President Obama, always the politician, never the leader has made an odd but rather fitting choice to deliver his speech on his plans for our military in Afghanistan by using West Point as his back drop. The normal location we are accustomed to seeing our Commander in Chief give such important military talks is the Oval Office. For some reason, Obama doesn't think it gives him enough "gravitas," and needs one of our most important military symbols behind his teleprompter.
The irony of this location I am sure escapes Obama, and all of his staff. It would be hard to imagine any American History majors working anywhere in his administration, so to them West Point is just another "great photo op." However the fact that just 230 years ago it was the sight of the single most treasonous act was attempted by an American military leader, General Benedict Arnold.
After Obama assumed command as president, he replaced General McKiernan with General Stanly McCrystal in May of 09 as his leader for the Afghanistan War. After three months on the ground, McCrystal sent in his report and request for 40,000 more troops on August 30th of 2009. With this dire warning;
“Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near term (next 12 months) — while Afghan security capacity matures — risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible,” General McChrystal writes.
Now after 102 days of dithering while Afghanistan was burning, Obama finally decides to take yet another road trip to grace us all with his decision. For someone who fancies himself Lincolnesque is anything but, one of Lincoln's rules for leadership was to make decisions quickly but be stubborn to change them once made.
What we hear leaked that will be in that speech is there are no references to winning, victory, or any achievement, just an exit strategy. It is as if Obama is flying to West Point the cradle of great military leadership to spit in the face of our military past and present.
Two hundred thirty years ago, General Benedict Arnold sought the command of West Point to get back at his country for what he believed were slights, and for his badly bruised ego. Arnold was one of George Washington's most able subordinates and skilled officers. An officer who had been responsible for victories at Ticonderoga, Quebec, and, in part, Saratoga. His ego was bruised under the apparent lack of recognition for his efforts as General Gates, and Ethan Allen both took the glory from the field even though the victory was actually Arnold's.
While commanding a garrison in Philadelphia, where he married Peggy Shippen, a wealthy Tory who encouraged his spending and speculation. In 1779 a committee charged him with misuse of official funds and ordered Washington to discipline Arnold. Instead, Washington, knowing that the Governor who was attacking Arnold was doing so out of jealousy of power. Washington praised his general's military record without mentioning the charge. Arnold took this as less than full support, not considering Washington's need to keep the governor placated as well.
Through his wife Arnold was convinced to get his revenge, and to clean up his finances, by turning over West Point to the British. His courier was caught and hanged, Washington and Hamilton were on their way to confront Arnold when he got word and ran. Arnold then fielded a command for the British against the Americans in Virginia. He later retired to England in 1781, where he died bankrupt and unhappy, his name forever equated to treason in America.
As colonial historian O.H. Chitwood observed, if Arnold "could have remained true to his first love for a year longer his name would probably now have a place next to that of Washington in the list of Revolutionary heroes."
Today, 230 years later, we have once again a military leader, this time Commander in Chief, choosing West Point as his location of choice to be a traitor to his command, and to his country. His name will one day also be spit out with vile as Arnold's is today.