What do Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal and BP have in common? Aside from the fact that they're both Democratic Party supporters.
Or they were. Gen. McChrystal is a liberal who voted for President Obama and banned Fox News from his headquarters TV. That may at least partly explain how he became the first U.S. general to be lost in combat while giving an interview to Rolling Stone. They'll be studying that one in war colleges around the world for decades. The managers of BP were unable to vote for Mr. Obama, being, as we now know, the most sinister, duplicitous bunch of shifty Brits to pitch up offshore since the War of 1812. But, in their "Beyond Petroleum" marketing and beyond, they signed on to every modish nostrum of the eco-left. Their recently retired chairman, Lord John Browne, was one of the most prominent promoters of "cap-and-trade." BP was the Democrats' favorite oil company. It was to Mr. Obama what TotalFinaElf was to Saddam Hussein.
But what do Gen. McChrystal's and BP's defenestrations tell us about the president of the United States? Mr. Obama is a thin-skinned man and, according to Britain's Daily Telegraph, White House aides indicated that what angered the president most about the Rolling Stone piece was "a McChrystal aide saying that McChrystal had thought that Obama was not engaged when they first met last year." If finding Mr. Obama "not engaged" is now a firing offense, who among us is safe?
Only the other day, Sen. George LeMieux of Florida attempted to rouse the president to jump-start America's overpaid, overmanned and oversleeping federal bureaucracy and get it to do something about the oil debacle. There are 2,000 oil skimmers in the United States; weeks after the spill, only 20 of them are off the coast of Florida. Seventeen friendly nations with great expertise in the field have offered their own skimmers; the Dutch volunteered their "superskimmers." Mr. Obama turned them all down. Raising the problem, Mr. LeMieux found the president unengaged and uninformed. "He doesn't seem to know the situation about foreign skimmers and domestic skimmers," the senator reported.
He doesn't seem to know, and he doesn't seem to care that he doesn't know, and he doesn't seem to care that he doesn't care. "It can seem that at the heart of Barack Obama's foreign policy is no heart at all," Richard Cohen wrote in The Washington Post last week. "For instance, it's not clear that Obama is appalled by China's appalling human rights record. He seems hardly stirred about continued repression in Russia. ... The president seems to stand foursquare for nothing much.
"This, of course, is the Obama enigma: Who is this guy? What are his core beliefs?"
Gee, if only your newspaper had thought to ask those fascinating questions oh, say, a month before the Iowa caucuses.
And even today, Mr. Cohen is still giving President Whoisthisguy a pass. After all, whatever he feels about "China's appalling human rights record" or "continued repression in Russia," Mr. Obama is not directly responsible for it. Whereas U.S. and allied deaths in Afghanistan are happening on his watch - and the border villagers killed by unmanned drones are being killed at his behest. Mr. Cohen calls the president "above all, a pragmatist," but with the best will in the world, you can't stretch the definition of "pragmatism" to mean "lack of interest."
"The ugly truth," wrote Thomas Friedman in the New York Times, "is that no one in the Obama White House wanted this Afghan surge. The only reason they proceeded was because no one knew how to get out of it."
Well, that's certainly ugly, but is it the truth? Afghanistan, you'll recall, was supposed to be the Democrats' war, the one they supposedly supported, the one from which the neocons' Iraq adventure was an unnecessary distraction. Granted the Dems' usual shell game - to avoid looking soft on national security, it helps to be in favor of some war other than the one you're opposing - candidate Obama was an especially ripe promoter. In one of the livelier moments of his campaign, he chugged down half a bottle of Geopolitical Viagra and claimed he was hot for invading Pakistan.
Then he found himself in the Oval Office, and the dime-store opportunism was no longer helpful. But, as Mr. Friedman puts it, "no one knew how to get out of it." The "pragmatist" settled for "nuance." He announced a semisurge plus a date for withdrawal of troops to begin. It's not "victory," it's not "defeat," but rather a more sophisticated melange of these two outmoded absolutes: If you need a word, "quagmire" would seem to cover it.
Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai, the Taliban and the Pakistanis on the one hand and Britain and the other American allies heading for the checkout on the other all seem to have grasped the essentials of the message, even if Mr. Friedman and the other media Obammyboppers never quite did. Mr. Karzai is now talking to Islamabad about an accommodation that would see the most viscerally anti-American elements of the Taliban back in Kabul as part of a power-sharing regime. At the height of the shrillest shrieking about the Iraqi "quagmire," was there ever any talk of hard-core Saddamite Baathists returning to government in Baghdad?
To return to Mr. Cohen's question: "Who is this guy? What are his core beliefs?" Well, he's a guy who was wafted ever upward from the Harvard Law Review to the state legislature to the U.S. Senate without ever lingering long enough to accomplish anything. "Who is this guy?" Well, when a guy becomes a credible presidential candidate by his mid-40s with no accomplishments other than a couple of memoirs, he evidently has an extraordinary talent for self-promotion, if nothing else. "What are his core beliefs?" It would seem likely that his core belief is in himself. It's the "nothing else" that the likes of Mr. Cohen are belatedly noticing.
Wasn't he kind of unengaged by the health care debate? That's why, for all his speeches, he could never quite articulate a rationale for it. In the end, he was happy to leave it to the Democratic Congress and, when his powers of persuasion failed, let them ram it down the throats of the American people through sheer parliamentary muscle.
Likewise, on Afghanistan, his attitude seems to be "I don't want to hear about it." Unmanned drones take care of a lot of that, for a while. So do his courtiers in the media. Did all those hopey-changers realize that Mr. Obama's war would be run by George W. Bush's defense secretary and general? Hey, never mind: Moveon.org has quietly disappeared its celebrated "General Betray-us" ad from its website. Cindy Sheehan, the supposed conscience of the nation when she was railing against Mr. Bush from the front pages, is an irrelevant kook unworthy of coverage when she protests Mr. Obama. Why, a cynic might almost think the "antiwar" movement was really an anti-Bush movement and the protesters really don't care about dead foreigners, after all. The more things "change you can believe in," the more they stay the same.
Except in one respect. There is a big hole where our strategy should be. It's hard to fight a war without war aims, and in the end, they can only come from the top. It took the oil spill to alert Americans to the unengaged president. From Moscow to Tehran to the caves of Waziristan, our enemies got the message a lot earlier - and long ago figured out the rules of unengagement.
Mark Steyn is author of the New York Times best-seller "America Alone" (Regnery, 2006).
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.