Friday, December 17, 2010

Obama's Dunkirk: Even Churchill Couldn't Stop The Loss of Empire

The President's political maneuvering through this craven tax deal with Republicans was impressive. No doubt. Obama booster Chris Matthews called him "the comeback kid." How original. Actually, that's the title of Krauthammer's column. He gave the Beltway pundits the "narrative," to coin one of their overused buzz words, the hook for the President's "win:"
"Now, with his stunning tax deal, Obama is back. Holding no high cards, he nonetheless managed to resurface suddenly not just as a player but as orchestrator, dealmaker and central actor in a high $1 trillion drama ... Even as they were near unanimously voting for this monstrosity, Republicans began righteously protesting $8.3 billion of earmarks in Harry Reid's omnibus spending bill. They seem not to understand how ridiculous this looks after having agreed to a Stimulus II that even by their own generous reckoning has 38 times as much spending as all these earmarks combined ... But don't be fooled by defensive style or thin-skinned temperament. The president is a very smart man. How smart? His comeback is already a year ahead of Clinton's."
Others were not so impressed by Krauthammer's argument. Writing for "The National Interest," Jacob Heil pointedly asked, "Why is Charles Krauthammer afraid of Obama?"
"Krauthammer focuses on the politics, arguing that Obama's base has nowhere else to go. But it could. It could, in fact, go nowhere. On election day. That alone could jeopardize Obama's reelection chances. The real question is whether Obama is going to morph into the slayer of old-time liberalism.

He was elected on the expectation that he would revive the Democratic party. But what if he does it by completing the Clinton revolution? It's worth asking what will be left of liberalism after one, or especially two, terms of Obama. Obama is talking about using the tax cut program deal as a template for reaching other compromises with the GOP on issues such as reforming Social Security.... But whether this really turns him into the cunning chameleon that Krauthammer purports to see is another question. The blunt fact is that Obama can do all the trimming he wants, but if unemployment remains at 10 percent he's most likely a one-term president."
Paul Begala, who knows a thing or two about triangulation, expressed the frustration oft-repeated by progressives that the President's vaunted political skills were rarely in evidence to fight for the issues he had pledged to champion during the campaign:
Former Clinton aide Paul Begala, while admitting that the president has been “impressive,” echoed the sarcastic reaction of many of Obama’s fellow Democrats who wanted him to take on the fight against the GOP’s insistence on extending tax cuts to the rich.

“Imagine what he could have done to sell a position he wholeheartedly believed in,” Begala said, adding that it “confirms my own belief that if President Obama had chosen to fight, he would have won. “He could have forced the GOP to cave, created more jobs and done less damage to the deficit. First shotgun wedding I ever saw where the groom held the gun to his own head.” 
Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings may well have written the epitaph of this so-called "compromise" which is in essence a Republican bill: “The game is rigged in there,” he said, pointing to the door leading to the House floor. “We’re walking into their trap.”

So why is Chris Matthews favorably comparing this tax bill so-called "compromise" to the British evacuation at Dunkirk in World War II? For all of his giggly giddiness, Matthews has his historical analogies totally wrong. To say the President made a "strategic retreat" like the British did at Dunkirk is ridiculous. The Brits staged an all-out evacuation to save their hides from annihilation by surrounding German forces. In so doing, they cut their French allies loose.

Matthews took the opportunity to smear the French résistance with a broad brush of silly historical revisionism. His snarky remarks about French collaboration with the Nazis utterly disregarded the bravery of French resistance fighters, including François Mitterand, the late great French Socialist president. But that's the side show. According to Matthews's reading of history, the British evacuation "saved the British Army to fight again; they avoided catastrophe." Fair enough, but they also became very junior partners to the mighty Americans.

It can reasonably be argued that the downfall of the British Empire began at Dunkirk. Less than two years later — ironically, roughly the same time frame that President Obama negotiated for this tax deal before its provisions expire at the height of the 2012 election — the fall of Singapore to the Japanese became "the largest surrender of British-led military personnel in history. About 80,000 British, Australian and Indian troops became prisoners of war, joining 50,000 taken by the Japanese in the Malayan campaign. Britain's Prime Minister Winston Churchill called the ignominious fall of Singapore to the Japanese the "worst disaster" and "largest capitulation" in British history."

Fleshing out Matthews's analogy, the British averted disaster at Dunkirk but in the process they ceded the offense to the Germans. After their "strategic withdrawal" to fight another day, for the next year the British were literally fighting for their lives — an existential struggle against the German war machine that became their "finest hour" in the Battle of Britain, as the RAF beat back superior German air power to head off the invasion of the British Isles.

Through the worst of it, the British could not have survived without the vast supplies and war materiél "borrowed" from the United States. In a brilliant stroke of political genius to bring along the reluctant American people, FDR declared the U.S. the "Arsenal of Democracy." The program was called "Lend-Lease." In 2008 U.S. dollars the sum total borrowed on very generous terms by Great Britain (which received most of the aid), the Soviet Union, France, and other allied nations was equivalent to $759 billion, or about $100 billion south of this package of tax cuts funded with borrowed Chinese money.

In the short term, for all the bravery of the RAF flyboys, it was the massive infusion of U.S. aid that ultimately saved Great Britain from capitulation to Nazi Germany. The aid was delivered by perilous convoys running the Atlantic corridor teeming wih "wolfpacks" of German U-boats. In the long term, it presaged U.S. entry into the war as Britain's senior partner and the world's preeminent superpower in a transformed global post-war landscape that would usher in a new world order.

Actually, Chris Matthews hit the nail on the head with his WWII comparison of Britain's "strategic withdrawal" from Dunkirk to Obama's tax "compromise," presumably so the President can get some wins for the American people and survive politically to fight another day. Dunkirk was a "strategic withdrawal." The Battle of Britain was a major victory. The fall of Singapore was a major setback. Then the United States entered the war and FDR became head honcho and chief strategist.

Left to Right: Speaker of the House, John Boehner, Senior PATRON Hu Jin-Tao, Junior 
Partner President Obama, and Senate Military Governor Mitch McConnell. (Democratic Party, RIP.)

 Although Chris didn't say it — he didn't have to — President Obama was being giddily compared to Chris's hero, Winston Churchill. But even if the President's political skills are of Churchillian dimensions, it would be well to remember the history. All of it. Churchill's patron and banker, FDR, increasingly called the shots. Despite Churchill's indispensable leadership during Britain's darkest hour, at war's end Britain was bankrupt and the fabled British Empire, upon which "the sun never set," was in shreds. Then the unthinkable (to American observers who revered Churchill as a great man) happened. Churchill lost the election of 1945 to a no-name bread-and-butter candidate from the Labor Party.

Mr. Matthews should take heed of that old Chinese proverb, "beware what you wish for." If President Obama is Winston Churchill and the signing today of the so-called tax "compromise" with borrowed Chinese money was his Dunkirk, then it will have been a short-lived Pyrrhic victory presaging the final fall of American Empire. It was a great run, from the Battle of Midway in the Pacific in 1942 to the cut-off date, the election of 2012, when the bills come due. As for Obama's FDR, his patron and banker's initials are HJT. They stand for Hu Jin-Tao, President of China.

No comments: