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This Week In Fred Barnes

Back when my wife was teaching third grade, I used to joke about grading her students’ book reports the way you might treat an academic paper or a book review in TNR. (“This book report on George Washington, a scant three pages, does nothing to advance our understanding of the first president.”)

Pointing out a logical contradiction in a Fred Barnes article is kind of like that. But the flesh is weak. In his latest piece, Barnes argues that Obama is weak. Check out these two paragraphs:

Afghanistan is his test. Public support for the war has fallen sharply this year, especially among Democrats. And Obama's liberal base is pushing him to rebuff General Stanley McChrystal, the commander in Afghanistan, and scale back the war effort. Reversing course on a critical issue of national security because of domestic politics--that's an act of pure weakness.

At the same time, Obama will create another problem for himself should he spurn McChrystal's request for up to 60,000 additional troops to carry out the very strategy the president adopted in March and reaffirmed as recently as August. Rejection will alienate the uniformed military, and they are more popular than the president. When the Pentagon is hostile territory, the president suffers.

In the first paragraph, Barnes argues that the war in Afghanistan is unpopular, and if Obama decides not to send in more troops, it must be because he’s acting out of political expedience. (Barnes, of course, does not contemplate the possibility that Obama might actually oppose more troops on the merits.) Then, in the very next paragraph, he points out that Obama will probably create a political problem for himself if he opposes more troops in Afghanistan. The very next paragraph!

As an added bonus, check out this line later in the piece:

Had the president dramatically stiffened the effort to force Iran to give up its nuclear weapons program, had he recruited allies in this cause, had he gone ahead with the antimissile system in Poland and the Czech Republic over Vladimir Putin's objection, had he become a champion (rather than a critic) of America's interests in the world--then, the situation would be quite different.

Barnes attacks Obama for failing to recruit allies to isolate Iran and for failing to maintain a missile system “over Vladimir Putin's objection” in the same sentence. So the plan here is to go to Putin and say, screw you buddy – oh, and also we’d love it if you’d reverse yourself and help us isolate your regional ally. There may be a way to reconcile these two views, but Barnes appears totally unaware of the contradiction.