Mr. Obama's 'War' Game
by William McGurn, The Wall Street Journal, September 17, 2012
The grave for Maj. Thomas Kennedy is so fresh that it lacks a headstone. In its place are flowers, flags and mementos left by people who knew this Army officer as a classmate, as an instructor, as a neighbor. Such is the terrible beauty of West Point, where even on a sun-kissed football Saturday it is impossible to forget America is at war.
That sounds like a platitude, it is so obvious. Then again, maybe it's not so obvious—at least to this White House. In the week since our ambassador to Libya was murdered along with three others from our consulate in Benghazi, the president has studiously avoided using the "w" word to describe what was plainly an attack on the United States.
That approach was on full display at Andrews Air Force Base Friday, when Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton welcomed home the bodies of the four slain Americans. The president and his secretary of state spoke well and warmly about these men, about their families, about the good work they were doing. Still, someone who had only their remarks to go by could be forgiven for coming away with the impression that these were people killed in some senseless shooting—not Americans targeted and murdered by enemies who are at war with us and act accordingly.
In his Rose Garden remarks delivered the morning after the killings became news, the president's lone reference to war was to Libya as a country "striving to emerge from the recent experience of war." In Saturday's radio address, war went completely unmentioned. The president had also left it unmentioned during the solemn ceremony at Andrews Air Force Base the day before.
What does it say about a president's foreign policy when Americans who represent him are killed overseas—and the only reference to the glaring fact of war comes from the Army chaplain, who asked the Almighty to help us defeat these agents of terror?
Perhaps it bespeaks a man who finds casual talk about war undignified. The difficulty here is that when it comes to politics, the president shows no hesitation. At the campaign fundraiser in Las Vegas to which he jetted off after his Rose Garden remarks, for example, the word "war" was reduced to a political punch line—as when he criticized Republicans for "tax cuts when we are at war," or declared his policy is to "turn a page on a decade of war."
This is no accident. Mr. Obama delivered the same lines the next day at another campaign rally in Colorado. Then again on Monday in Ohio.
The idea seems to be that war exists only during Republican administrations. Call it the Carney Doctrine, named for White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, who informed America that the attacks that began in Egypt and Libya and have now spread to U.S. Embassies from Iran to Indonesia "are not directed against the United States." We heard a similar denial a year ago, when Harold Koh, the antiwar Yale Law School dean turned State Department adviser, asked us to believe the War Powers Resolution didn't apply to Libya because, well, the fighting there isn't really war.
We may laugh at these explanations, but it is the logical consequence of the Obama political logic. The alternative is to acknowledge two points the White House can never concede: First, that radical Islam's anti-Americanism did not begin with George W. Bush; second, that this anti-Americanism has not abated despite Mr. Obama's promise of love and understanding, the stunningly naïve foundation of his 2009 Cairo speech.
In his remarks before those four flag-draped caskets at Andrews, Mr. Obama vowed that "the United States of America will never retreat from the world." In fact, the central promise of his administration has been retreat. If our enemies now attack our embassies and our friends are reluctant to stand up, it's because both rightly see us as disengaging.
There's an opening here for Mitt Romney. With all due respect to the wisdom of the NPR water cooler, the Republican presidential contender was right to attack the apologetic tweet that came from a U.S. Embassy under siege. The media storm he provoked comes for a simple reason: The images now coming out of the Islamic world bring home the weakness of a foreign policy based on pretending that people who are at war with us aren't.
When a suicide bomber in Afghanistan took the life of Maj. Kennedy a month ago, he became the 90th West Pointer to give his life for his country since 9/11. Here at his alma mater, young men and women barely out of high school have come, willing to take his place. Is it too much to ask that they—and we—be led by a commander in chief who calls war by its rightful name?