Monday, August 17, 2009

Obama's VFW Speech

President Obama gave a speech today at the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention. (Transcript is here). In keeping with the event, he spoke on military affairs. The speech can be summarized by the following main points:

1. Made a pitch for so-called "smart power," rather than a reliance on military force alone, and gave the usual promise to only send troops to war with good intelligence & planning.

2. Talked about expanding the military.

3. Reaffirmed commitment to leave Iraq in 2011.

4. Stressed the necessity of U.S. commitment to war in Afghanistan.

5. Promised military reform to meet 21st century challenges.

6. Emphasized the need to cut wasteful defense spending.

7. Promised to honor and expand VA benefits.

Here's my quick take on each of his points.

1. This is mostly bs. We've never relied solely on military force, you can't guarantee good intelligence, and war planning is often ad hoc.

2. I give Obama serious credit here. One of the biggest failings of the Bush administration was in committing the U.S. to two wars without investing in a major expansion of the military. I strongly support the president's efforts to increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps.

3. It appears the Iraqis want us gone, so I have no problem with this point, although I'm skeptical that a complete withdrawal is even possible in that time-frame.

4.  I thought Obama's remarks were weak, almost as if he's trying to convince himself. He's doubled down on the idea that Afghanistan is the good war -- as opposed to Iraq, even though Iraq is more important strategically.

5.  More bs. We heard the same thing from the Bush administration and from Donald Rumsfeld in particular. The military is a huge, slow-moving beast. Fundamental changes in outlook and strategy take time.

6. There is plenty of waste to be cut. Unfortunately I have no confidence that Obama can tell the difference between necessary but expensive programs, and military pork. He claims to be working with John McCain on this issue. Maybe he will actually listen and take some advice from Republicans rather than just his own cronies, but I doubt it.

7. Obviously we have to honor commitments to veterans. This was just preaching to the choir.

Overall I thought the president's speech was pretty safe and unobjectionable.

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