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Obama Squeaks Up

Mar 7, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 24 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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Self-doubt and paralysis are not only problems for the Obama administration. Mike Huckabee is a frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination. Last Wednesday, as President Obama was waxing ineffectual in the White House, Huckabee met with journalists a few blocks away at the St. Regis Hotel. Someone asked him about the war in Afghanistan. “What does the endgame look like here?” he wondered. “I can’t see a conclusion.” And Huckabee continued: “You go to Afghanistan and look around and you say, ‘My gosh, am I in a country or on the surface of the moon?’ ”

Well, let’s answer Huckabee’s question: The attacks of September 11, 2001, did not come from the surface of the moon. They came from a country called Afghanistan. There are people living there, people who threaten us. And there are other people living there, men, women, and children who deserve a better life and a respite from chaos. And, not incidentally, more than a hundred thousand American soldiers and Marines are fighting there too. Is it really appropriate for a man who would be commander in chief to indulge in cheap throwaway lines about such a place?

In the final analysis, we suppose, Huckabee’s musings on the fate of Afghanistan really don’t matter. But it does matter when, among political leaders in both parties, cleverness replaces seriousness, and ducking responsibility becomes an art form.

One sees today across America, often within the same parties and institutions and even individuals, two tendencies at work, two forces competing for dominance: a decline into cynicism and decadence, and a surge toward responsibility and renewal. In this respect, Libya and Afghanistan—and for that matter the showdown in Wisconsin and the budget battles on Capitol Hill—are not simply separate events. They are different scenes in an ongoing drama. It’s a drama nicely summed up in that wonderful playground taunt: “Are you a man or a mouse? Squeak up.”

Last week the Obama administration squeaked up.

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