Sunday, September 5, 2010

"The War Legend" - Selling The Sizzle On Television

Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgement
- Rudyard Kipling, "The Ballad of East and West"

At the end of the year (1889) a young man arrived in London
with a sheaf of ballads to sell, and with two or three
introductions to editors. The December number of
"Macmillan's Magazine" contained one of his ballads which
set the town on fire, with words which are not likely to be
Charles Carrington

Stratfor Publisher Robert W. Merry came to Austin in January
after a long career as a Washington correspondent for "The
Wall Street Journal" and the head of "Congressional

According to George Friedman, CEO of the private
intelligence service, Mr. Merry is seeking to "understand
and explain what is happening" without "ideology and
advocacy," of which our nation is in "ample supply," and in
this debut piece for "Washington Looks At The World," he
focuses on the thinking that went into President Barack
Obama's August 31 Oval Office speech about the end of Iraq
combat operations.

The result is surprising.

Mr. Obama, he wrote, is selling the legend of the war, not
in Iraq, the one he promised an end of which to the war
weary people who elected him President, but in Afghanistan.

It was all part of that famous change of which he spoke so
eloquently, long, loud and often enough that he walked away
with the big enchilada and now occupies the "bully pulpit"
between Foggy Bottom and The Hill.

What to do?

According to Mr. Merry, the speech had many purposes, chief
of which was to "claim a measure of credit for largely
fulfilling one of his major campaign promises" and to thank
those who served.

But the hidden message, the subliminal cut, is to assure the
pubilc that "no dishonor was attached to this foreign
adventure, which was opposed by many in Obama's own party
and by him from the beginning."

Now that it's over, the nation seems to need to be able to
walk away from the unpleasant reality of Abu Ghraib and its
hideous pictures, the dozens upon dozens of unfinished civil
projects so shoddily built at the cost of billions and left
unoccupied in the deserts, and the memory of more than a
million people whose lives were snuffed out by high tech
weaponry, smart bombs, block busters, cruise missiles,
disease, pestilence and deprivation.

Now the war - and all wars - must take on the legendary
status of some glorious pursuit in which everyone involved
grew into the status of cult heros, brothers in arms who
would have gladly laid down their lives for one another if
only, if only - what?

"Any national leader must protect and nurture the legend of
any war over which he presides, even those - actually,
particularly those - he has brought to a close. The people
need to feel that the sacrifice in blood and treasure was
worth it, that the mission's rationale still makes sense,
that the nation's standing and prestige remain intact.

"In terms of America, nothing illustrates this more starkly
than the Vietnam experience. This was a war that emerged
quite naturally out of a foreign policy outlook..."

Amen, brother.

So mote it be.

Mr. Obama faced two dangers, wrote Mr. Merry.

First, Obama might have appeared insincere. After all, he
opposed the war.

Secondly, the war might not withstand the microscopic
examination of history, even in the near term, and its
record thereby maintain that "the legend can hold up, that
the stated rationale for the war really withstands serious

Be that as it may, Mr. Merry's line of reasoning goes, the
second and more important message was that "the war in
Afghanistan, which Obama says will begin to wind down for
America in July of next year," will be able to "allow for a
reassuring legend when the troops come home," given the fact
that "America is not going to bring about a victory in
Afghanistan in any conventional sense."

Taliban insurgency won't go away, and "indeed, the Taliban
will likely have to be part of any accomodation that can
precede America's withdrawal."


Purely and simply, it's not what you do, as any bold and
bodacious lad who has ever planned bloody murder, mayhem,
robbery, burglary, or something as simple and
straightforward as the hostile takeover knows; it's what
you do after you do what you do that really counts.

Well done, Mr. Merry. So glad you got here to the Lone Star
State as quickly as you could. We will be looking forward
to your views of "the international system" as seen "through
the eyes of official Washington and its unofficial
outriders," as Mr. Friedman bills your copy.

Yes, indeed. Once more, just for drill, it's not the steak,
it's the sizzle that's for sale.

I'll take a ration of that, my man. Put it on The Legendary
tab. We won't talk about the cuff.

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