Wednesday, August 01, 2007

He Said What?

[posted by Callimachus]

I'm reading Barack Obama's speech at the Wilson Center ("as prepared for delivery"), and it's his usual recipe of genuinely stirring rhetoric (does anyone on the trail this year have better speechwriters?) that often covers thin thinking (e.g., Iraq is sinking because of the presence of our troops, yet Afghanistan can be saved from the same fate by -- an infusion of our troops).

Whatever he said about Pakistan in this speech seems to have set people buzzing. His defenders are trying to play it down:

At least one pundit on the left, Jerome Armstrong of MyDD says that Sen. Obama supports unilateral war on the middle east with this speech - but Sen. Obama said no such thing! Again, the Senator is simply echoing the concerns of the vast majority of Americans in that he will actually follow through on the post-9/11 rhetoric to bring Bin Laden and his ilk to justice. If we have to cross Pakistan's border to kill Bin Laden, so be it.

It seems to me most likely that's what he is saying. Though lines like this one:

The first step must be getting off the wrong battlefield in Iraq, and taking the fight to the terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

suggest he sees Pakistan as a potential "battlefield" in the sense that Iraq and Afghanistan are, he may not mean that literally.

I understand that President Musharraf has his own challenges. But let me make this clear. There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. It was a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an al Qaeda leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will.

The comparison of a hypothetical situation to one in which a surgical use of special forces, or even a drone missile attack, would have done the job does not suggest he means a full invasion.

Meanwhile, I like the contrast he draws in this passage:

And we know what the extremists say about us. America is just an occupying Army in Muslim lands, the shadow of a shrouded figure standing on a box at Abu Ghraib, the power behind the throne of a repressive leader. They say we are at war with Islam. That is the whispered line of the extremist who has nothing to offer in this battle of ideas but blame -- blame America, blame progress, blame Jews.

We know we are not who they say we are. America is at war with terrorists who killed on our soil. We are not at war with Islam. America is a compassionate nation that wants a better future for all people. The vast majority of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims have no use for bin Ladin or his bankrupt ideas. But too often since 9/11, the extremists have defined us, not the other way around.

When I am President, that will change. We will author our own story.

Except I can't help thinking the "they" who paint this relentlessly negative picture of an oppressing and exploiting America are not merely Muslim extremists, but also a substantial chunk of his own domestic political faction. Who haven't always taken the trouble to draw a distinction -- if they even sense one -- between the Bush Administration or certain fringe tendencies in our culture, on the one hand, and the overall American culture and behavior. Who made Abu Ghraib the enduring image of the modern American military? It wasn't Bin Laden.

The extremists have defined us, but in many ways we have defined ourselves to their liking, or given out the raw material for that biased and negative definition of us. In more ways than one.