Obama Auditions For His Legacy. But Will He Get The Part? As The Director Said, ‘We’ll Let You Know’
Jan Weatherhead writes from Washington: President Obama is a great performer and US Congress is a great audience. Tuesday night was the show of the year. We sat, we laughed, we frowned, we applauded in the OK places. It was an easy-going evening. We loved it. Why so? Because we have seen and heard it all before. It was an old favourite.
We felt warm when the leading man crooned that old favourite ‘Our Generation’s Task’. And that old routine ‘Together, we have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and we can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is stronger’ was pure Astaire-Rogers. All that was missing was the top hat and tails and a final tappity-tap-tap of his silver topped-cane.
Magic, Mr President. The guy behind me hummed that wonderful number You Were Never Lovelier. He could have tried that other Jerome Kern/Johnny Mercer standard Dearly Beloved. Democrats know about these things. The Republicans these days just like to be seen at the shows but somehow never learn the lyrics. They sat there throughout Tuesday’s State of the Union address with bitter expression, seemingly determined not to enjoy Obama’s perfectly delivered numbers on jobs, education, immigration, gun-law, climate change and Afghanistan troop draw-down.
The Republicans sat on their hands while the rest of the Congressional theatre stomped their appreciation when Obama rang out the Newtown school massacre story. His recitative had everyone else on their feet. Congress should at least debate gun law. The Republicans have, as everyone knows, hitched their wagons to a different train.
Republicans are consistently bad losers and some of them, the old hands, deep down know they could become the regular losers if the demographic vote continues to slide in favour of the Democrats. It wasn’t chance that they chose a Cuban-American Senator from Florida to reply to Obama. They know they got it wrong in November with their hard-line approach on immigration. They know the Hispanic vote won’t forget that when the boxes come around again in 2016.
And here was Obama crooning: ‘How Do We Attract More Jobs To Our Shores?’ Easy, the Democrat chorus sang: ‘Open The Gates’.
The other stuff was no brainer for Obama. The people have worked hard, now give them a break. Raise the minimum wage to $9 and put people to work and pick up their taxes. Half the US forces in Afghanistan home by this time next year but leave it to the generals to figure out the withdrawal rate once they see the results of the summer fighting season that ends this coming fall.
Even Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. (surely a Best Supporting Veep nominee?) who wants pull-out like yesterday, nodded his approval at that one.
At the same time, officials said, it rebuffs arguments by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. This needs some context.
Administration said last year that they would determine the size and composition of the American presence after 2014 before determining the withdrawal schedule for the next two years.
But Obama has not yet made a decision on the post-2014 force, which is likely to number no more than 9,000.
‘Beyond 2014, America’s commitment to a unified and sovereign Afghanistan will endure, but the nature of our commitment will change,’ Mr. Obama said. ‘We are negotiating an agreement with the Afghan government that focuses on two missions: training and equipping Afghan forces, so that the country does not again slip into chaos, and counterterrorism efforts that allow us to pursue the remnants of Al Qaeda and their affiliates.’
Obama campaigned for his first term on a ‘war of necessity’ to deprive Al Qaeda of a potential sanctuary in Afghanistan, and in 2009 he ordered a surge of more than 30,000 troops. He has to honour his pledge to wind down the war without undermining the still fragile military gains. This is legacy stuff.
The new withdrawal schedule: down to 60,500 by the end of May. By the end of November down to 52,000. End of February 2014, down to 32,000.
Also remember ‘combat intensity’ in the coming warm fighting season is twice what it is in colder months. Furthermore, Taliban is not expected to withdraw from eastern Afghanistan, and it is unlikely that Afghan Army can maintain control of the south without coalition back-up.
In other words, bin a lot of the statements about winning the war from outgoing ISAF commander General James Allen. Nice guy, but just reading the words.
And so back to Tuesday’s show in Congress. Was Obama just reading the words, albeit with feeling, or was this star performance desperately rehearsing the Presidential legacy? Nice routine but as many an audition director has said from the darkened stalls: ‘Thanks for coming Dearly Beloved … We’ll let you know.’