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In and out with Groucho

Every American war has its distinctive anthems, and on due consideration, the one that seems most appropriate for our almost simultaneous escalation and withdrawal in Afghanistan is Groucho Marx’s entrance song in Animal Crackers: “Hello, I Must Be Going.”

In a sense, “Hello, I Must Be Going” is the appropriate song for an empire in decline. Like imperial Rome and Churchillian Britain, the United States can no longer afford to fight the wars it once took on with reckless abandon, even when it concludes it can’t quite abandon the battlefield, either.

Tonight at West Point, President Obama responded to “those who oppose identifying a timeframe” for our Afghan involvement by arguing, plausibly, that in recent years, the United States has “failed to appreciate the connection between our national security and our economy.” Reversing that stance, he pledged that he would refuse “to set goals that go beyond our responsibility, our means or our interests.” Afghanistan may have almost limitless needs, Obama was saying, but we have limited means – and the surest way to speed our decline is to spend those means as wantonly as his predecessor did.

“Hello, I Must Be Going” is also the song of a skeptic, of a president who – again, unlike his predecessor – knows that one shouldn’t speak of victory in a conflict that is as resistant to solution as the one in Afghanistan; who knows enough not to mistake the Afghan government for a committed, competent or even honest champion of the Afghan people. Jingoism and fustian are not in Obama’s rhetorical or mental toolbox. He knows he has set the nation on a compromise course in a miserable conflict that he believes cannot be abandoned but also cannot, in a definitive sense, be won. For that reason, he is hedging this war, limiting the downside, and one way to do that is not to talk of an illusory upside.

Hedging this bet makes perfect sense. The question is whether the bet itself makes sense – whether we can do enough nation-building in a nation that has long resisted being built that we can help establish a legitimate order that Afghans will opt to defend against the Taliban. Put me down as skeptical, and filled with doubts about Obama’s course. Then again, Obama himself is skeptical even while embarking on that course. “Hello, I Must Be Going” is the right anthem for this war.

By Harold Meyerson  | December 1, 2009; 9:53 PM ET
Categories:  Meyerson  | Tags:  Harold Meyerson  
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harold says, quite succinctly:

"He knows he has set the nation on a compromise course in a miserable conflict that he believes cannot be abandoned but also cannot, in a definitive sense, be won.

For that reason, he is hedging this war, limiting the downside, and one way to do that is not to talk of an illusory upside"

war is always LOST by the afflicted; our soldiers, their families, the civilians of the country hosting the battlefield....

the only winners are the corporate hawks and war profiteers.

the "conflict" could be "abandoned." but then another 9-11 would crash the party, as it were, and he'd be up my pet goat creek.

obama isn't between the rock and hard place: he is just soft on peace.

war is more popular in this christian nation.

Posted by: forestbloggod | December 1, 2009 11:44 PM | Report abuse

I'm glad Obama's plan is so great that he will get done in 18 months what we have been unable to do in eight years. I guess adding 30k more troops is the perfect answer and we can all start the homecoming parades.

Posted by: bobmoses | December 2, 2009 1:03 AM | Report abuse

forestbloggod -

"war is more popular in this christian nation."

Who do you hate most? Christians or the nation?

I love the bigotry of "tolerant" liberals.

Posted by: bobmoses | December 2, 2009 1:06 AM | Report abuse

Even the supporters of the President must now understand, that the macabre photo opportunity at Dover Air Force base in the middle of the night at the end of October, was the indication of a President who decided to use the war card.

In Afghanistan the President will now order a phased buildup to over 100,000 American troops in Afghanistan. In early 2012 the President will bring 20,000 of these American troops home with assurances that by 2014 it will be possible to bring home almost all of the American troops from Afghanistan.

One requires no inside sources, or access to confidential information. All that is required is awareness that all actions of the President and his administration are part of the campaign for reelection in 2012.

Posted by: bsallamack | December 2, 2009 2:02 AM | Report abuse

Its a real tragedy, but I reluctantly conclude Obama is making the right decision. I just hope we can find folks in Afghanistan who are as willing to fight the Taliban as are our Foxsnoozian talking heads. If not, lets bring the troops home and start rebuilding the USof A while there is still time.

Posted by: Nodoubt1 | December 2, 2009 2:11 AM | Report abuse

""war is more popular in this christian nation."

Who do you hate most? Christians or the nation?

I love the bigotry of "tolerant" liberals.

Posted by: bobmoses "

Um... I suspect he was pointing out the irony of a nation claiming to be Christian without even aspiring to the ideals of the religion.

Or... do you not read the New Testament?

Posted by: ihatelogins | December 2, 2009 2:45 AM | Report abuse

Wrong song. "Hello,..." is actually a joke using the idea behind the man who's coming to dinner. The US is not a moocher in AfPak. "You Keep Me Hanging On" is probably better.

Posted by: doctort | December 2, 2009 2:56 AM | Report abuse

I always thought that Harold would want to quote Marx. But I am happy he picked the right one.

Now if only he can pick up on the idea that fighting a war is not a "forever war."

We get in. We win. We leave. (Well most of us do.)

That is the natural course of events.

This "forever war" talk is mindless propaganda from those who don't even know what it means to win.

Posted by: gary4books | December 2, 2009 5:39 AM | Report abuse

The losers here are the American people, especially to low income American people, because services will be cut, as usual, to pay for more American macho posturing, while Europeans, Australians, Japanese, enjoy their government benefits and high quality lifestyle and spend no money or personnel on another pointless venture.

Posted by: skylark1 | December 2, 2009 6:36 AM | Report abuse

The lunatics are running the asylum

Posted by: OneWhoSpeaksTruth | December 2, 2009 6:53 AM | Report abuse

C'mon folks, join me in one big F*ck You for Dick Cheney and GW Bush. I don't think they could have screwed this country harder if they had tried.

Posted by: NotFooledTX | December 2, 2009 7:09 AM | Report abuse

Shout out to Daisy Juliette Baker, better known as Margaret Dumont, seen here in "Animal Crackers", hosting the party as Mrs.Rittenhouse.

According to Ms.Dumont played the "ultimate straight woman" in seven Marx Brothers films and the reason she's so funny is that she didn't understand the jokes....

I must admit that in the national
"scene" under consideration I am with Ms.Dumont in spirit....

Posted by: martymar123 | December 2, 2009 8:43 AM | Report abuse

No, no Harold. The correct Groucho reference for our current situation is "Wait 'til I get through with it" from "Duck Soup"

"The last man nearly ruined this place
He didn't know what to do with it
If you think this country's bad off now
Just wait 'til I get through with it
The country's taxes must be fixed
And I know what to do with it
If you think you're paying too much now
Just wait 'til I get through with it...

I will not stand for anything that's crooked or unfair
I'm strictly on the up and up
So everyone beware
If anyone's caught taking graft
And I don't get my share
We stand 'em up against the wall
And pop goes the weasel."

Posted by: thecomedian | December 2, 2009 8:52 AM | Report abuse

"Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.

-- Jesus, c. A.D. 30

"Screw Jesus, that socialist prostitute-lover was just a dictator-appeasing, terrorist sympathizing liberal."

-- GOP, A.D. 2009 (motto: "God Bless Us")

Posted by: B2O2 | December 2, 2009 8:58 AM | Report abuse

We won the war years ago when we destroyed the training camps and drove out the Taliban.

It's the peace we are losing.

We're losing because we want to force a Western style democracy on this place. We're losing because every feminist congressperson sees this as a chance to "liberate" women.

We're losing because we feel we have an obligation to provide roads and sewers, schools and shopping malls.

We're going to lose because we simply don't have enough money to poor down this rat hole to stop it up.

We will lose because our only choice for a "partner" in Afghanistan is a corrupt stooge who plans to soak up as much US tax dollars as possible and then retire to France like Mobutu.

The best strategy would have been to leave with a note to the Afghans we would be back if they let Al Qaeda back in.

Yes Mr. President this is your Viet Nam because you just can't do the right thing. We are there for all the wrong reasons and we will be punished for it.

Posted by: krankyman | December 2, 2009 9:13 AM | Report abuse

Saith forestbloggod -

"war is more popular in this christian nation."

Who do you hate most? Christians or the nation?

I love the bigotry of "tolerant" liberals.


Really? So being opposed to war is intolerance? To note the contradiction in the Christian message of peace and the idea of "Christian soldiers" is intolerance? To fight in an unjust war is itself immoral, and, much worse, to promote a war without putting one's own life in jeopardy is simply murder.

Posted by: douard1 | December 2, 2009 9:13 AM | Report abuse

And to quote Groucho from Horsefeathers, the GOP philosophy: "Whatever it is, I'm against it".

Posted by: jckdoors | December 2, 2009 10:10 AM | Report abuse

Barack must have been too busy studying,
as a 10 year old.
to watch the body bags of neighbors and
friends on the nightly news.

or maybe he was in Jakarta,
facing Mecca,

I wish we had elected a person who was born and raised as an america,
in america;
perhaps he would feel the bitterness
of revisiting our VietNam on a new

the protests must begin, again.

Make Peace Not War

Posted by: simonsays1 | December 2, 2009 11:24 AM | Report abuse

We will be in Afghanistan when Obama is trolling for donations for his presidential library.

Posted by: bowspray | December 2, 2009 11:57 AM | Report abuse

obama's cinderella war

the war against al qaeda is a "vital national interest" obama says

and he is right

but then obama says the "vital national interest" disapppears in 18 months--july 2011 --just like cinderellla's coach turns into a pumpkin at midnight

it must be a coincidence that this is just before his reelection

obama does not understand--war is for keeps

war is not like cinderella's midnight curfew

Posted by: ProCounsel | December 2, 2009 12:13 PM | Report abuse

While the rest of the developed world is using their hard earned money to build infrastructure, beautify and preserve their cities, educate their citizens, and provide for their health and welfare, the US goes marching off to war again, wasting trillions on military adventures that make no sense and benefit only the defense contractors and the military industrial complex.

To the rest of the world, America is no longer a nation to be emulated. Our culture is violent beyond all understanding. Our citizens demand bread and circuses, while allowing our democracy to be subverted by corruption and greed. We are mercenaries for the rest of the world. Our troops in Afghanistan are protecting Chinese copper mines, while the Chinese destroy our economy. Pretty soon they will be hiring our military at bargain prices to do their dirty work in the rest of the world.

Why are we being attacked by Middle Eastern terrorists? Because we support Middle Eastern dictatorships. Because our troops are based in Middle Eastern countries, and we interfere in the cultures and governments of those countries. Because we have invaded Middle Eastern countries.

Pull all our troops out of all the foreign countries, close our bases, and bring our troops home. Spend the money we save to revitalize our economy, rebuild our infrastructure, and invent new technologies that will halt and reverse our inexorable slide into third world status.

Posted by: Chagasman | December 2, 2009 12:39 PM | Report abuse

This was the opportunity to pull out! We can't afford this and empire in decline is right! We can either spend lots of money on internal security, have we forgotten that we already are, or put it on wars like this with no likelihood of success. If we continue trying to do both we may soon not be able to do either one!

What kind of paranoid nightmare is this that we can't even wake up 8 yrs after 9/11 and see we helped create these freedom fighters and the CIA helped coat them with war resistant teflon. There is no such thing as a War against Terror! There is the example of principles and just when we needed them we took them off and threw them away like a couple of old worn out gloves! Meanwhile the rest of the real world goes on without us.

9/11 was supposed to wake us up but we continue to revel in our own self-created nightmare!

Posted by: Wildthing1 | December 2, 2009 2:30 PM | Report abuse

"As President, I have signed a letter of condolence to the family of each American who gives their life in these wars."

Posted by: dottydo | December 2, 2009 2:58 PM | Report abuse

What is giving Karzai the message he has to place his own army doing in the mix?

Telling Karzai we are leaving on January 1 sends the same message......a whole lot cheaper.

Posted by: dottydo | December 2, 2009 3:07 PM | Report abuse

Right on,as usual!
Please remember that it was Bush/Cheney who lied us into this mess at a horrendous in lives and property . . . all so that Cowboy, born-again reform Drunk, Playboy, basically amoral Georgie Boy could parade himself as "The Decider" and put on his National Guard uniform an declare "Mission Accomplished.

Fact of Justice would be to hand Bush a rifle, and put him in the surge!

Posted by: lufrank1 | December 2, 2009 3:52 PM | Report abuse

You're a communist Meyerson...dry up and die

Posted by: PanhandleWilly | December 2, 2009 9:28 PM | Report abuse

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