November 12th, 2009

Hamlet-in-Chief: Obama loses the name of action

Now comes the news that President Obama has rejected all “of the Afghanistan war options presented by his national security team.” Instead, he wants to clarify the exit strategy first, and turn over responsibility to an Afghan government that he simultaneously criticizes for being corrupt.

Let’s review: during the 2008 campaign, one of the linchpins of Obama’s foreign policy plan was the commitment to winning in Afghanistan. Obama spoke of defeating al Qaeda and the Taliban, as well as transforming the Afghan economy from poppy-growing to more acceptable pursuits.

In other words, he had huge plans for Afghanistan, while simultaneously criticizing the Bush administration’s involvement in nation-building in Iraq. It is clear in retrospect (and even was clear at the time) that Obama’s main interest in Afghanistan was his desire to pump up his commander-in-chief bona fides, and elevate it as the “good war” to Bush’s bad one in Iraq.

Now both of those motivations are gone. Democrats no longer support the war in Afghanistan because they don’t have Bush to kick around anymore, just the increasingly insubstantial memory of him. What’s Obama to do? Go against his base, and fulfill his campaign promises? Or break those promises, as he’s done with so many others, assuming no one will remember and/or care, as well as citing changed circumstances (although nothing has really changed except the political climate here)?

Well, if you’re Obama, you can always dither. Or, rather, launch another study. And then another—and claim all the while that you’re merely being reflective and thoughtful, smarter than your predecessors, and smarter than your generals. After all, what do they know? Were they ever community organizers?

There is probably even more going on than this, because if that’s all it was, my guess is that Obama would have made some decision by now. Either Obama is (a) constitutionally incapable of making a decision (or perhaps even understanding that this is what presidents have to do); or he is (b) incapable of making a decision that will offend a large group of people either way it goes. In the meantime, he is causing the demoralization of our troops in Afghanistan by showing an abysmal lack of leadership on the war there, after cynically and disingenuously making it one of the centerpieces of his campaign.

This indecision has gone on way too long, which brings us once again to the Hamlet comparison, although indecision is by no means Obama’s only tragic flaw. Let’s take another look at the problem with Hamlet:

The whole [of the play] is intended to show that a too close consideration, which exhausts all the relations and possible consequences of a deed, must cripple the power of action…

The mystery which surrounds the play centres in the character of Hamlet himself. He is of a highly cultivated mind, a prince of royal manners, endowed with the finest sense of propriety, susceptible of noble ambition…

But in the resolutions which he so often embraces and always leaves unexecuted, his weakness is too apparent; he is not solely impelled by necessity to artifice and dissimulation, he has a natural inclination for crooked ways; he is a hypocrite toward himself; his far-fetched scruples are often mere pretexts to cover his want of determination–thoughts, as he says, which have

—-but one part wisdom
And ever three parts coward…

On the other hand, we evidently perceive in him a malicious joy, when he has succeeded in getting rid of his enemies, more through necessity and accident, which alone are able to impel him to quick and decisive measures, than by the merit of his own courage, as he himself confesses after the slaying of Polonius. Hamlet has no firm belief either in himself or in anything else. From expressions of religious confidence he passes over to skeptical doubts; he believes in the ghost of his father as long as he sees it, but as soon as it has disappeared, it appears to him almost in the light of a deception. He has even gone so far as to say “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so;”…

The shoe does seem to fit, doesn’t it? Shakespeare wasn’t just a superlative poet, he was an extraordinary observer of human character.

One of the things Obama seems to either be unaware of, or to not care about, is the psychological effect his stalling has on the troops and on our enemies. It demoralizes the former and cheers the latter.

Wars, as well as nation-building and economic development, are not just a matter of tactics. They involve perceptions about will and commitment. The enemy (be it the members of al Qaeda, the Taliban, or the poppy-dealers of Afghanistan) size up the opposition. If the US is thought to be weak or indecisive, it appears to them to be extremely worthwhile to continue on the present course against the US in hopes of prevailing in the end, whatever might happen in the short run after Obama finally makes his much-awaited decision.

That was a huge part of the calculation by the enemy in Vietnam, and it worked very well for them. Vietam was a war of attrition; the enemies there calculated that they had more tenacity than we did, and they were correct. Obama is sending a similar message to enemies in Afghanistan—and around the world.

[NOTE: In related matters, here and here are some previous articles on Obama’s failure to understand the concept of victory.]

33 Responses to “Hamlet-in-Chief: Obama loses the name of action”

  1. Amy Says:

    We have a Commander-in-Chief who doesn’t want us to win a war. God help us.

  2. huxley Says:

    No matter what frame one prefers for Obama — narcissist, tyrant, ideologue, machine politician, or even good guy Democrat — it’s hard to see how all these delays to come to a decision, or even a decision to a come to a decision, benefit Obama, much less America, the US military, Afghanistan, or our standing in the world.

    My European friend who follows inside stories tells me that the situation in Pakistan is far more volatile than most people realize. Pakistan may be literally coming apart as a nation, thereby unleashing who knows what kind of chaos that could suck the United States via Afghanistan into something vastly dangerous and horrible. And that’s what’s giving Obama the Hamlet heebie-jeebies.

    Maybe. I doubt it though because if Obama were pondering such serious matters in his Olympian fashion it would make great press and someone would have leaked it by now.

  3. Perfected democrat Says:

    “He has even gone so far as to say “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so;”…”

    Hmm, sounds like a Democrat!

    “Either Obama is (a) constitutionally incapable of making a decision…”, “or he is (b) incapable of making a decision that will offend a large group of people either way…”

    Or Obama is (c) consciously, being after all a quite sophisticated adult (as well as unconsciously, by virtue of his childhood inculcation), a deliberately motivated radical left-wing revolutionary, closet-moslem operative: only half sorry for slipping into my own redundant again…

    Then, of course, reiterating the possibly unprecedented issue of Obama’s recent foreign policy betraying Honduras, America surreptitiously allied with Hugo Chavez and other enemy company…

    After several years of consistant political posturing concerning Afghanistan, this bait and switch tactic is certainly a betrayal of public trust, incompetence at the least, maybe even tantamount to treason. The left-wing and islamists are consummate manipulators…

  4. Steve G Says:

    Besides Pakistan, Saudi Arabia is involved in a proxy war with Iran in Yemen. It must now be contemplating its survival without the aid of the USA should Iran finally develop nuclear weapons. South Korea is now a more tempting target. So also are Belarus, and the Caucasus. I wonder if one of what used to be our allies is attacked whether Obama will go into immediate dithering mode and ask the General Staff for an exit strategy before providing military aid. The more he dithers the more unstable the world.

    Could Obama suffer from being a savant? He is locked into domestic policies that are straight out of college and, in the international area, where he has to do some original thinking, his policies are infantile, boorish, immature, stupid, dangerous and not thought through. Why insult the prime ministers of Great Britain, France and Germany? What was the idea behind creating some distance between the USA and Israel supposed to accomplish, if putting settlement growth on the table put negotiations on hold? Why characterize the situation in Honduras as a coup when any second grader would understand that it was anything but? Why delay a decision vis-a-vis Afghanistan that should have taken no more than a day or two when to do so destabilizes the whole world?

    What we are seeing here is not the wisdom that Biden was bragging about but utter incompetence.

  5. Occam's Beard Says:

    Excellent post, neo.

    (b) incapable of making a decision that will offend a large group of people either way it goes.

    This one gets my vote. No “present” vote on this puppy. Obama’s a spokesmodel for others, nothing more. That’s why he needs all public appearances so tightly scripted.

    For whom is he fronting? I used to say “Soros” more or less as a placeholder for “Soros or one or more others like him.” But now, after reading this biographical sketch, Soros personally looks like an excellent bet.

    When we turn Obama out of office (please, God, in 2013) he can turn to his natural role in life, clothes horse for GQ or anchorman news reader.

  6. huxley Says:

    It seems Obama has painted himself into a lose-lose-lose corner. He can:

    * Go full or semi MacChrystal — put more troops in and lead a long, difficult, expensive, and dangerous war that Obama’s base will oppose and in which he may fail. It will certainly make his domestic agenda harder to push and harder to pay for.

    * Get out and look entirely like a feckless fool for betraying his campaign rhetoric, as well as, less importantly of course, ceding Afghanistan back to the Taliban, emboldening our Islamic enemies, possibly destabilizing Iraq, and letting the the world know that American commitments are worthless.

    * Continue to dither and eventually switch to a lighter footprint strategy and let Afghanistan unravel slowly. This also looks bad, but it’s less polarizing and it’s spread out over a longer time frame and so may give Obama enough slack and excuses to do what he really wants to do (transform America) and possibly be re-elected.

    Option 3 looks like a winner for Obama. Not so good for everyone else.

  7. expat Says:

    NATO has announced that it will start turning over sections of Afghanistan to the Afghan security forces in 2010. Germany’s brand new defense secretary von Guttenberg (who is a very popular and young rising star, although his experience seems to be in economic matters) used war-like to describe the situation last week as a way of telling the public that German troops may actually have to shoot someone in the near future. He is returning from his first visit to Afghanistan as I write. The message he is sending is that the Afghans have to deal with corruption and that he is seeking an exit strategy. It is unclear whether he has met with McCrystal or Petraeus or whether he is dealing with Jones and State Dept. types.

    All in all, it seems that Obama’s wonderful diplomacy has brought us a bit of very short term assistance with an expiration date. He certainly hasn’t managed to convince European populations of the need to fight on, and I doubt that he has inspired the pols to risk their futures to aid us.

    Way to go, BO.

  8. Occam's Beard Says:

    Good analysis, Huxley.

    I suspect the plan is (c), with the hope/expectation that some dramatic event will either obviate the decision, force one upon him so that he can’t be blamed, or alternatively relegate Afghanistan to page 37. Call it the deus ex machina “stratagery.”

  9. huxley Says:

    Occam’s Beard: Thanks!

    I think those of us who genuinely consider Afghanistan to be a “war of necessity” need to press hard for a victory strategy and against a lose-slowly strategy, even if that means leaving.

    We owe that much and more to our fighting men and women. I do not want to see them left in the lurch as they are right now. It makes my blood boil.

  10. CV Says:


    Yep, option 3 is probably what we have to look forward to (once he actually decides on something, that is).

    Of course when it comes to health care, “the time for debate is over!” as he likes to say so often, and it must be rammed through immediately (because why be slow and deliberative when you are remaking one sixth of the Amercian economy?)


  11. Occam's Beard Says:

    I think those of us who genuinely consider Afghanistan to be a “war of necessity”

    Of course, that included the Reds until Jan. 20. It wasn’t that they were against defending America. No. It was that Iraq was the wrong war, an unnecessary war, and Bush should have focused on Afghanistan, which was the right war, and a necessary war, as anyone could plainly see.

  12. huxley Says:

    Occam’s Beard: I was rather hoping to rule out those characters, including Obama, by qualifying my claim with the adverb, “genuinely”!

  13. Occam's Beard Says:

    Comparing Obama to Hamlet dignifies the former too much. A more apt comparison would be to Jubilation T. Cornpone.

  14. Occam's Beard Says:

    Fair enough, Huxley. Annoyance at the prevarication of the Reds, and the stupidity of those who imputed good faith to them, got the better of me.

  15. neo-neocon Says:

    perfected democrat: I believe that Obama is a far Left ideologue, as I believe I’ve said many times. But that wouldn’t preclude him from making a decision about Afghanistan—for example, to leave. That would please his fellow far Left ideologues. His ideology is not the reason he can’t make a decision, however.

  16. betsybounds Says:

    Not that it will ever happen, but my husband the Jar-head thinks the guy should be charged with dereliction of duty. But no one will ever charge him with anything, of course.

    I can’t escape the nagging thought that this is what he wants, this confusion over himself and his motives, keeping people guessing over his putative weakness and indecision. So many other things he does and pushes for are so deliberate, particularly on the domestic front. He wants this country to fail in every possible way, on every available front. Yes, he wants to transform America–into, among other things, a loser. My blood, like Huxley’s, is boiling. There are good men, and true, dying every day in that foreign place for a mission they would believe in, and fight for, if someone would only tell them what it is. I would not be surprised if mutinous thoughts are entertained among some.

    In early days I thought that perhaps he would prove strong internationally, since leftish leaders have often held others’ respect for their strength in the international arena to be part of what they wished to project. It seemed that he, too, might be cast from that mold. But no. I don’t think he’s really indecisive–it’s important to recall that what he’s doing now is, in itself, a decision.

  17. Gray Says:

    Fart around…. Fart Around….. Deliberate….. Fart around…. Solidiers die for want of support….. Taliban takes more ground…..

    “Suddenly” decide on “an orderly and full withdrawal with Honor”

    CNN: “Do you approve of Obama’s decision to pull troops out of the Middle East?”

    Left: “Yes, we should be fighting George Bush’s Imperial Wars”

    RIght: “Yes, If we’re not fighting to win, we should get out!”

    85% approval rating. Huge political capital among dems in congress to get Obamacare and Crap n Tax passed.

  18. Gray Says:

    n’t belongs in the obvious place above. Otherwise, it is an excellent and pithy comment.

  19. Gray Says:

    “Hamlet” caused me a lot of grief in 12th grade honors english in 1986:


    “It’s a superstitious and credulous age. The ghost of your dead father, The King, appears to you and demands revenge….

    …And you don’t instantly charge into the castle with Vorpal Blade (+5 vengeance points) drawn and kill the conspiritors including your mother (Denmark, you gotta be tough) in their bedclothes and have the heads on the battlements before dawn?

    WTF, dude? (paraphrased) No wonder it didn’t end well….

    Ms Crazy Cat Lady Honors Teacher:

    “Gray, you clearly don’t understand the noooooance and the interplay of characters, traits and symbolism. There are no absolutes. He can’t really know if it was his father’s ghost….”

    Gray: “It’s a moral obligation, are you kidding me? It seems like doing nothing turned out to be the worst decision…. Anybody ever consider that was the point of the play? Not all the pretty moping?”


  20. Gray Says:

    “A poor plan, well rehearsed and violently executed, is better than a perfect plan late and unrehearsed.”

    General George S. Patton

  21. Tom Says:

    Baraq cannot have “a tragic flaw” because he is not, has not been, nor will ever be a tragic hero. He is truly vile. He is evil.

    Like Betsybounds’ jarhead, I have been speculating about Obama being tried for some of his crimes. It may be possible; much will depend on the events of 2010. If we lose in 2010, the Republic is lost for good.

  22. huxley Says:

    “A bad plan is better than no plan at all.”

    — Chess proverb

  23. Bonnie Says:

    A chilling take on all this:

    November 12, 2009
    Afghanistan: The Failure to Plan Is “The Plan”

  24. Bonnie Says:

    Oh, I am a spaceshot, aren’t I? I recommended the article that SENT me here. LOL.

  25. Beverly Says:

    In complete contrast to the Dickless Wonder, we have the mensch, the USAF fighter jock and all-around gentleman, Chesley Sullenberger.

    This interview with Couric (from 60 Minutes) clearly shows this man’s sterling character. He’s the real deal. This is what a man should be.

  26. strcpy Says:

    “But that wouldn’t preclude him from making a decision about Afghanistan—for example, to leave. That would please his fellow far Left ideologues.”

    Sadly, while it wouldn’t please us, and in the short term I think it would cause more carping, I think that would also be the better decision for those of us on the right (I assume that any “win” strategy is out of the cards for that statement – I feel fairly confident saying that right now).

    Of the things I lament about Bush was his treatment of Afghanistan. The Lefts focus on the better fight in Iraq allowed him to just let Afghanistan slide. Iraq has always been “easy” in that it wasn’t a fight against the Iraqis but one against foreign fighters. The left also needed one of the fights to be “The Good One” sp they let it slide too (after all a truly anti-war person is insane so we need to have at least one supported). Really, even to this day the Dems have been herded to an extent that is comical on the whole thing.

    Obama seems to be hoping that the same thing will occur for him, however it didn’t just “occur” for Bush. It wasn’t planned – like many of the so called “rope-a-dopes” it was simply taking advantage of the situation afforded to them. Obama seems to think simply being Him is enough.

    Iraq is pretty much won so lets look at the earlier war (and also lets look at the Balkans – also a bad place left to fester by a president that was excellent at taking advantage of a situation) and decide what to do.

    We have the foremost military experts on this type of war and one of the foremost civilian experts. They *all* say we can do one of three things: fight to win, turtle up (go the Bosnia route of protecting Kabul and let the rest go to hell – though I think none really like this option much), or leave. Those ideas were rejected this week.

    Obama is going to own Afghanistan. Had he allowed the people who had such success in Iraq to rule he could have (even legitimately) let them own a failure. Now he is most likely in the position of owning any failure and having someone else own any success (much as Bush has done in Iraq for much the same reason – Petraeus owns Iraq and Bush really only gets credit for finally letting it happen against the opposition).

  27. expat Says:

    UPDATE: Germany is adding troops in A-stan according to German Yahoo. Guess how many–100. That’s one hundred, just in case you may think I didn’t type enough zeros.

    I bet the Taliban are shaking in their boots or sandals or whatever they wear on their feet.

  28. Always On Watch Says:

    One big difference between Hamlet and BHO: Hamlet had a conscience!

  29. Guido the Killer Spambot Says:

    Not that it’s the Dem’s fault — it was all Bush’s fault for getting us into Vietn-Afghanistan in the first place.

    You can already hear that one in all the commentaries, as the whole “Afghanistan==just war” component of the anti-war rhetoric fades like a Cheshire cat, and Afghanistan is used in the same, identical context with Iraq — “wars in Iraq and Afghanistan”, making them equivalent and equally unsupported and unsupportable.

    The media has become The Enemy of The State, in terms of the people, as opposed to the government.

    As the apocryphal curse goes, “We indeed live in interesting times”. It would be interesting to see how the Chinese historians will write about it.

  30. Steve G Says:

    Isn’t it something that the ambassador to Afghanistan advises, just prior to the latest confab in which BO was going to finally respond to McChrystal’s recommendation, that no troops should be sent because the government of Afghanistan is corrupt, thereby giving credence to a further delay by BO in making the decision whether to commit more troops.

    In order to provide cover to BO for his continued dithering, isn’t it more than likely that BO or Emanuel or one of their genius advisors called the ambassador, told him to make a recommendation immediately as to whether additional troops are needed, AND TOLD HIM TO RECOMMEND THAT NO TROOPS BE SENT BECUASE OF THE CORRUPTION IN AFGHANISTAN. So, now it’s not the “necessary good war” but a war to create democracy in Afghanistan which is failing.

  31. Artfldgr Says:

    he is allowing his friends, as stated in his books, to regroup… there are precidents…

    after all, how did mao take control?

  32. betsybounds Says:

    Steve G,

    Might it not be at least possible to view this as something other than Obama dithering? I don’t think he’s dithering, or having any trouble making a decision. I doubt he even thinks it’s worth his time, which is why he bothers to have a meeting about it only every two months or so. I think he’s being deliberately insulting to the military and to this entire country, intending to show everyone involved, including our warriors, that he thinks the war, and they, are not worth spit–he’s doing one of his bird-flipping routines. I suspect he’s made his decision, and it’s that this country is going to lose, everywhere, all the time, in the most brazen way, and without him fretting over it.

    I think that, when he hears he’s being compared to Hamlet, he laughs. I think that to compare him to Hamlet is to do Hamlet a disservice.

  33. Dr. Mabuse Says:

    Like Perfected Democrat, I also am looking for an option c). I think Obama knows what he WANTS to do in Afghanistan, but he can’t do it all by himself. I think this whole business was supposed to be wrapped up by now. He sent in some more troops to Afghanistan in the spring, to look tough, and then tied them down with stupid fiddly rules so they couldn’t go anywhere or do anything. And that was supposed to lead to the problem solving itself: the U.S. military was to sit in Afghanistan like a big, fat, tethered goat, and await the inevitable Taliban atrocity a la the Khobar Towers. This would have given Obama his excuse to “bring our boys home”, and there would have been lots of heartwarming scenes of military families reunited on American soil, just in time for Christmas.

    Unfortunately, the Americans in Afghanistan are too experienced and professional to allow themselves to be slaughtered en masse, and the Taliban just aren’t very good when they’re facing armed, alert soldiers. Blowing up little girls and old women at roadside fruit stands is more their speed. So the months dragged by, and Obama is still waiting for events to rescue him and give him a chance to look sober and rueful as he delivers his (no doubt much-rehearsed) speech announcing that America is slinking home in shame and defeat.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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