December 3, 2009

More Drones of History

Standing in front of the cadets in gray, his head shifting back and forth with such rapidity and practiced cadence that it was as if he were man trying to escape his own skin, and therefore at times almost impossible to watch, the President announced what had been expected: there would play out the myth of leadership, control, liberation, and the completion of the right war, the just war.

More men and women would be sent. Not enough for anything but some slim tragedy, but enough of a symbol, so he must think, just enough of a symbol, to suggest that he is not an "architect of surrender."

At this time of year it is easy to imagine Afghanistan as a hellishly cold place. But there was little talk of the place as it is today. Instead there was the parade of grand abstractions that recalled Hemingway's famous passage about inflated in A Farewell to Arms, in which int he end the dead smell not of some grander purpose but like the unburied death rotting in the Chicago stockyards. Instead there was an argument about how to read history.

Obama's argument for the distinctions between Afghanistan and Vietnam only worked to drive home their similarities. With contractors and cadets instead of the drafted he is in part right about differences. But as he trafficked in a tired language of necessity and America's altruistic gift to the world, one could clearly hear Lyndon Johnson 's famous Minneapolis declaration to the farmers that the US seeks "no wider war."

There was not talk of austerity, though, only of an "honest" accounting of trillions.

And just under the surface, like the phantoms of Tonkin, there seemed to be the message that there is always at the ready

and the necessity of plunging headlong into destabilization by the compelling force of history.