Did you see the looks on the faces of the West Point cadets Tuesday night as President Barack Obama promised them a future of intensified war in Central Asia? They didn't seem thrilled, even as their commander-in-chief reminded them they volunteered for service. Applause was scarce and tepid. That was the only good thing about this occasion. As predicted, the strategy - a troop surge in Afghanistan - laid out in this long-anticipated speech was one of compromise, deception and self-delusion, delivered with all the man's oratorical flair, but as empty at its core as any political speech I have ever watched or listened to.
We are supposed to believe him when he says we will exit Afghanistan by sending 30,000 more soldiers and Marines there, by becoming more involved in its affairs and those of neighboring Pakistan, and that we will be able to begin some disengagement within a year and a half. How does that possibly pass the smell test? Republicans and other hawkish folks have a point when they say you can't declare your intentions to win a war and then put a deadline on the effort. It defies logic and historical experience. But then virtually everything Mr. Obama said while swiveling his head from left teleprompter to right teleprompter was illogical and historically ignorant.
He said the days of providing a blank check to the government of Hamid Karzai are over and that future assistance will be provided only to Afghan leaders "that combat corruption and deliver for the people. We expect those who are ineffective or corrupt to be held accountable." Yet we know that the Karzai government exemplifies corruption. We know Karzai's own brother is a notoriously bloodstained warlord who is on the C.I.A. payroll. We know that at least a million votes were stolen in the recent election, yet the president says, "In Afghanistan, we and our allies prevented the Taliban from stopping a presidential election and - although it was marred by fraud - that election produced a government that is consistent with Afghanistan's laws and constitution." That is illogical. So is the idea that sending tens of thousands more U.S. fighters to the war zone is part of an exit strategy. It's very much what Lyndon Johnson did in Vietnam, which led not to an exit but to the intensifying of a war that couldn't be won and cost him another four years of rule.
Yet on the similarities of this situation to the one in Southeast Asia decades ago that ended so badly, Mr. Obama insisted that the analogy is misguided and represents "a false reading of history. Unlike Vietnam, we are joined by a broad coalition of 43 nations that recognize the legitimacy of our actions." Granted, the coalition of allies was narrower in the fight against the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese, but we weren't alone. Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, South Korea, Canada, Spain and the Philippines joined in the fight on our side. The idea that there is no comparison is ahistorical. The analogy, while not exact, is close enough to cause worry, which is why many observers ponder it.
The bottom line is this: No matter what is said by the president or other public officials or military brass hats, we are an army of occupation in Afghanistan (and in Iraq), and we have no intention of leaving. Sure, some combat troops may be withdrawn somewhere down the bloody road, but the United States has spent billions constructing permanent bases in these countries, adding to the more than 800 we maintain around the globe. They will be garrisoned as long as humanly possible.
Our leaders are forever blathering about how we are not imperialists, that we invade nations not to conquer them but to bring them the blessings of the freedom we know, that conferring such blessings is something we are obligated to do because of our singular status as the global super power. We have an empire of military bases, and our foreign policy under both Republicans and Democrats is to continue it forever. This is why the Russians call Barack Obama "the Black Bush," and why the West Point speech was, as the headline of commentator Justin Raimondo's column read, "An Unconvincing Flop."
Ron Smith can be heard weekdays, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., on 1090 WBAL-AM and WBAL .com. His column appears Fridays in The Baltimore Sun. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.