In Obama's Certainty, A Tragic Flaw

December 07, 2009|By Susan Reimer | Susan Reimer , susan.reimer@baltsun.com

Longtime readers of this column know that I have a son in the military, so it is no surprise that I listened intently to President Barack Obama's speech last week at West Point, my hands working each other nervously as he announced plans to send more troops to Afghanistan.

My son was in a pipeline to go to war no matter what the president said that night - I will say no more than that - so it was not like a different speech would have meant he was going on vacation instead.

And I heard candidate Obama say that Iraq was the wrong war, and that he would turn our attention back to Afghanistan if elected, so his decision did not surprise me - although I regret that this campaign promise is one he is so determined to keep.

I am no general, no foreign affairs expert, no CIA agent. But I suspect, along with many who have greater expertise than I do, that this is a fateful decision that will only inflame our enemies, cost us the lives of our young, drain our resources and win nothing lasting.

As you might imagine, my mind is often flooded with images I cannot keep at bay, and sleep is an absent friend. But through all the cacophony, one impression, one powerful impression, persists.

Hubris. The ancient word for pride. Where I saw in George W. Bush a willful stubbornness in the conduct of his war, I see in Barack Obama the tragic quality of hubris.

In his eloquence, in his rectitude, in his very posture, I saw last week the arrogance of a man who has ignored the lessons of history - both ancient and recent - and was not swayed by his midnight visit to Dover Air Force base and the coffins filled with pain and grief unloaded there. I saw the stiff back of a man who does not want to look weak.

Is there something, I wonder, in the mountain climb to the presidency of this country that infuses the triumphant with this sense of right-ness? With a determination to never show anything that looks like second thoughts - let alone retreat?

I watched the president speak, and my alarm was not at the fact that he was committing more soldiers and Marines to war, many of them cadets who were sitting before him in the West Point auditorium. That was known before he took the podium.

But he spoke with the conviction of a man who believes he can, with just 30,000 fresh troops and in only 18 months, do what others, including his own vice president, do not believe can be done at all: break the back of the Taliban, root out terrorist strongholds, stabilize a corrupt Afghan government and corral an equally corrupt ally in Pakistan.

And then turn the whole business over to junior-varsity Afghan security forces who have had what amounts to a speed-dating encounter with U.S. military trainers.

All this, without sacrificing the fragile recovery of our own economy, which is the source of our power in the world.

I don't believe he can do any of these things, and I am alarmed that he is so certain that he can - or should even try.

I speak not as the mother of a son in the military, not as a liberal member of the East Coast media, and not as a member of some amorphous political base that is feeling betrayed.

I am speaking as a member of what I have often thought of as the Lowest Common Denominator group. If I am thinking that this is a futile effort at enormous cost that will accomplish nothing lasting, there are many who are thinking the same thing.

President Obama can be certain about that.

Susan Reimer's column appears Mondays.

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