In what Jesse Walker rightly called "the greatest speech in the history of political conventions," the veteran actor/director and American icon Clint Eastwood talked about the folly of the war in Afghanistan to President Obama, who he imagined sat in a chair next to him during his surprise appearance at the Republican National Convention in Tampa Thursday night, for which Eastwood used no notes and no teleprompter.
A word to those mocking Eastwood speaking to "an empty chair" as a way to belittle his message: some other speakers, unlike Eastwood largely professional politicians, addressed the president directly at some points in their speeches. It's a matter of debate just how many (or few) of the questions and comments directed at the president in the Republican National Convention Obama heard. But can you honestly deny the president was watching, and listening, as Eastwood was addressing him?
After asking the president about broken promises (mentioning only Guantanamo specifically), Eastwood told him:
"I know you were against the War in Iraq and that's okay. But you thought the war in Afghanistan was, was okay. I mean, you thought that was something that was worth doing. We didn't check with the Russians to see how they did there for the ten years. We did it. It's something to be thought about."
It ought to be noted here that the American war in Afghanistan began in the fall of 2001 as a response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and after much of Al-Qaeda's forces and their allies the Taliban, who ruled the county, were routed, President George W. Bush decided to stay and nation build. The war in Afghanistan is now America's longest war, with no end in sight.
"You mentioned something about having a target date for bringing everybody home and you give that target date and I think Mr. Romney has the only sensible question, though, why are you giving the date out now? Why don't you just bring them home tomorrow morning?"
This decidedly anti-war stance actually received a good amount of applause from the delegates who this week nominated the pro-war Mitt Romney over the anti-war Ron Paul (votes for whom at the convention were not counted).
Romney, of course, did ask Obama why he would announce a date for withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, but he questioned the decision because he doesn't support a withdrawal from Afghanistan. Romney's stance on the war America is embroiled in as he runs for president stands in stark contrast to the one his father, George Romney, took on the war in Vietnam, which dominated the nation's attention when he was running for president himself in 1967. He actually came out against that folly and pointed out that the military was "brainwashing" politicians into supporting the war in Vietnam. Then considered a gaffe, it was actually an accurate description of the political establishment's misguided and blind commitment to escalating military involvement in Southeast Asia. It ended, of course, the elder Romney's chances at winning the nomination.
This year, Ron Paul ran for the Republican nomination for president advocating a decidedly non-interventionist foreign policy. Though mercifully I did not watch every Republican presidential debate this season, Paul could have easily asked the question of the president about bringing the troops home that Eastwood misattributed to a decidedly pro-war Mitt Romney.
While Clint Eastwood advocated a Ron Paul-style approach to Afghanistan, his view on Gitmo was a bit more muddled. While addressing the president about broken promises, he said this of the American detention camp in Cuba:
Even some of the people in your own party were very disappointed when you didn't close Gitmo, and I thought, well, I think closing Gitmo, why close it up? We spent so much money on it… I thought it was just because someone had the stupid idea of trying terrorists in downtown New York City. I've got to hand it to you… you did overrule that, finally. Now we're moving onward."
Onward Eastwood moved immediately into the riff on Iraq and Afghanistan.
At the end, Eastwood turned his attention from the president to all Americans ("whether you're Democrat, or whether you're a Republican or whether you're libertarian or whatever"), saying that "politicians are employees of ours, so they're just going to come around and beg for votes every few years and it's the same old deal… We don't have to be masochists and vote for somebody we don't really want in office just because they seem to be nice guys, or maybe not so nice guys, if you look at some of the recent ads going out there, I don't know." Responding to the sporadic chants of "make my day" throughout the speech (at the first outburst he told the crowd to "save some for Mitt") and a call from the floor that interrupted this final thought of his, he added: "But, okay. You wanna make my day, huh."
Whether the Republicans will make Clint Eastwood's day (which appears to include bringing the troops home now), he certainly made the day of anyone disturbed by the lack of attention this election season to the ever-continuing war in Afghanistan, many pundits' best attempts to talk about anything about Clint Eastwood's speech other than the monumental diss of the Republican Party and its presidential candidate's blind embrace of the war in Afghanistan notwithstanding.