Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What is it about his speeches?

So, I’m reading McCain’s speech to the NAACP and Obama’s speech regarding national security issues (as a prelude to his foreign policy tour). I read through the remarks to the NAACP regarding education and economic reforms and find reasonable programs, though I don’t agree with all of them. Some of his education reforms seem to put too much power in the hands of Washington bureaucracy rather than the local school districts. I don’t care what he says, giving money to the principals of schools to spend as they wish will never, ever happen and there is no such thing as no-strings-attached federal grant money.

I wasn’t compelled to read McCain’s speech twice, but there’s something about Obama’s speech that compelled me to read it 3 times. THREE TIMES!!! And it’s a long damn speech. What’s up with that?

I go on to read the national security speech and the first thing that strikes me is the very first paragraph:

"Sixty-one years ago, George Marshall announced the plan that would come to bear his name. Much of Europe lay in ruins. The United States faced a powerful and ideological enemy intent on world domination. This menace was magnified by the recently discovered capability to destroy life on an unimaginable scale. The Soviet Union didn’t yet have an atomic bomb, but before long it would. "

That’s fine rhetoric and an interesting way to start a speech, but it’s simply not true. Yes, the friendship between the Soviet Union and the US barely lasted through the war, but they weren’t exactly enemies at the close of the war. It was quite an icy and contentious relationship that would quickly dissolve into the titanic standoff between two superpowers, but in 1947 the Soviets were still more interested in protecting their western frontier and rebuilding their economy than world domination.

One could even argue that the titanic standoff was not yet cast in stone. One could posit that the US’s own arrogance that came with being the sole superpower that “saved” Europe and the Soviets from Nazi Germany hardened the resolve of a proud Soviet empire into ensuring that the US would NOT dominate them. “World Domination” wasn’t really a goal, but national protection was, and from that first principal of national security against the perceived American threat, countering American influence on the world stage came to be seen as world domination—either they would wield influence in far flung and distant lands, or we would, and if we didn’t get there firstest and with the moistest toys, then they surely would try to do so. Thus, as the US began to gain influence in western Europe, the Soviets once again saw a threat on their borders just as the Napoleonic invasions and German invasions crossed over weak territories to threaten the very existence of the Russian state (saved only by the harsh Russian winter on more than one occasion), a coalescing of western states around the common interest of an arrogant and brash United States was a growing and grave threat to the Soviet Union.

Economically speaking, on the back side of WWII the US was briefly the sole superpower of the world, and for a slightly longer period the sole nuclear superpower in the world. The two great empires of Japan and Germany were completely in ruins and occupied by foreign forces. All of Europe—east and west—was burned and the Soviet Union was economically devastated, though not nearly as badly as the rest of Europe. While the Soviets successfully turned back the Nazi assault, the effort devastated the economy. The eastern front consumed almost all of the Soviet’s major cities and industrial zones. There was one significant difference between the Soviet devastation and the European devastation, however. The Soviets were not subject to constant bombing campaigns from the US, British, and Soviet planes. The infrastructure that was utterly demolished in the west was merely incapacitated in the east. While the US was briefly the sole superpower in the world following WWII, the Soviet Union was a sleeping bear just waiting to rebuild its economic base—though not yet an enemy, and not yet a powerful adversary at all. And certainly not an adversary we needed to fear due to the fact that the US, and only the US, was capable of death and destruction on a nuclear scale.

For a brief, shining moment in the history of time, one nation stood without fear upon a shattered world. So, I’m left with a tale of two speeches. One that read well, though probably didn’t sound great coming from someone who is a bit of a clumsy orator. The other read well and probably sounded good, too, but was totally spoiled by starting off, not even a full paragraph in, with a patently untrue statement. There’s something to be said for good oratory, but there something MORE to be said about accuracy.

The irony, I suppose, is that if what McCain spoke about in his speech (better education) were to come about, Obama wouldn’t be able to get away with how he started off his speech. Marshall did not present his plan in a world where the US was being threatened with immenent destruction from an ideologically hostile superpower armed with nuclear weapons and hell bent on world domination.

As much as I want to believe in this so-called “change we can believe in”, my hunch is that the more Obama talks about this change without giving any substance to the follow-up question of "to what?”, the less likely he is to win the election.

Nonetheless, the world he describes today is actually more paralleled with the real world of 1947—the power to destroy and devastate could potentially fall into the hands of those who would seek OUR destruction, just as it did in 1947 when we were the sole nuclear power and there was great risk associated with that power falling into the hands of a nation that would one day oppose us.

Imagine a world where our adversary believes a nuclear armed US is hell bent neutralizing its influence and seeks to topple the economic and governmental system, in self defense, acquires technology that can be used to develop the same offensive weapons that the US possesses. I’m actually describing late ‘40s and early ‘50s Soviet Union, but you can replace “adversary” with “Iran” in that equation just as easily.

But, then again, I guess the greater problem with the speech, after you get past the untruths that it opens with, is that we’ve heard it all before. All of the “could haves” that hindsight affords that really have no relation to that fateful day in September 2001. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, was thinking in the aftermath of that day that we should expand the volunteer corps. That’s just plain silly.

To be fair, once you get past the revisionist history and the “heard it all before” rhetoric about the Iraq war, there’s plenty to head nod about. No, I don’t agree with how he sees the Iraq war, and it’s easy to oppose a federal action from a state legislative office, so he gets no points from me on that count. But I do like the idea of pulling out troops when the situation on the ground allows us to do so—not unlike the actual position of his adversary, contrary to the position he assigns to him—and focusing more energy in Afghanistan and/or Pakistan. We abandoned that nation once, I’d hate to see it happen again.

Functionally, I don’t see any difference from McCain saying “pull out when conditions allow” and “keeping a presence there for as long as they’re needed and welcome” not unlike the Korean presence, and Obama’s position of removing the forces by the end of 2010, a year after security forces in Iraq are projected to be taking care of things on their own anyway, and keeping a small force for specific missions as needed on the ground. I guess the only real difference is the specific date—2010.

I also like his ideas about energy independence, but there’s very little substance behind what he’s offering. We’ll invest money to develop green energy sources? We not only have to build more energy generation sources, we need to replace the carbon-based energy sources we currently have. How many solar panels and windmills will it take to replace the coal and gas power plants we already have? What about 45 new nuclear plants, will that do the trick? And how safe to they have to be? Safer than the current US standards where there hasn’t been a single accident since 3-mile island? Safer? How so? I like the idea, but simply saying “this is what I want to do” isn’t going to cut it with me. I guess what it boils down to is who do I believe on that point?

And then the international relations part I don’t so much disagree about either, but once again I don’t see much difference between the young senator and the old senator, except for who’s pulling the strings. Both would seek to repair our reputation with the world, but by different means. I don’t think John McCain for one second will allow the kind of brutality that went on under GWB’s watch, nor would Obama. I genuinely believe that both would seek more consensus on foreign action and especially Obama would be extremely nuanced with regard to handling nations on a situation-by-situation basis. But then I begin to wonder who would really be in the driver’s seat. With a President without the force of conviction and bullheadedness (ignorance?) of GWB coupled with the lack of experience and political background, would foreign leaders and especially foreign adversaries take advantage of the younger senator? Or, just as the speculation always was that Cheny and Rummy were in the driver’s seat with GWB, I wonder how much driving Obama would do in a car with Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi.

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