Our Superlative Military

In last night's speech to the nation on Libya, President Obama opened with a passage of unalloyed praise to the U.S. military. The venue had something to do with it: He was speaking at National Defense University at Fort McNair. As the military's Commander-in-Chief, he surely sought to send his thanks out to the troops. And I'm sure he and his speechwriters saw such praise and thanks as an uncontroversial moment in an otherwise difficult speech.

So the president praised our troops for their "courage, professionalism and patriotism," and for the way they moved against Libya with "incredible speed and strength." Our diplomats had to settle for being recognized as "dedicated." Later in the speech, Obama again praised our troops for their "extraordinary sacrifices" in Iraq, whereas diplomats had to settle again for being recognized for their "determination."

The president's open-ended, even gushing, praise of our troops is nothing new. In the past, the president has praised our troops as the finest military force the world has ever known. Such hype may do no harm -- unless we start believing in it.

Most sports fans know of teams that prance around, boasting that "We're Number One" and declaring to one and all that "We are the champions of the world." And fans know these teams are usually brought back down to earth either by a tough-minded coach who reminds them not to believe their own hype, or by an opponent who shows them on the playing field that hype is no substitute for effort and results.

Showering the military with superlatives may be good politics, but it's not necessarily good policy. A pat on the back for "dedication" and "determination" or even a simple "thank you" is all the military needs, Mr. President. Along with a kick in the pants to remind us not to believe our own hype.

Professor Astore writes regularly for TomDispatch.com and can be reached at wjastore@gmail.com.