November 2009: Mr. Obama’s unimaginative Afghan strategy, a bungled stimulus, bothering about sex, and other observations

A tip of a Pilgrim’s hat to the late, great New York newspaper columnist Jimmy Cannon for borrowing his signature phrase: nobody asked me, but…

THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA HAS NOW DECLARED THE CONFLICT IN AFGHANISTAN “MR. OBAMA’S WAR.” Barack Obama’s West Point speech escalating the war by sending a surge of 30,000 American troops—following the 21,000 soldiers and Marines he dispatched earlier in the year—means, as CNN’s Gloria Borger noted, that Obama “owns the war.”

What hasn’t provoked much comment, however, is how unimaginative and conventional Obama’s approach to Afghanistan has been.

Obama had promised a multilateral approach to foreign policy, and yet his AfPak strategy disappoints in how heavily it relies on American troops for the surge beginning in 2010. As James G. Neuger and Janine Zacharia of Bloomberg News reported: “Obama took office with the U.S. supplying 54 percent of the foreign troops in Afghanistan, a figure that he will push past 70 percent.”

Why didn’t Obama persuade Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and other Muslim-majority nations with troops in Afghanistan to dramatically increase their “boots on the ground”? That would have sent the welcome message to the Muslim world that Afghanistan has become a coalition effort to resist Islamic extremism.

The U.S.-forces-centric policy Obama has approved is exactly what could have been expected from John McCain had he been elected—a conventional response lacking the application of soft power and the much-vaunted Obama charisma.

Even the contribution from NATO of an additional 7,000 troops is short of the 10,000 the U.S. had requested. According to Reuters, Canada and the Netherlands may pull out nearly as many troops in the next two years as the new NATO surge level. European public sentiment runs strongly for withdrawal. Where has been Obama’s creative, unconventional response? Why didn’t he go on the road to the major European capitals—London, Paris, Bonn, Rome—and make a compelling case for his Afghanistan strategy?

Obama has talked bravely of shared commitment in international peacekeeping efforts, but the reality is that the U.S. and Great Britain will bear the brunt of the escalation in Afghanistan. Obama the Candidate criticized the Bush Administration for unilateralism in its approach to Iraq and Afghanistan—and yet when confronted with a crucial decision Obama the President offered none of the creative change his admirers insisted he would bring to foreign policy.

DID PRESIDENT OBAMA AND HIS ADVISORS IGNORE ADVICE ON THER STIMULUS PACKAGE THAT COULD HAVE JUMP STARTED JOB CREATION? According to a Fred Barnes column in the Weekly Standard (“Obamanomics 101“), Obama heard from Jim Owens, the head of Caterpillar, in February that the U.S. stimulus package had too little funding for roads, bridges, and other infrastructure (unlike, he told the President, China’s economic recovery plan) and would not encourage Caterpillar or others to hire workers. Obama, according to Barnes, “either hadn’t understood what Owens told him or simply refused to accept it.”

This led to an embarrassing episode at Caterpillar ‘s Peoria plant, where in a speech Obama claimed that the federal stimulus would prompt Caterpillar to rehire laid off workers, something Owens quickly had to deny. It now appears that Owens was right—heavily allocating stimulus funding to save public sector employee jobs, instead of investing in infrastructure, has contributed to elevated levels of private sector unemployment.

UNIVERSITY OF OREGON RESEARCHERS ASKED “WHY DO WE BOTHER WITH SEX“? It’s not as lame a question as it seems, because “it’s far more efficient for living things to reproduce solo.” (Remember, in Greek mythology Athena sprang from the forehead of Zeus!)

Experimenting with a worm species (nematode C. elegans) which has both males and hermaphrodites, the Oregon researchers showed that sexual reproduction increased the gene pool to allow for adaptation to hostile conditions. This drive to survive is key to evolution—the “joy of sex” is Nature’s way of encouraging genetic diversity.

CUBAN AGENT 202—RETIRED U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL WALTER KENDALL MYERS—WAS SENTENCED TO LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE FOR SPYING ON THE U.S. IN NOVEMBER. Myers agreed to cooperate with authorities to gain a lighter sentence for his wife, who joined him in passing secrets to the Cubans.

Myers spied for Fidel Castro’s Communist regime for three decades, and he joins the infamous list of those in the American elite willing to betray their country on ideological grounds.

YALE FOOTBALL COACH TOM WILLIAMS DELIGHTED HARVARD FOOTBALL FANS EVERYWHERE WITH HIS BOLD BUT RISKY PLAY-CALLING in this year’s version of The Game. With the Elis clinging to a 10-7 lead, Williams elected to run a fake punt on 4th and 22 on his own 28 yard-line with some two-and-half minutes left in the game. Harvard’s defense stopped the trick play seven yards short of a first down, and capitalized with the game-winning touchdown three plays later, winning 14-7.

Dave Solomon of the New Haven Register called it an “ill-conceived decision” and added:

And as much as Tom Williams will say today that he made the right choice, we feel certain that whenever he faces a similar situation, be it next year, in 10 years or 25 years, he’ll remember the call he made at Yale on fourth-and-22 and opt for the sensible solution.

THREE CHEERS FOR HARRY CHRISTOPHERS FOR HIS INSPIRED CONDUCTING OF HANDEL’S “MESSIAH” ON THE FIRST FRIDAY IN DECEMBER. It was Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society’s 156th annual performance of Handel’s masterpiece.

THIS MONTH’S WORDS OF WISDOM COME FROM AMERICAN CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. (1932-1968): “Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ But conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’ And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but because conscience tells one it is right.”

Copyright © 2009 Jefferson Flanders
All rights reserved

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