I used to watch events in Washington closely, fully believing that news reports and political debates had meaningful impact on the battlefield. I would rage at the mainstream media’s bias, roll my eyes in disgust at Democratic politicians who sometimes seemed to be rooting for failure, and viewed “wobbly” conservatives with contempt.
Then, I joined the U.S. Army Reserves, put on the uniform, and (eventually) rolled out on my first mission “outside the wire” in Diyala Province, Iraq . . . where I couldn’t read Drudge or Politico and had to focus on a single objective -- to defeat the enemy that was trying to kill my brothers in arms and kill me. This is when I learned a startling (but now obvious) reality: once the decision is made to fight, political rhetoric matters as much to the outcome of the war as color commentary matters to the outcome of a boxing match.
A few months after my safe return home, I watched Obama’s “apology tour” and listened to the breathless commentary for and against his much-hyped speech in Cairo. Democrats and Republicans alike dissected his rhetoric, parsing its meaning and impact on the “hearts and minds” of everyone from the European intelligentsia to the much-feared “Arab street.” I didn’t care for his speech or his rhetoric. There was just too much moral equivalence, contempt for the good-faith efforts of his predecessors, and catering to the urban punditocracy on both sides of the Atlantic.
Despite the rhetoric, however, he hasn’t changed the facts on the ground. Our troops in Iraq are at force levels determined by the Bush administration and we’re reinforcing Afghanistan just as the much-maligned former President (and John McCain) had planned. Our allies don’t help the new president any more than they helped the old one and Islamic terrorists still burn with the same mindless rage and hate. So how should we process a President who apologizes for past excesses even as Predators strike villages in Pakistan and Marines launch new offensives? Perhaps by realizing that – when it comes to the war – his words don’t mean much.