“The tide of war is receding,” or so President Obama keeps saying. He said it on June 22, 2011, talking about Afghanistan. He said it on Sept. 21, 2011, in his address to the annual opening of the UN General Assembly. He said it on Nov. 11, 2011, at Arlington Cemetery. He said it on Jan. 5, 2012, while announcing cuts in the U.S. military.
And on Tuesday night, in his State of the Union address, there it was again. Though this time Obama presented it less as an announcement than as the established context for his further remarks: “As the tide of war recedes… .”
If saying could make it so, this would all be a marvelous exercise. But there’s a dangerous muddle here, in which the gutting of U.S. defense and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from overseas theaters are confused with an end to war. If the metaphor here is to be one of ocean tides, then the extension of the metaphor is that we are being invited to spread out our well-padded entitlement programs and picnic on the beach — oblivious to the signs that the water is coming back. North Korea and Iran are still working on nuclear bombs and missiles. Iran, along with its ties to al Qaeda, continues to arm and support terrorist groups such as Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, which in turn have networks well beyond the Middle East, including in Latin America — where Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad just completed yet another visit to his pals in Cuba, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Venezuela. China is busy with a massive military buildup. Russia is sending arms to Syria. And, with the U.S. nodding along, Egypt is on its way to Islamist rule. These are not developments that herald an imminent era of peace. Neither is the plot alleged by Obama’s own Justice Department, in which Iran’s Quds Force planned to blow up the Saudi ambassador in a Washington restaurant, just last fall — sometime between Obama’s first two iterations about the receding tide of war, and the last three.
There’s something else that’s troubling about this “receding tide” formulation. Like that long and bending “arc of history” which Obama invoked while passively bearing “witness” in 2009 to the slaughter of Iranian protesters, this “tide” business implies that while the little folk might fret about the growing threats, the president walks hand in hand with some grand force of history which, catalyzed by his presence, will somehow sort it all out. It’s of a piece with Obama’s declaration when he became his party’s candidate in 2008 that “this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” In that same speech, he went on to say, “this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation … .” Whatever the talk of arcs and tides, America has enemies focused on the here and now. Are we really more secure?