THE BLOG

Maligning Obama By Mangling Language

For all I know Barack Obama really is a foreign policy lightweight, but it's nevertheless maddening to observe his critics willfully misinterpreting his words to fit that narrative.

If you wonder how it all happens, consider the remarks he delivered in New Hampshire as reported by the Nashua Telegraph:

Obama defended his push to prosecute a tougher military effort to root out al-Qaida on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, which drew criticism from primary rivals for sounding too bellicose.

"Now you have narco drug lords who are helping to finance the Taliban, so we've got to get the job done there, and that requires us to have enough troops that we are not just air raiding villages and killing civilians, which is causing enormous problems there,'' Obama said.(emphasis added)

Okay, let's try to figure out which of the following Obama meant:

A) The only thing American soldiers do in Afghanistan is conduct air raids and kill innocent civilians.

B) If the United States had more troops in Afghanistan, we could rely on air raids less and therefore kill fewer civilians.

Given the fact that we've heard Barack Obama thank soldiers in Afghanistan for their service, the utter implausibility of his being ignorant of all other action we are taking in Afghanistan, and our awareness that it is routine for English speakers to use that same "just" formulation in a way that isn't literal, it seems obvious that Obama intended the latter choice.

Keep that in mind as we consider the reaction at Captain's Quarters:

The NATO troops in Afghanistan would beg to differ. They don't have a policy of bombing civilians, and the ground troops play a very important role in defending Afghanistan's villages from the depravities of Taliban control. Perhaps Obama can explain his analysis of military strategy and tactics to the ground troops that get wounded in these battles -- or to the families of the dead soldiers who died holding ground against the radical Islamists.

Right, because Obama said that the military has a policy of bombing civilians. Er, except he didn't say that at all!

In fact, as posited by the Obama campaign, such a strategy would amount to war crimes. This sounds perilously close to the same kind of accusations that Vietnam War veterans faced when they came back from their service -- that they indiscriminately wiped out villages, killing women, children, and babies. And Obama offers this as a defense of his previous pronouncement that he would invade Pakistan as a positive step, presumably an improvement on indiscriminate attacks on villages in Afghanistan.

Quite a stretch isn't it? Obama's statement as "perilously close" to what Vietnam veterans faced? You remember, back when the hippie protesters spit on them and yelled, "I want to send you additional reinforcements so you can better fight the enemy and kill fewer civilians." Isn't that a direct quote from Jane Fonda?

It is certainly legitimate to question the foreign policy qualifications of a young senator at a time of global turmoil. I've got questions myself. But it would be far easier to draw conclusions if every supposed example of Obama's inexperience weren't actually an example of others' willful distortion of his words.