What Obama Could Learn From MacArthur

Chris Matthews has apologized for suggesting that Barack Obama was in “enemy territory” at West Point after the president got a chilly reception from the assembled cadets. That wasn’t “enemy territory,” Chris. It was the heart of America. But it is true that in contrast to the swooning crowds that typically greet the president at staged events, there was a coolness in the cadets’ response to their commander-in-chief and his speech.

That’s not surprising, because, speaking at our nation’s oldest military academy, Obama was at a place rooted in a worldview diametrically at odds with his own. 

The president and his friends see America as not just imperfect but profoundly flawed. When asked whether he believes in American exceptionalism, the idea that America is special in the world in terms of its history, its founding documents and mission and its political and religious institutions, the president responded, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism, and the Greeks believe in Greek
exceptionalism.” Let me translate: “No.”

But American execptionalism is at the foundation of the West Point ethos. It is why West Point’s motto is “Duty, Honor, Country.” It is why our men and women in uniform put their lives on the line, and why 74 West Point graduates have made the ultimate sacrifice during our campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obama’s view of America as less than exceptional helps explain why he has spent the first nine months of his presidency bowing, appeasing and conciliating our enemies.

Obama’s weakness has only provoked despots the world over to test us more and more. Obama abandoned missile defense in Europe and got nothing from Russia in return. Meanwhile Russia is building arms plants in Venezuela. Cuba recently conducted its biggest military maneuvers in five years, in preparation, its government stated, for possible war with the U.S. 

And Obama’s kid gloves approach to Iran has yielded nothing but more Iranian bellicosity. The regime recently announced that it is dramatically expanding its nuclear program by building 10 more uranium enrichment sites.

America’s enemies see Obama as a pushover. But Americans increasingly see him also as a narcissist. Obama is an “I”-driven president. His speeches are littered with “I’s,” “Me’s” and “My’s.” And he takes credit for things he has nothing to do with, while blaming any bad news on his predecessor or his country.

Obama once joked, “If I had to name my greatest strength, I guess it would be my humility. Greatest weakness, it’s possible that I’m a little too awesome.” It was funny because there was more than a hint of truth in it.

Obama’s self-aggrandizement is completely counter to Army values. At West Point, cadets sacrifice themselves for the corps and for the good of the country. The class of 2012 has chosen as its motto “For More Than Ourselves.”

The West Point ethos was perhaps best captured by General Douglas MacArthur in his farewell speech to the Corps of Cadets at West Point in 1962: He said in part, “Duty, Honor, Country: Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be.”

MacArthur spoke of witnessing on battlefields “that enduring fortitude (of the American soldier), that patriotic self-abnegation, and that invincible determination which have carved his statue in the hearts of his people.” He continued:

“The soldier, above all other men, is required to practice the greatest act of religious training – sacrifice. In battle and in the face of danger and death, he discloses those divine attributes which his Maker gave when he created man in his own image. No physical courage and no brute instinct can take the place of the Divine help which alone can sustain him. However horrible the incidents of war may be, the soldier who is called upon to offer and to give his life for his country, is the noblest development of mankind.”

General MacArthur concluded with words that must seem foreign to our president. “Today marks my final roll call with you. But I want you to know that when I cross the river, my last conscious thoughts will be of the Corps, and the Corps, and the Corps.”

In his West Point speech, Obama conceded that military force can be used to help America’s “vital national interests.” But he wasn’t specific about a commitment to victory in Afghanistan, saying only that his goal was to “bring this war to a successful conclusion.”

In fact, Obama failed to mention the words “victory” or “win” in laying out his administration’s strategy. Which might have seemed odd to the assembled Cadets, who no doubt know well MacArthur’s admonishment: “Yours is the profession of arms, the will to win, the sure knowledge that in war there is no substitute for victory, that if you lose, the Nation will be destroyed, that the very obsession of your public service must be Duty, Honor, Country.”