Archive for the 'Obama speeches' Category

And the Romans? What did they ever do for us?

Andrew Sullivan takes down Maureen Dowd:

Obama’s political style is useless, apart from becoming the first black president, saving the US from another Great Depression, succeeding at getting universal healthcare, rescuing the American auto industry, presiding over a civil rights revolution, ending two failed wars, avoiding two doomed others (against Syria and Iran), bringing the deficit down while growing the economy, focusing the executive branch on climate change, and killing bin Laden.”




Political talk

James Button, one-time speech-writer to former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, wrote this in his recent book:

When Rudd spoke at the Department’s Christmas party, he had sketched a triangle in the air that distilled the work of producing a policy or speech into a three-point plan:  where are we now; where do we want to go and why; how are we going to get there?  The second point – where do we want to go and why – expressed our values, Rudd said. It was a simple way to structure a speech and I often used it when writing speeches in the year to come.” (Button 2012, page 55, large print edition).

Reading this I was reminded how inadequate I had found the analysis of political speech propounded by anthropologist Michael Silverstein in his short book on political talk (Silverstein 2003).   He seems to view political speech as mere information transfer, and the utterances made therefore as essentially being propositions - statements about the world that are either true or false.   Perhaps these propositions may be covered in rhetorical glitter, or presented incrementally, or subtly, or cleverly, but propositions they remain.   I know of no politician, and I can think of none, who speaks that way.   All political speeches (at least in the languages known to me) are calls to action of one form or another.   These actions may be undertaken by the speaker or their political party – “If elected, I will do XYZ” – or they may be actions which the current elected officials should be doing  – “Our Government should be doing XYZ.”     Implicit in such calls is always another call, to an action by the listener:  “Vote for me”.    Even lists of past achievements, which Button mentions Rudd was fond of giving, are implicit or explicit entreaties for votes.

Of course, such calls to action may, of necessity, be supported by elaborate propositional statements about the world as it is, or as it could be or should be, as Rudd’s structure shows.   And such propositions may be believed or not, by listeners.  But people called to action do not evaluate the calls they hear the way they would propositions.  It makes no sense, for instance, to talk about the “truth” or “falsity” of an action, or even of a call to action.   Instead, we assess such calls on the basis of the sincerity or commitment of the speaker, on the appropriateness or feasibility or ease or legality of the action, on the consequences of the proposed action, on its costs and benefits, its likelihood of success, its potential side effects, on how it compares to any alternative actions, on the extent to which others will support it also, etc.

What has always struck me about Barack Obama’s speeches, particularly those during his first run for President in 2007-2008,  is how often he makes calls-to-action for actions to be undertaken by his listeners:  He would say “We should do X”, but actually mean, “You-all should do X”, since the action is often not something he can do alone, or even at all.  “Yes we can!” was of this form, since he is saying, “Yes, we can take back the government from the Republicans, by us all voting.”    From past political speeches I have read or seen, it seems to me that only JFK, MLK and RFK regularly spoke in this way, although I am sure there must have been other politicians who did.  This approach and the associated language comes directly from Obama’s work as a community organizer: success in that role consists in persuading people to work together on their own joint behalf.  Having spent lots of time in the company of foreign aid workers in Africa, this voice and these idioms were very familiar to me when I first heard Obama speak.

Rudd’s three-part structure matches closely to the formalism proposed by Atkinson et al. [2005] for making proposals for action in multi-party dialogs over action, a structure that supports rational critique and assessment of the proposed action, along the dimensions mentioned above.

References:

K. Atkinson, T. Bench-Capon and P. McBurney [2005]: A dialogue-game protocol for multi-agent argument over proposals for action.   Autonomous Agents and Multi-Agent Systems, 11 (2): 153-171.

James Button [2012]: Speechless:  A Year in my Father’s Business.  Melbourne, Australia:  Melbourne University Press.

Michael Silverstein [2003]:   Talking Politics:  The Substance of Style from Abe to “W”.  Chicago, IL, USA:  Prickly Paradigm Press.




The Yogyakartan Candidate

An explanation of Bam’s aloof style and strategic cunning in terms of the idioms of traditional Javanese kingship, by Edward Fox in Aeon Magazine, here.   Fox could also have mentioned the first-term Cabinet of Rivals as another example of this idiom, absorbing one’s enemies.

An excerpt:

The Javanese have a word for this kind of bearing. They call it halus. The nearest literal equivalent in English might be ‘chivalrous’, which means not just finely mannered, but implies a complete code of noble behaviour and conduct. The American anthropologist Clifford Geertz, who wrote some of the most important studies of Javanese culture in English, defined halus in The Religion of Java (1976) as:

“Formality of bearing, restraint of expression, and bodily self-discipline … spontaneity or naturalness of gesture or speech is fitting only for those ‘not yet Javanese’ — ie, the mad, the simple-minded, and children.”

Even now, four decades after leaving Java, Obama exemplifies halus behaviour par excellence.

Halus is also the key characteristic of Javanese kingship, a tradition still followed by rulers of the modern state of Indonesia. During my period of study in Indonesia, I discovered that halus is the fundamental outward sign or proof of a ruler’s legitimacy. The tradition is described in ancient Javanese literature and in studies by modern anthropologists. The spirit of the halus ruler must burn with a constant flame, that is without (any outward) turbulence. In his classic essay, ‘The Idea of Power in Javanese Culture’ (1990), the Indonesian scholar Benedict Anderson describes the ruler’s halus as:

“The quality of not being disturbed, spotted, uneven, or discoloured. Smoothness of spirit means self-control, smoothness of appearance means beauty and elegance, smoothness of behaviour means politeness and sensitivity. Conversely, the antithetical quality of being kasar means lack of control, irregularity, imbalance, disharmony, ugliness, coarseness, and impurity.”

One can see the clear distinction between Obama’s ostensibly aloof style of political negotiation in contrast to the aggressive, backslapping, physically overbearing political style of a president such as Lyndon Johnson.

Traditionally, the Javanese ruler triumphs over his adversary without even appearing to exert himself. His adversary must have been defeated already, as a consequence of the ruler’s total command over natural and human forces. This is a common theme in traditional Javanese drama, where the halus hero effortlessly triumphs over his kasar (literally, unrefined or uncivilised) enemy. ‘In the traditional battle scenes,’ Anderson notes:

“The contrast between the two becomes strikingly apparent in the slow, smooth, impassive and elegant movements of the satria [hero], who scarcely stirs from his place, and the acrobatic leaps, somersaults, shrieks, taunts, lunges, and rapid sallies of his demonic opponent. The clash is especially well-symbolised at the moment when the satria [hero] stands perfectly still, eyes downcast, apparently defenceless, while his demonic adversary repeatedly strikes at him with dagger, club, or sword — but to no avail. The concentrated power of the satria [hero] makes him invulnerable.”

Even to seem to exert himself is vulgar, yet he wins. This style of confrontation echoes that first famous live TV debate in the election of 2012 between Obama and Romney, in which Obama seemed passive, with eyes downcast, apparently defenceless (some alleged ‘broken’) in the face of his enemy, only to triumph in later debates and in the election itself.

Like a Javanese king, Obama has never taken on a political fight that he has not, arguably, already won

But such a disposition is not just external posturing. Halus in a Javanese ruler is the outward sign of a visible inner harmony which gathers and concentrates power in him personally. In the West, we might call this charisma. Crucially, in the Javanese idea of kingship, the ruler does not conquer opposing political forces, but absorbs them all under himself. In the words of Anderson again, the Javanese ruler has ‘the ability to contain opposites and to absorb his adversaries’. The goal is a unity of power that spreads throughout the kingdom. To allow a multiplicity of contending forces in the kingdom is a sign of weakness. Power is achieved through spiritual discipline — yoga-like and ascetic practices. The ruler seeks nothing for himself; if he acquires wealth, it is a by-product of power. To actively seek wealth is a spiritual weakness, as is selfishness or any other personal motive other than the good of the kingdom.”

 




Coates on Bam

Ta-Nehisi Coates has written a superb and insightful essay on black and white perceptions of Barack Obama as President and as black American in a country that experienced 175 years of white affirmative action.  The common phrase describing what black Americans need to be for success in white society is:  twice as good and half as black.

 




Christopher Hitchens RIP

I have long been annoyed by the abuse of power that media organizations – even noble and high-minded ones – are prone to engage in.  Newspapers, for example, often run obituaries of people who work for them in support roles, such as their administrative and printing staff.  However virtuous or locally-influential such lives may have been, these people were not public figures, and it strikes me as a mis-use of media power for them to be given prominent public obituaries merely because they happened to have worked for an organization that prints such obituaries.  Until it introduced a section of its obits page for readers’ own accounts of the lives of recently-departed ordinary people, The Guardian, for example, was a key offender in this, with all manner of obscure back-office staff being given national obituaries.   Is this newspaper just an in-house magazine for its employees?

The death of Christopher Hitchens has allowed The Grauniad to fall back on its old ways, with pages and pages devoted to Hitchens and all his works – a seeming HitchFest – as if his death were a major world event.  Vaclav Havel,  who died shortly afterwards, received fewer column inches, yet demonstrably had a greater impact on the world.    I expect that The Guardian has given so many pages to Hitch because he seems to have been known to and had great influence on other journalists, and because it can.  That latter reason, it seems to me, is a mis-use of their power;  it is also something Hitchens himself would have objected to.

Bloggers have also devoted much attention to his passing on.   I have no problem with this, as blogging does not pretend to be a public service activity.   Although I have tried over the years to read most everything Hitchens ever published, usually with great enjoyment, I have hesitated at his passing on to write about my reactions to his work and life.     I never knew him (although I know people who did) so I will not comment on his personality or his personal life.    As a writer, he was an extremely elegant and well-turned stylist, and always provocative to thinking.   His invective, even when I disagreed with it or its targets, was always finely-honed and often very amusing.  I will miss reading him immensely.

I had several major disagreements with his views (at least as far I knew them from his writings).  Firstly,  someone who could join a Trotskyist political groupoid had to have very poor political judgement.  The people in these groups in the 1960s and 1970s were in general in my experience not pleasant, not rational, not open to reason, not realistic about what works in the world, and not unlike a cult.   They were often very elitist, believing they could see the future which the rest of us dummies could not;  and few of the Trotskyists I have encountered in my life had any empathy for working people.   I can only see membership of such a groupoid as evidence of gross mis-understanding about the world, of how it is, and of what it may become.  Of course, we all lack understanding of the world when we are young, and some of us gain our wisdom faster than others.

Secondly, for all his internationalism, Hitch never “got” Barack Obama.  I read his writings in the US Presidential campaign of 2007-2008, and subsequently, and mis-understanding and mis-construals were evident throughout.  Sometimes I thought his mis-readings were deliberate and wilful (as in his accusation that Obama was  not a sincere religious believer), while at other times he was simply mistaken.   From the very first time I heard Obama speak (in 2004), I knew him immediately.  He reminded me of scores of dedicated foreign aid workers I know from Africa and Asia:  “We are the ones we have been waiting for“, “Yes, we can“, etc.  This is the language of community empowerment, of working-with not working-through people, of helping the poor and downtrodden through empathy from a position at their level, not condescending to them from a position at some level above or outside them.    Tim Geithner, with his superb social-parsing skills,  is, it seems, another  person in the same mould.

Hitchens apparently thought such statements by Obama vacuous.  Why would Hitchens – an internationalist – not also understand this about Obama, I wondered?  Hitchens had traveled a great deal, and often to nasty places, but as far as I know he never lived in any such place for any time.   He had not ever had to negotiate a foreign culture over the long term, except that of the USA, which is certainly different to Britain, but not so different as Indonesia, say, or Kenya.   And perhaps Marxism, with its impersonal theory of history across all time, and Trotskyism, with its belief in global revolution across all space, together make it hard to see the impacts of specific cultures, histories and societies – in the here and in the now – on the lives of people, and on their political possibilities, and on what actions are needed to change these lives and possibilities.  And, for the same reason, perhaps a person focused on dialectical analysis of grand theories of global history simply cannot easily understand someone seeking to improve the lot of a single group of people in one housing estate in Chicago, a community organizer say.  This far from the Bolshevik Revolution, it is easy to forget that many on the left (and particularly Trotskyists) disparaged acting locally, to the point where small-scale actions even received their own term of socialist invective: ameliorism.

And, finally, Hitchens seemed to not fully understand religion.  I was with him all the way in his criticism of the evils and sins committed by organized religion, and  in its name.   I was also with him in his refusal to bow down:  Any God that required our worship is not worthy of it.  Certainly no believer in the universal rights of man would countenance such feudal fealty.   Too, I was with him in his courageous refusal to run scared, to adopt religion as a crutch or consolation, as a candle for the dark nights of life.   But, even after all these aspects are considered, there remain other reasons for human religious or spiritual impulses, reasons which are good and valid and true.   Despite what Norm thinks, one may be drawn to sights unseen without any prior beliefs and without any desire to worship deities, but merely with a desire – often unexpressed or even unexpressable – to experience contact with elements of the non-material.   Such a desire motivates many mathematicians and musicians and artists, in addition to explaining the mystic strain evident in most religions.    Is there a non-material realm, outside the world of our five senses?  An entire branch of contemporary physics – String theory and M-theory – is posited on there being such a realm, comprising further dimensions of space-time inaccessible to us, despite the absence yet of any inter-subjective and replicable scientific evidence for it.    Do non-material or spiritual entities exist?   To me, that question is the same as:  Do mathematical objects exist?   On this aspect of religion, Hitchens (from his writings) seemed completely tone-deaf, just as if he lacked  the sense of hearing, or sight.

But, as I said, I will miss reading him immensely.

 

POSTSCRIPT (2012-01-14):  The Times Literary Supplement of 6 January 2012 publishes a letter by Mary Kenny which criticizes Hitchen’s simple-minded, black-and-white approach to religion, in regard in particular to his reporting on the Irish divorce referendum of 1995.    As she says,   “Yet a good journalist, let alone a great journalist -  as Michael Dirda (also December 23 & 30, 2011) claims Hitchens to have been  – would not  have scribbled off such a slapdash and superficial polemic:  a journalist in the tradition of Geroge Orwell would have examined such a social juncture in all its many nuances.”  The polemic by Hitchens that Kenny refers to is in his book, God is Not Great.

 

Footnote:

Andrew Sullivan’s tributes here, and links to Normblog’s and other tributes here.




Bam’s rhetoric

Posting about one of Bam’s 2008 campaign speeches reminded me of the analysis undertaken by The Guardian’s arts correspondent, Charlotte Higgins, on the Roman and Greek rhetorical devices in his major speeches.   Relatedly, textual analyses of Bam’s 2008 Presidential election victory speech can be found here and here.




Bam and sweet potato pie

Here’s a story from Barack Obama’s 2008 Presidential campaign which I meant to blog when I read it.   From an article by Mark Danner:

Everything else they [election commentators and bloggers] would never see. It existed only for the several thousand cheering people in Vernon Park on that bright morning in Germantown. They would never see, for instance, Obama’s riff on sweet potato pie. It came as he told a story about his campaigning “the other day in a little town in Ohio, with the governor there,” about how he and the governor suddenly felt hungry and “decided we’d stop right there and get some pie.” Now here began a little gem of a story, which had at its center the diner employees who wanted to take a picture with Obama, not least because, as they told him, their boss was a die-hard Republican and “they wanted to tweak him a little with that picture.” All this was heading toward a carefully choreographed finale, where the owner appeared personally with the pie for candidate and governor and Obama looked at the pie and looked at the pie-carrying die-hard Republican owner and “then I said to him”—perfectly elongated pause—“How’s business?”

This brought on great gales of laughter from the crowd. For the joke turned on a point already precisely made: How can even the most die-hard of die-hard Republicans, if he is thinking of his self-interest, how can he vote Republican this year? “If you beat your head against the wall,” Obama demanded of that faraway Republican with his pie, to a blizzard of “oh yeahs!” and “you got that right!” from the crowd, “and it hurts and hurts, how can you keep doing it?” But it was those two words, ”How’s business?”—that casual greeting thrown at the Republican diner owner that showed that there simply could be no other choice this year—that showed the case proved, wrapped up, unassailable.

And yet what struck me in this little model of political art was a tiny riff the candidate effortlessly worked into it from his banter with the crowd. When Obama launched into his story with “Because I love pie,” a woman out in that sea of cheering, laughing people shouted back, “I’ll make you pie, baby!” and to the general hooting laughter the candidate returned, “Oh yeah, you gonna make me pie?” Then, after a beat, amid even more raucous laughter, and several other female voices shouting out invitations, “You gonna make me sweet potato pie?” More shouts and laughter. “All you gonna make me pie?”
“Well you know I love sweet potato pie. And I think what we’re going to have to do here”—and the laughter and the shouting rose and as it did his voice rose above it—“what we’re going to have to do here is have a sweet potato pie contest…. That’s right. And in this contest, I’m gonna be the judge.” The laughter rose and you could hear not only the women but the deep laughter of the men taking delight in the double entendre that was not only about the women and their laughing, teasing offers and about their pie that that lanky confident smiling young man knew how to eat and enjoy and judge, but even more now, amazingly, as people came one by one to recognize, about something else. To those people gathered in Vernon Park that bright sun-drenched morning, it was an even more titillating and more pleasurable double entendre, for it was most clearly about something they’d never had but hoped and dreamed of having and now had begun to believe they were within the shortest of short distances of finally tasting. “Because you all know,” their candidate told them, “that I know sweet potato pie.” “

Reference:

Mark Danner [2008]:  Obama and Sweet Potato PieNew York Review of Books, 23 October 2008.




Stewart on Bam’s Afghan policy

When faced with untenable alternatives, consider your imperative.” (Admiral Helena Cain)

Rory Stewart, prospective MP for Penrith and the Border, has written a thoughtful response in the latest New York Review of Books to President Obama’s speech on Afghanistan policy given at West Point on 1 December 2009.      Stewart’s conclusions:

What can now be done to salvage the administration’s position? Obama has acquired leverage over the generals and some support from the public by making it clear that he will not increase troop strength further. He has gained leverage over Karzai by showing that he has options other than investing in Afghanistan. Now he needs to regain leverage over the Taliban by showing them that he is not about to abandon Afghanistan and that their best option is to negotiate. In short, he needs to follow his argument for a call strategy to its conclusion. The date of withdrawal should be recast as a time for reduction to a lighter, more sustainable, and more permanent presence. This is what the administration began to do in the days following the speech. As National Security Adviser General James Jones said, “That date is a ‘ramp’ rather than a cliff.” And as Hillary Clinton said in her congressional testimony on December 3, their real aim should be to “develop a long-term sustainable relationship with Afghanistan and Pakistan so that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past, primarily our abandonment of that region.”

A more realistic, affordable, and therefore sustainable presence would not make Afghanistan stable or predictable. It would be merely a small if necessary part of an Afghan political strategy. The US and its allies would only moderate, influence, and fund a strategy shaped and led by Afghans themselves. The aim would be to knit together different Afghan interests and allegiances sensitively enough to avoid alienating independent local groups, consistently enough to regain their trust, and robustly enough to restore the security and justice that Afghans demand and deserve from a national government.

What would this look like in practice? Probably a mess. It might involve a tricky coalition of people we refer to, respectively, as Islamists, progressive civil society, terrorists, warlords, learned technocrats, and village chiefs. Under a notionally democratic constitutional structure, it could be a rickety experiment with systems that might, like Afghanistan’s neighbors, include strong elements of religious or military rule. There is no way to predict what the Taliban might become or what authority a national government in Kabul could regain. Civil war would remain a possibility. But an intelligent, long-term, and tolerant partnership with the United States could reduce the likelihood of civil war and increase the likelihood of a political settlement. This is hardly the stuff of sound bites and political slogans. But it would be better for everyone than boom and bust, surge and flight. With the right patient leadership, a political strategy could leave Afghanistan in twenty years’ time more prosperous, stable, and humane than it is today. That would be excellent for Afghans and good for the world.

Meanwhile, Obama’s broader strategic argument must not be lost. He has grasped that the foreign policy of the president should not consist in a series of extravagant, brief, Manichaean battles, driven by exaggerated fears, grandiloquent promises, and fragile edifices of doctrine. Instead the foreign policy of a great power should be the responsible exercise of limited power and knowledge in concurrent situations of radical uncertainty. Obama, we may hope, will develop this elusive insight. And then it might become possible to find the right places in which to deploy the wealth, the courage, and the political capital of the United States. We might hope in South Asia, for example, for a lighter involvement in Afghanistan but a much greater focus on Kashmir.

I began by saying that “calling” in poker was childish and that grownups raise or fold. But there is another category of people who raise or fold: those who are anxious to leave the table. They go all in to exit, hoping to get lucky but if not then at least to finish. They do not do this on the basis of their cards or the pot. They do it because they lack the patience, the interest, the focus, or the confidence to pace themselves carefully through the long and exhausting hours. They no longer care enough about the game. Obama is a famously keen poker player. He should never be in a hurry to leave the table.

 

References:

Barack Obama [2009]: Remarks in Address to the Nation on the Way Forward in Afghanistan and Pakistan, given at the US Military Academy at West Point, New York, 2009-12-01.

Rory Stewart [2010]:  Afghanistan:  What could workThe New York Review of Books, 57 (1), 2010-01-14.




Stewart on Bam’s Afghan policy

When faced with untenable alternatives, consider your imperative.” (Admiral Helena Cain)

Rory Stewart, prospective MP for Penrith and the Border, has written a thoughtful response in the latest New York Review of Books to President Obama’s speech on Afghanistan policy given at West Point on 1 December 2009.      Stewart’s conclusions:

What can now be done to salvage the administration’s position? Obama has acquired leverage over the generals and some support from the public by making it clear that he will not increase troop strength further. He has gained leverage over Karzai by showing that he has options other than investing in Afghanistan. Now he needs to regain leverage over the Taliban by showing them that he is not about to abandon Afghanistan and that their best option is to negotiate. In short, he needs to follow his argument for a call strategy to its conclusion. The date of withdrawal should be recast as a time for reduction to a lighter, more sustainable, and more permanent presence. This is what the administration began to do in the days following the speech. As National Security Adviser General James Jones said, “That date is a ‘ramp’ rather than a cliff.” And as Hillary Clinton said in her congressional testimony on December 3, their real aim should be to “develop a long-term sustainable relationship with Afghanistan and Pakistan so that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past, primarily our abandonment of that region.”

A more realistic, affordable, and therefore sustainable presence would not make Afghanistan stable or predictable. It would be merely a small if necessary part of an Afghan political strategy. The US and its allies would only moderate, influence, and fund a strategy shaped and led by Afghans themselves. The aim would be to knit together different Afghan interests and allegiances sensitively enough to avoid alienating independent local groups, consistently enough to regain their trust, and robustly enough to restore the security and justice that Afghans demand and deserve from a national government.

What would this look like in practice? Probably a mess. It might involve a tricky coalition of people we refer to, respectively, as Islamists, progressive civil society, terrorists, warlords, learned technocrats, and village chiefs. Under a notionally democratic constitutional structure, it could be a rickety experiment with systems that might, like Afghanistan’s neighbors, include strong elements of religious or military rule. There is no way to predict what the Taliban might become or what authority a national government in Kabul could regain. Civil war would remain a possibility. But an intelligent, long-term, and tolerant partnership with the United States could reduce the likelihood of civil war and increase the likelihood of a political settlement. This is hardly the stuff of sound bites and political slogans. But it would be better for everyone than boom and bust, surge and flight. With the right patient leadership, a political strategy could leave Afghanistan in twenty years’ time more prosperous, stable, and humane than it is today. That would be excellent for Afghans and good for the world.

Meanwhile, Obama’s broader strategic argument must not be lost. He has grasped that the foreign policy of the president should not consist in a series of extravagant, brief, Manichaean battles, driven by exaggerated fears, grandiloquent promises, and fragile edifices of doctrine. Instead the foreign policy of a great power should be the responsible exercise of limited power and knowledge in concurrent situations of radical uncertainty. Obama, we may hope, will develop this elusive insight. And then it might become possible to find the right places in which to deploy the wealth, the courage, and the political capital of the United States. We might hope in South Asia, for example, for a lighter involvement in Afghanistan but a much greater focus on Kashmir.

I began by saying that “calling” in poker was childish and that grownups raise or fold. But there is another category of people who raise or fold: those who are anxious to leave the table. They go all in to exit, hoping to get lucky but if not then at least to finish. They do not do this on the basis of their cards or the pot. They do it because they lack the patience, the interest, the focus, or the confidence to pace themselves carefully through the long and exhausting hours. They no longer care enough about the game. Obama is a famously keen poker player. He should never be in a hurry to leave the table.

 

References:

Barack Obama [2009]: Remarks in Address to the Nation on the Way Forward in Afghanistan and Pakistan, given at the US Military Academy at West Point, New York, 2009-12-01.

Rory Stewart [2010]:  Afghanistan:  What could workThe New York Review of Books, 57 (1), 2010-01-14.




That deadline

Nate Fick, whom I saluted here, had an op-ed in the NYT last week on the decision by the Obama administration to announce a deadline for withdrawal, here.  His conclusion:

Announcing the timeline was risky, and it could turn out to be our undoing. The president delivered two intertwined messages in his speech at West Point outlining his Afghan policy: one to his American audience (“I see the way out of this war”), and one to the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan, including the Taliban (“I’m in to win”). The danger of dual messages, of course, is that each may find the other audience, with Americans hearing over-commitment and Afghans hearing abandonment.

The only way to reassure both is to show demonstrable progress on the ground.  A credible declaration of American limits may, paradoxically, be the needed catalyst.”

Technorati Tags: