A speech from the Far Side: What our enemies heard

Posted on September 07, 2010

Years ago, Gary Larson published a Far Side cartoon called "what dogs hear." Two identical panels, side-by-side, showed a man speaking to his dog, Ginger. In the first, the man tells the dog: "Okay, Ginger! I've had it! You stay out of the garbage! Understand, Ginger?" In the second, we see what the dog actually hears: "Blah, blah, GINGER." For the terrorists, President Obama's Oval Office address last week came across much the same way. While the president made some obligatory references to our responsibilities in the war on terror, what our enemies heard were his declarations that America is withdrawing and refocusing on domestic priorities.

On Iraq, the president said, "Our combat mission is ending, but our commitment to Iraq's future is not." But what our enemies heard was that in Iraq "we have met our responsibility. Now, it's time to turn the page," and his unequivocal pledge that "all U.S. troops will leave by the end of next year." This was music to the ears of Islamic extremists from the caves of Waziristan to the palaces of Tehran.

On Afghanistan, while the president said he was committed to "preventing Afghanistan from again serving as a base for terrorists," what our enemies heard was that while the "pace of our troop reductions will be determined by conditions on the ground" those reductions will go forward -- regardless of conditions on the ground. "But make no mistake: This transition will begin -- because open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people's." For the enemy, there is no mistaking the meaning of the president's words. Recently Marine Corps Commandant James Conway said the Afghanistan deadline is "probably giving our enemy sustenance. In fact we've intercepted communications that say, 'Hey, you know, we only need to hold out for so long.' " By reinforcing this perception, Obama's Oval Office address gave our enemies sustenance as well.

Our enemies also heard the president bemoan how much money our country had wasted fighting them and how this war spending was wrecking our economy: "Unfortunately, over the past decade . . . [w]e spent a trillion dollars at war, often financed by borrowing from overseas. This, in turn, has short-changed investments in our own people, and contributed to record deficits. For too long, we have put off tough decisions on everything from our manufacturing base to our energy policy to education reform." Henceforth, our enemies heard, President Obama's "most urgent task" will be refocusing on domestic priorities, such as giving "all our children the education they deserve" and helping make sure we "end our dependence on foreign oil." Our enemies heard that these domestic priorities -- not defeating them -- will now "be our central mission as a people, and my central responsibility as president."

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