A contingency liability

One of the striking features of Obama’s press conference on Tuesday was the lack of interest on the part of the press in foreign policy and national security. It’s not that there was no news on which to seek Obama’s comment. Word has arrived via the Washington Post, for example, that Obama has abandoned the Global War on Terror.

It’s not that we’ve raised a white flag, it’s just that Obama finds the nomenclature unhelpful. He prefers overseas contingency operation, or Overseas Contingency Operation. I’m feeling better already.

Under whatever rubric, our armed forces are engaged in the Overseas Contingency Operation formerly known as war on two fronts. And yet, as Andrew Malcolm notes, not a single question on either war, including the one the commander-in-chief recently ordered 17,000 more Americans to march into.

And Iran continues its march to nuclear Armageddon. Not a single question on that subject either. Obama neverthless raised it on his own, touting his “philosophy of persistence.” I’m betting the persistence of the mad mullahs in achieving their objective is at least the equal of Obama’s persistence in seeking to dissuade them from doing so by sweet-talking them. Here is what Obama had to say on this subject:

You know, leaders from the two sides of Northern Ireland that, you know, a couple of decades ago — or even a decade ago — people would have said could never achieve peace, and here they were, jointly appearing, and talking about their commitment, even in the face of violent provocation.

And what that tells me is that, if you stick to it, if you are persistent, then — then these problems can be dealt with.

That whole philosophy of persistence, by the way, is one that I’m going to be emphasizing again and again in the months and years to come as long as I’m in this office. I’m a big believer in persistence.

I think that, when it comes to domestic affairs, if we keep on working at it, if we acknowledge that we make mistakes sometimes, and that we don’t always have the right answer, and we’re inheriting very knotty problems, that we can pass health care, we can find better solutions to our energy challenges, we can teach our children more effectively, we can deal with a very real budget crisis that is not fully dealt with in my — in my budget at this point, but makes progress….

When it comes to Iran, you know, we did a video, sending a message to the Iranian people and the leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran. And some people said, “Well, they did not immediately say that we’re eliminating nuclear weapons and stop funding terrorism.” Well, we didn’t expect that. We expect that we’re going to make steady progress on this front.

Obama’s “philosophy of persistence” is not exactly the kind of philosphy that stirs the blood or rouses men to action. It’s not “give me liberty or give me death,” or “we hold these truths to be self-evident.” It’s more nearly the opposite. What is it they say about repeating the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?

From the mullahs’ perspective, Obama’s philosophy of pesistence perfectly complements the mullahs’ own. It gives them all they need to succeed in meeting their objective. All they need is a little more time. Obama’s declaration of his philosphy is deeply meaningful to them. It tells them that he will leave them undisturbed while they go about their business.

Obama will keep on keeping on. He will speak nicely to them some more. He will kindly send them another video on an appropriate occasion. He will continue shouting out to “the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

He won’t be so gauche as to much mention their efforts to kill American armed forces in Iraq. He won’t even say anything that gives them second thoughts about their own persistence, let alond go so far as to undertake action that will prevent them from achieving their objective. Bill Kristol makes the observation in the form of a question:

The American (and European) position — and the position of candidate Obama — has been that this Iranian regime acquiring nuclear weapons is “unacceptable.” If that’s so, then there’s a deadline, so to speak, to all the incremental efforts. And since, by all accounts, that deadline is fast approaching, there would have to be a certain speed to the hoped-for “steady progress.” President Obama seems to evince no sense of urgency about Iran’s nuclear program. Did his relaxed statement about Iran tonight suggest he has quietly decided to accept the previously unacceptable?

I don’t think Kristol’s question is rhetorical, but Obama’s “philosophy of persistence” strongly suggests that the answer is affirmative.


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