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.
Al Qaeda doesn’t care about Obama’s Cairo speech. They feel the same way about Americans regardless of whether one president is hosting a Palestinian terrorist at the White House more often than any other foreign leader, the next president has a Texas swagger and says “bring it on,” or the president after that apologizes for the alleged sins of our past and sets European hearts aflutter. During my year in Iraq, I looked into the eyes of more than one hundred Al Qaeda leaders and foot soldiers. What I saw was not an eager desire for “understanding” or “nuance” but an intense and focused love of death and destruction.
Our own soldiers don’t care that much about politics either. When I went to war, I figured I’d meet at least a few other political junkies. However, what I found were line troops who - with few exceptions - would rather watch ESPN than Fox or CNN and were only vaguely attuned to the political debates raging in Washington. The things that really mattered were the next mission, the next fight, and the next call home.
My entire life, I firmly believed the pen was mightier than the sword and that great armies moved under the inspiration of great men. Now, I’m not so sure. In one year, my small unit — an armored cavalry squadron of less than 1,000 men -- liberated hundreds of square miles of Diyala Province from the darkest evil. It was not stirring rhetoric that stopped AQI terrorists from torturing and beheading entire villages, or shooting children in the face to “send a message,” or imposing the worst forms of Sharia law while they spent their days high on drugs, raping women, and watching Turkish porn. It was not the pen that cleared mine-laden roads or brought the first signs of economic life to communities trapped in grinding poverty.
As long as Obama continues to draw the sword, I don’t care much what he says with his pen. It should humble our political classes to know that the important decisions— the actions that truly decide the fate of nations — are made by Americans who care more about the NBA playoffs than a speech on the floor of the Senate, who rarely watch a cable news broadcast, and for whom Facebook is the lifeline for all the news that truly matters . . . of first steps, birthday parties, and little league baseball games far, far away.