Last night on MSNBC, host Chris Matthews discussed President Obama’s decision to deliver his Afghanistan policy address at West Point, calling the military academy an “enemy camp”:
MATTHEWS: I didn’t see much excitement. But among the older people there, I saw, if not resentment, skepticism. I didn’t see a lot of warmth in that crowd out there that the President chose to address tonight and I thought that was interesting. He went to maybe the enemy camp tonight to make his case. I mean, that’s where Paul Wolfowitz used to write speeches for, back in the old Bush days. That’s where he went to rabble rouse the ‘we’re going to democratize the world’ campaign back in ’02. So, I thought it was a strange venue.
Later during the network’s coverage of the speech, Matthews issued a weak apology for the comment. “Maybe earlier tonight I used the wrong phrase — ‘enemy camp,’” he said. But he still defended himself, saying that West Point “identif[ies] with the Bush strategy.” He later added that President Bush made himself out to be a “friend of the military,” and the GOP acts as if the military are the “of partisan forces of the Republican Party.” Watch it:
Matthews seems to be arguing that, because the GOP identifies itself as the sole Party of the military, West Point must be “enemy” ground for a Democratic president. Unfortunately, many Beltway journalists default to this line of thinking.
Republicans have indeed been tried to paint themselves as “pro-military” and Democrats as “weak” on national security or “anti-military.” But it’s unclear just how President Bush succeeded as a “military-friendly” president, considering he left office with an overstretched Army and Marines still engaged in two protracted wars that have cost thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars.
If Obama had delivered the speech to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard or at a military base in North Korea, these would perhaps be more accurately described as “enemy” camps. But not an institution that is preparing cadets to “obey the orders of the President of the United States.” Last night, the cadets applauded Obama during his speech. The local police chief even said there was “a palpable buzz” among the cadets before the speech. “People are excited the president’s going to be so close,” he said.
OLBERMANN: If for nothing else it’s at least a realistic tone I think from a president to a country and from a country back to a president.
MATTHEWS: Well I think that’s true of most wars. They start with a lot of excitement. I always remember that scene in Gone With The Wind where all the rebels are so excited about going to war with the North a country they can’t beat because of its industrial advantage and population advantage. They are going to lose that war eventually. It seems like in this case, there isn’t a lot of excitement. I watched the cadets, they were young kids – men and women who were committed to serving their country professionally it must be said, as officers. And, I didn’t see much excitement. But among the older people there, I saw, if not resentment, skepticism. I didn’t see a lot of warmth in that crowd out there that the President chose to address tonight and I thought that was interesting. He went to maybe the enemy camp tonight to make his case. I mean, that’s where Paul Wolfowitz used to write speeches for, back in the old Bush days. That’s where he went to rabble rouse the ‘we’re going to democratize the world’ campaign back in ’02. So, I thought it was a strange venue.
MATTHEWS: He went up there to West Point okay, and maybe earlier tonight I used the wrong phrase “enemy camp.” But the fact of the matter is, that he went up there to a place that’s obviously military, people in the volunteer army and you have officers up there, people who had been tough, McChrystal, Petraeus, identify with the Bush strategy, much tougher, more hawkish. He went up there it was almost like he telegraphed the fact that he was going to, what? Change sides on the issue dove versus hawk? Was that telegraphing? Was it the enemy camp? How do you phrase it?
MATTHEWS: I got to ask you there’s been some heat on the other network about me referring to the fact that the President chose unusual ground tonight to make his case for his position on Afghanistan which is a surge now and then a withdrawal basically a gradual withdrawal starting in 18 months. I referred to it as being the “enemy camp” in the sense that all this war we’ve been fighting, this debate, this has gone on and on and on where you’ve had the President, the former President, President Bush setting himself up as the friend of the military saying that he is the one. The Republican National Committee has put out statements saying, “Any Republican must support the military in whatever it wants.” As if they are the sorts of partisan forces of the Republican Party. And here you have the President of the United States choosing to walk into West Point tonight, a terrain chosen by President Bush at his most hawkish and perhaps those were ill chosen words but my point was clear to anybody who was honest and listening to it. An unusual decision by a president who’s nuanced in his foreign policy to choose the military academy as his basis for making the case.
Over at the National Review on the Corner, Kathryn Jean Lopez called Matthews’ comments “shameful.”