On the credenza behind his Oval Office desk, President Obama has placed a bust of Abraham Lincoln.
This is admirable, in that Lincoln represents the very definition of American greatness. Perhaps, though, Mr. Obama might take some time to ponder something the 16th President wrote in an 1862 message to Congress: “We cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this Administration will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us.”
That was true during the Civil War, and it remains true today, which is why the image Mr. Obama used last night – that we have now “turned a page” in Iraq – is unsettling.
In the sense that our combat operations have been completed, he is right. And as the President said, our Armed Forces have fought with valor and tenacity, and deserve the gratitude and honor of a proud and thankful nation.
However, it is noteworthy that President Obama opposed the war in Iraq from its inception and, as a Senator, voted against the “surge” that enabled American forces to quell the rising militancy of Iraq’s Islamist terrorists.
This should be said, not to encourage contempt for the Commander in Chief but because it calls into question his strategic judgment. No one is right all the time, and Mr. Obama’s placement of a major new combat force in Afghanistan under General Petraeus was a brave choice, one opposed by the President’s left-wing base.
It is when his judgment is driven by his statist impulses that our eyebrows should raise. Mine did when, last night, Mr. Obama called upon America to “tackle (our) challenges at home with as much energy, and grit, and sense of common purpose as our men and women in uniform who have served abroad.”
This calling is wholly unrealistic – domestic needs never animate national will with the same intensity as does a military crisis. Part of the reason is that we presume prosperity; for most Americans, it’s always just around the corner, and thus fighting for “energy independence,” as Mr. Obama called for last evening, will never produce a martial spirit.
Another reason is that a military adversary is tangible and visible. Our enemies have faces. Things like deflation, unemployment, energy production, and technological innovation do not. They are concepts, not targets.
No national calling can ever be created similar to that inspired by immediate and serious threats to our survival as a people – threats like al-Qaeda and Nazism.
As troubling, if not more, was the President’s inference that we can now afford the luxury of turning inward, as if the cessation of American combat operations in Iraq means we can shift our gaze more exclusively to our own economic needs.
Mr. Obama’s penchant is to “transform America,” as he said repeatedly during his presidential campaign. Mr. Obama and his colleagues on the Left view the national landscape as a gigantic machine with which they can tinker and to which they can make whatever “improvements” they wish in some sort of domestic bubble. “Make the World Go Away” is, for them, less an Elvis Pressley anthem than a political demand.
Mr. Obama is bright and sophisticated. He is mindful of the realities of a grim world. Still, he seems dragged into global leadership with a grudging sense of duty, not a mature understanding that to be the American President is to lead freedom’s march, not merely walk with it. He must remember, as Lincoln did, that “we cannot escape history.”
Another young President understood this well. “Much has been given us, and much will rightfully be expected from us. We have duties to others and duties to ourselves; and we can shirk neither. We have become a great nation, forced by the fact of its greatness into relations with the other nations of the earth, and we must behave as beseems a people with such responsibilities.”
Theodore Roosevelt saw international leadership not as a burden to be born but an opportunity to be greeted with resolve and optimism. May Barack Obama learn from his example.