After Obama unveiled details of his strategy against al Qaeda on Friday, Maddow played clips of Obama's remarks during her show that night, juxtaposed with similar comments by George W. Bush while he was president --
MADDOW: First, though, superficially, I think it has to be acknowledged that in today's speech, there were some George Bush-ish moments.Bush and Obama are then heard to say, in unison though years apart, " ... and they must be defeated."
BUSH: These terrorists must be pursued ...
OBAMA: They must be met with force ...
MADDOW: All together now, they must be defeated! What does defeat mean in this context? We also have the ominous warnings about the next attack.Maddow proceeded to describe what she sees as the differences between the Obama and Bush strategies against al Qaeda. But what struck me as most relevant was not Maddow citing parallels between the two presidents, followed by her claim that their differences loom larger, but what Maddow said later in the segment --
OBAMA: Multiple intelligence estimates have warned that al Qaeda is actively planning attacks on the United States homeland.
BUSH: ... bases from which they can plot and plan attacks on our homeland.
MADDOW: I guess this means that the creepy word homeland is surviving into this administration too. Hmm. There was also an echo today of one of Bush's pre-surge strategic promises in Iraq.
BUSH: I like to put it this way -- as they stand up, we'll sit down.
MADDOW: Coming out of the last president, that sounded a little like advice for how to do well at hokey-pokey, but the idea was that when Iraqi security forces could handle their country's own security needs, we would leave. President Obama ...
OBAMA: That's how we will prepare Afghans to take responsibility for their security and how we will ultimately be able to bring our own troops home.
MADDOW: You know, I knew that sounded familiar. There was also a deja vu moment about this being tough territory.
OBAMA: I don't ask for this support lightly ...
BUSH: These aren't joyous times ...
(Both men at once): These are challenging times.
MADDOW: Honestly it was a little eerie, how similar the rhetoric was and there's no use pretending otherwise. But beyond the rhetoric, and if we've learned anything at all over the past eight years, it's that it is worth looking beyond the rhetoric, specifically when you're talking about war.
When you're actually looking at the substance, there are some big changes here, starting with the level of commitment -- money, troops, civilian resources, presidential attention, diplomatic attention, other civilian government that's not the State Department or the president's attention.
It doesn't mean that this is the glorious war now, but it does mean if we want to know what our country is doing in this war now, there is new stuff to learn and new stuff to understand.
MADDOW: So there's a lot that's in flux right now and all the important devils, as ever, are in the details. Still, it's worth not losing sight of the big picture.
And what exactly is "the big picture"? Maddow then showed a clip from the 1987 film "The Princess Bride," with the character played by Wallace Shawn saying, "You fell victim to one of the classic blunders. The most famous is never get involved in a land war in Asia."
MADDOW: Too late for that!
Hmm, are you suggesting the United States should have refrained from using military force in Afghanistan after al Qaeda killed 3,000 Americans on 9/11?
Characteristically of Maddow, she doesn't say -- just as she derides the word "homeland" as "creepy" yet offers no substitute. The word "blunder" doesn't allow much room for interpretation. OK, maybe it was. What would you have done instead?
Maddow is entitled to her opinion, and anyone within earshot doesn't wait long to hear it. But if she believes the United States is engaged in grievous folly by sending troops to Afghanistan, instead of lobbing cruise missiles, handing out indictments and bolstering the Peace Corps, say so -- don't dance around it.
Maddow wasn't the only high-profile lefty who saw unsettling parallels between Obama and Bush when it comes to Afghanistan. So did filmmaker Michael Moore, whose response was "surprisingly forceful," according to Gawker (Can you see Obama inviting Moore for dinner anytime soon? Me neither. Yet another parallel with Bush).
One of Maddow's guests on Friday was former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski. Speaking with Brzezinski, Maddow raised the inevitable specter of Vietnam. Brzezinski rejected the analogy --
MADDOW: Dr. Brzezinski, I wondered if you could respond to the criticism that was levied today by an anti-war group called Peace Action that said, after JFK was elected he escalated a low-lying military conflict, which is part of the way that we ended up inextricably, feeling like we were inextricably tied to the conflict in Vietnam. Do you think that there's a risk that we've entered into sort of an incrementalist, escalating quagmire in Afghanistan and we're going to find it harder to get out?
BRZEZINSKI: You know, what people forget when they say that is something that to some extent even got overlooked in the earlier comments about Bush and Iraq. Vietnam and Iraq were American engagements of our choice. I repeat that, of our choice. We didn't have to go in. Afghanistan is a reaction to 9/11, to a massive attack on the United States which originated from within Afghanistan, not from the Taliban incidentally, but the Taliban was sheltering al Qaeda, and al Qaeda is still in Afghanistan and even more so in Pakistan.
So in that sense President Obama is not making any choice, the choice has been forced upon him by history, by a brutal act to which we have to react. So we have here a national challenge which cannot be really discussed in terms of the president somehow dragging us in. We have been dragged in by those who attacked us.
MADDOW: Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser to President Carter, it's always such a pleasure to have you on the show. Thank you for taking the time.
Translation of Brzezinski's remarks -- Obama is sending troops to Afghanistan, as did Bush after 9/11, in a decision "forced upon him by history." While you disagree with that, but won't come out and say it, Obama concurs with Bush. As do I, Jimmy Carter's national security adviser.
"What does defeat mean in this context?" Maddow asks, oblivious, disingenuous or maybe both. If defining defeat as destroying the threat from al Qaeda is too complicated for her to grasp, I'll offer an anecdotal example of how we'll know that day has arrived -- when openly gay Jewish women who also happen to be liberal political pundits can fly on jumbo jets and nap during the flight.