    Perhaps it can be done in Iraq but I think it would take an effort similar to the occupation of Germany or Japan in 1945.

    Afganistan nobody has ever managed to pacify, I think it could have been done in 2001, but I am really doubtful at this point in time.

    Don't misunderstand me, we should have gone in to Afganistan and I've no problems with expending the blood and treasure now to acomplish what should have been done then. I'm just not certain the blood bill of rebuilding that country is worth it.

  9. ...we either build a secure and functioning Afghanistan - and Iraq - or my kid goes back over in ten years to fight the next generation of assholes. I'd prefer to avoid that if at all possible.

    Amen. I tried explaining this to someone the other day - they were fuming about why we don't just leave...

    copain - The amount of pain you're expected to have based on the fees you're about to pay for the pain you're already in.

  10. Hi there. I'm a regular reader of your blog, but seldom comment. I thought your piece here was very interesting and thought-provoking.

    Eric Michael Johnson posted a very thoughtful alternative point of view, and I thought you might find it interesting to read.


  11. O, the reason he had to respond to the Vietnam comparison is that it remains one of the strongest criticisms of our Afghanistan policy. And I say that as somebody who is sympathetic towards the argument the President was rebutting. I actually appreciate the President anticipating a response I might make, and setting forth a thoughtful, credible, accurate accounting of why I'd probably be wrong to make it.

    Although I supported the initial invasion of Afghanistan, I remain concerned that we're entangled with a region that has already kicked the asses of two preeminent world-powers-of-their-epochs, the British Empire in the 19th Century and the Soviet Union in the 20th. The President addressed those concerns, acknowledging difficulties but offering arguments that not only distinguish the present Vietnam, but the British and Soviet Afghan experiences. Even if he's wrong, and some form of history repeats itself, he at least went in with eyes and ears open and much evident thought, which is really all you could ask for.

    Indeed, I'd disagree with the assessment that the President appealed to the lowest common denominator. Yes, he offered the basic LCD justifications for our presence and sacrifice, and then gave a thoughtful response to intelligent criticisms from both the left and right, and displayed a familiarity with reality that's been missing for a long time.

    It was a pleasant reminder of why I voted for him, actually.

  12. While you correct about his reminding us about our resolve after 9/11, he did not ask us, or challenge us to do something with that resolve. That was an opportunity lost and showed a lack of leadership.

    O, I think your criticism here is off by several years. It was Bush's responsibility, when he stood on the smoking rubble of the Twin Towers eight years ago, to challenge Americans to sacrifice for the coming road ahead. He did not and did not show the leadership we needed then. Instead, basically, we were told to go shopping or the terrorists would win. I, too, wish this speech had been given several years ago.

    I also agree with Warner that the problem of Afghanistan has defeated both the British Empire and the Soviet Union. I hope I'm wrong, but I don't see us succeeding there either.

    Unfortunately, I think Obama was put in a hard place no matter what his decision. The right would have reviled him no matter what he said (and has done so today).

  13. O, listen to the speeches again - it is the message, the tone, the strength and conviction of his belief in our ability to suceed and the rightness of our cause that I'm talking about. GWB's speeches addressed his party and base, Obama and FDR addressed the the nation.

    That is what I mean by saying this speech reminded me of the other.

    Bush only ever addressed a venue where he knew support was assured, Ombama chose to address the entire world, including as you say the lowest common denominator - proving yet again that he considers himself the President of the United States and not just the leader of his party and supporters.
    However, He felt it important to proactively bring up Vietnam specifically to defang the extreme members of his own party.

    As to a secure and functioning afghanistan, yes the Afghans must eventually build their own nation but they cannot do it if abandonned in the rubble of nearly 100 years of war and inavsion. How do you expect these people to build a stable functioningnation without education, without support, without funds, without infrastructure, without allies, without security?

    Also, what Eric said.

    Warner, the difference being, obviously, that Vietnam didn't attack us or serve as a base for our enemies. Additionally, as I'm sure you know, we weren't fighting the Vietcong in Vietnam, we were fighting the Soviets via proxy. Afghanistan is completely different.

    History never repeats itself - especially in war.

    I'm forced to post from my mobile device without spellchecking or fullscreen view. Garble may result.

  14. Hm--something I hadn't considered until I read a (mildly critical) piece in Salon: there's another audience for the President's speech I hadn't properly considered--by stressing the global nature of the effort and focusing on global security combined with discernible goals, the President provided good rhetorical cover for our allies, including countries like Britain and France where the war in Afghanistan is even less popular than it is here. The speech not only speaks to the soldiers and the country, but it sends a good signal to supporters abroad.

    Nice. Seriously, that's pretty damn significant. It may or may not ultimately make a difference, but it sure as hell doesn't hurt.

  15. Eric,
    POTUS did not have to respond, as you claimed . He chose to respond. You think that was a good choice, I think that was a poor choice. We disagree, just as we do with how he pronounces certain words. I am fine with that.

    I agree with your assessment on the situation in Afghanistan, however I do not see the need for POTUS to justify his decision in the manor that he did. He had laid out his plan and his reasoning very well. In my opinion, he does not need to try to address every issue. By doing so I feel that he is taking the lowest common denominator approach.
    As I stated, I like him and I like his basic plan. There were parts of his speech that, I felt were not needed, not productive and not what I would have expected from the person I voted for.

    We were discussing the current POTUS' opportunities not the formers.
    But since you brought it up I agree that 43 wasted an incredible opportunity after 9/11 to challenge and inspire the American people. It is the biggest disappointment I have of him and there are many. However I refuse to find fault in 43 to justify faults in 44. He has that opportunity now. I am afraid he is going to squander it just as his predecessor did.

    I agree that the solution is not simple and that POTUS, overall made good choices in his plan. My criticism is of the approach he took in his speech and his hesitance to be the leader he said he was.

    I took your advice and read and listened to them both again, no change in my thoughts. I could just be more dense than those who see the comparison. I am OK with that.
    My comment about the lowest common denominator was not referring to the people he was speaking to, but rather the manner in which he chose to speak to them.

    You stated: " He felt it important to proactively bring up Vietnam specifically to defang the extreme members of his own party." How do you know this?
    I don't believe I ever said anything about "abandoning" the people of Afghanistan. I took Umbrage in the statement " we either build a secure and functioning Afghanistan". And I think I attributed it to the wrong person so I apologize.

  16. Eric, that's exactly what I meant by "rest of the world" in my previous comment.

    Interestingly enough, the largest plus up and strongest reponse come from Poland who has been one of our strongest and most steadfast allies in this fight. I was with the Polish GROM at Kwor abd Alamaya and they are the most outstanding forces. And NATO has pledged an additional 5000 troops too in response to this speech AND in response to Obama's diplomacy during his recent overseas tour of Europe and Asia. All those dipshits who condemned him for bowing to foreign powers are utterly blind. You want an ally to send their sons and daughters into battle under our flag in order to help save the lives of OUR sons and daughters? You best ask with hat in hand.

    We need those people and it's about time Americans understood that.


    O, you're certainly entitled to your assessment and I suspect we will never agree on this. And that's OK since what we're discussing is the presentation and not the message, which as you noted we essentially agree on.

    Same with my FDR comparission. My background is in Information Warfare and I see parallels at the impact level. I said it reminded ME of of FDR's. It's OK with me if you don't agree. The analysis is subjective.

    As to the Vietnam issue, O, I think it was predictable that certain members of the President's own party would disagree vehemently with the surge and see it as pandering to the Right, if not selling out the liberals who elected him, and that they would bring up Vietnam as their case study. I've spent my entire life in the military and around the halls of power in DC and I can say with confidence that any time you bring up military action or the expanssion of same, the left counters with Vietnam. And indeed that is exactly the response from a number of democrats this morning. Obama certainly knew this would happen and moved to end the argument before it began.

    As an IW expert, I think this speech was a masterwork on many levels and that it is full of many shades and subtleties. After eight years of a leader whose speech was about as subtle as a brick to the face, I admire Obama's facility with communication.

  17. Well, he actually didn't plan an end. He planned the beginning of the end. This from Republican David Frum's column in the Globe and Mail:

    In a blogpost last night, I criticized the president for setting a time limit. In the morning, I realized that I made the mistake against which I always warn others: Never listen to an Obama speech until after you have read it first. The man never quite says what you think you just heard. He did not say that the troops would come home after 18 months. He said:

    After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home.

    BEGIN to come home. They will COMPLETE their return home, presumably, either when the job is done – or the war is deemed futile.

    He goes on to explain why republicans should support Obama in this.

  18. Timb111. Absolutely agreed. The plan Obama outlined does give an end condition, not a date - and it's not in 18 months, that is only the place in the tunnel where we begin to see the light of day. And I have heard a number of Republicans say exactly that this morning and agree with the President. Agree. Actually agree in most part. The mere fact that prominent Republicans are agreeing with the President (even if they offer criticism of portions of his plan such as the timeline) is amazing. Consider the vehement opposition to anything Obama proposes in other areas such as healthcare - he has crossed the aisle successfully on this, where it matters. Anybody who thinks he is not a real leader is just being deliberately obtuse or is blinded by partisan and/or racial hatred.

    Frum's advice to always read Obama's words carefully, instead of just listening to them, before commenting is a damn good suggestion. As I said in the previous comment, the man is a master of communications, I see many layers within his words and many specific messages targeted to specific audiences. It's brilliant, in my not so humble IW opinion. And it's damned nice to finally have somebody in the White House with a brain.

  19. Tim, Information Warfare, a subset of Military Information Operations. The abbreviations IO and IW are often used interchangably, this is incorrect, they mean different things.

    IO is the acquistion, assurance, dissemination, storage, analysis, utilization and manipulation of information. IW (and its many, many subcategories) is the use of Information as a weapon - and in many cases a weapon exactly the same in nature (stategically and tactically) as a conventional kinetic weapon. In proper context, IW is classified as a non-kinetic weapon. If properly employed, IW can kill or nullify the adversary in situations where no conventional weapon would work, or IW can be used to enhance the effectiveness of conventional tactics and weapons (I.e. a force multiplier). Its scope and limits can target a single human or system - or the entire world, and anything in between if you know how to use it. However, it requires that you know many, many things, from psychology to electronics to convential uses of force to history of conflict to the demographics of the target and so on. IW is built on a foundation of information, the more you have, and the more you have the ability to understand it, the more effective you are.

    It's what I used to do for a living.

  20. Nick from the O.C.December 2, 2009 at 2:49 PM


    Liked your post very much. I don't always agree with our President but, in this case, I think he's doing an outstanding job -- for all the reasons you noted.

    25 years ago, I would never have believed I would one day say those words about a Democratic President. Times have certainly changed ... or maybe I have.

  21. I like that he acknowledges and addresses all concerns from all sides as if they're legit, whether they actually are or not. It says to the people he's leading "yes I heard you, yes I'm listening, yes I understand, your opinions and feelings matter to me too." Because he is leading the entire nation, including the parts in the lowest common denominator, and not just some subsets of it that he likes.

  22. The difference between our involvement in the Graveyard of Empires and the previous countries' attempts is we aren't attempting to keep it as our own, subvert the economy, or create a puppet/vassal state. As long as we prove to the general population that we're in it for them, not for the government we have a good chance at success.

  23. 25 years ago, Nick, the GOP was a different party.

  24. I think it was General Colin Powell who made the point on both Afghanistan and Iraq, when he described the 'Pottery Barn' doctrine, WE BROKE IT, now it is ours, and we have a responsibility to leave it in some kind of functioning condition. We owe that to the people of those countries, we have killed innocents and disrupted their lives and commerce, if we leave them in economic and political ruin and at the mercy of warlords and extremists, we will have no right to ever lecture another nation about how they conduct international relations.

  25. Jim,

    Thanks for this post. I've come to rely upon your your ability to eloquently express your opinion in matters such as these.

    I was unsurprised to find out that my far-left mother felt scandalized and betrayed upon hearing the speech.
    She does that.

  26. Plenty of my left-wing friends have been screaming that Obama's betrayed them.

    Plenty of my right-wing friends have been doing the same thing.

    I'm sorry that we've lost the ability to listen to both sides of the story, to make our judgments based on all the facts, not just the ones we want, to actually weigh our decisions before we act.

    Unfortunately, too many (and also unfortunately, they seem to be on the right-wing side), assume that compromise and consideration is the same thing as dithering and weakness.

  27. Jim, I totally agree on the Soviet proxy in Vietnam being the key to why it's not a good example. The same goes for the Soviet experience in Afghanistan - they were fighting against US equipment and support.

    You also can't use the Brits as an example here because the level of technology was so different in that war. Airpower changes the battlefield dynamics and Britain never had the ability to get materials in and build infrastructure, nor did it have the advantage of a middle class in the cities sympathetic to modernity.

    What at lot of the 4GW warfare people forget is that to be more than a minor nuisance, 4GW actors have to have a 2GW nation's support. It's why I followed the Viktor Bout story so closely - the ammo has to come from somewhere, or else the guerilla campaign peters out and retreats in impotency to the mountains and forests as did the Baltic fighters in Latvia and Lithuania in the 50s.

    In this case, the arms are coming from Pakistan and a lot of the money's coming from drugs and from non-state actors in Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Middle East (I've not seen any reports of Iranian involvement, but I would not be surprised if they were involved, too, despite the Sunni / Shia split). Those pipelines are a lot easier to shut down than a superpower.

  28. JTS, you are absolutely correct. Those weapons and more importantly, the ammunition, are coming from somewhere. The stuff is heavy, bulky, and difficult to transport in quantity. It's coming from somewhere - across the Pakistan/Afghan border. That frontier has to be closed. Based on the announced deployment dispersal for the surge, I'm pretty sure that's exactly what McCrystal's primary objective is. Cut them off and then bleed them to death.

  29. It is refreshing to know that instead of listening to polls, 'common wisdom' (an oxymoron in politics), and party politicos, the CINC took his time, listened to his subject matter experts, and made a CONSIDERED DECISION.

    Right or wrong... who knows?

    But it's the first time that this process has happened in the conflicts in Iraq, 'Stan, or the GWOT.

    Now, if we could just get him to do that with the economy.

    Wine Guy

  30. Now, if we could just get him to do that with the economy.

    Umm, didn't he decide that the core of the problem with the economy was a lack of health care?


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