Wednesday, September 01, 2010


Pivot Foot

Barack Obama picked up one thing from George Bush -- the first one (H.W.).  In the middle of a very messy economy, it's not a bad thing, when dealing with international issues, to "declare victory while you're getting out"  More than two decades later, many Republicans are still frustrated that Bush never took a victory lap after the the Berlin Wall fell, the Soviet Union collapsed -- and the United States won the Cold War. If only for atmospherics, the fact that he didn't seemed like a missed opportunity.   

To Bush's credit, he and James Baker thought that, to use Obama's words, a "victory lap" would have been unseemly (rubbing the Soviets nose in it) and caused untold problems for dealing with the sticky business of reorganizing Europe and trying to keep the world together. 

Even so, more than a few Republicans wonder if Bush might have ended up looking a little better in the eyes of voters, come 1992, had there been a VC (Victory over Communism) Day in 1989. Of course, the actual victory over Iraq -- and freeing Kuwait -- hardly helped Bush, so maybe not. 

Even so, as Obama faces a midterm election that looks like a disaster for the Democrats -- with both the House and Senate in danger -- he wants to develop a narrative that he's fulfilling his campaign promises and desperately needs a Democratic majority to help complete that task.  Thus, Tuesday's speech begins the fall run: Obama clearly says that he's fulfilling his campaign pledge to end the war in Iraq (yeah, he was able to do that because the surge he opposed worked, but details, details...).  He gives a generous shout-out to George W. Bush (though linking it with a there-were-patriots-on-both-sides-of-war-argument rhetoric) and outlines the Afghanistan stragegy:  Something notable:  While al Qaeda is mentioned a half-dozen times, the Taliban is mentioned only once, in the context of additional troops are "are fighting to break the Taliban's momentum."
That sort of emphasis suggests that, come next July, when Obama promises that US forces will begin drawing down out of Afghanistan, this president -- likely with David Petraeus' assent -- that al Qaeda is on the run and a deal can be cut with the remaining Taliban.  

In the meantime, Obama uses the speech to pivot to talk of the economy. Why not? A president only gets so much opportunity to do the Oval Office address. His first one, a few weeks back, on the oil spill was seen as something of a dud.  Obama's energy level for this one was about right -- even though it's pretty clear that he's  not that comfortable giving speeches behind a desk.  He prefers to be outside, in front of a crowd with whom he can engage. In any event, the economy is foremost in the public's mind (regardless of how individuals felt about the Iraq over the last seven years), so Obama makes a firm declaration that "in the days to come, it must be our central mission as a people, and my central responsibility as President." (My emphasis).

And yet, what
is taking up the president's time today? Not the economy, but  Mideast peace talks with Netanyahu, Abbas, Mubarek, etc.  Well, that's something that shouldn't take much time to figure out, right? The Middle East is one of those easy to resolve subjects, correct?  To use a basketball metaphor, Obama has pivoted so many times that he's turned the ball over on a "travel" violation. Two months to election day and Republicans have no reason to want to help Democrats pass anything related to the economy (save, an extension of the Bush tax cuts).  That Obama has fulfilled a campaign promise in getting out of Iraq will find precious little love from the voters for such an achievement. 

No wonder the Democrats are heading for the hills to escape impending doom. 

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