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December 7, 2009

Rolled By the Generals?

Obama Robt. E. Lee.jpg

Did Obama linger on this painting because he knows at some level, as a student of Lincoln and the Civil War, that his Generals don’t have his back?

The other day, I raised the question of where the White House Flickr stream was going in creating a picture-narrative around the surge. The picture I focused on was Obama presenting the plan to Congressional leaders. Frankly, I still don’t know why the White House bothered to post that PR-disaster of a photo, offering Obama earnestly pitching the surge while everyone else in the room looked like they’d just been summoned by the grim reaper.

The WH Flickr photo above, taken the same day as the Congressional meeting, has an even more curious relation to the surge strategy as well as how it came to be. The picture was taken at the military academy right before Obama delivered his speech, showing the President studying a painting of West Point graduate Robert E. Lee. Given Obama’ well-known idolization of Lincoln, and the fact Lee bolted to the Confederacy months after Lincoln asked Lee to take command of the Union army, how could the photo not invite a parallel between Obama and Generals McChrystal, Petraeus as well as Pentagon Chief Gates?

But then, with all the concern about Obama being worked, and mission creep rearing its head almost before Obama left the podium, maybe the posting of the photo is actually a telegraph, on the part of the White House, how much Obama was swayed by the military establishment.

(photo: Pete Souza/White House. caption: President Barack Obama looks at a portrait hanging in the Superintendent’s quarters at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in West Point, N.Y., before delivering a speech on his new Afghanistan strategy, Dec. 1, 2009.)

  • Bill

    WOW! Powerful statement. And, of course, the Confederacy was committed to keeping slavery the law of their land.

  • Blue Shark

    I see O studying a near-genius Military General in quiet contemplation.
    …nothing more.

  • nightbird

    hear-hear blue shark

  • mad_nVT

    I see the first black President in quiet contemplation— how could Lee have turned his back on his country, and what would have happened to black people if Lee had won.

  • Yg Bluig

    Why shouldn’t O reflect upon the portrait of Lee?
    Lee knew more about the futility of a war of attrition than just about any American, past or present. Compare the expression of Lee in the pre-Civil War portrait with the expression in his famous post-Civil War photograph. ( ) Gone is the look of righteous certainty.
    O would be better off in the long run studying the expression of the post-war Lee.

  • paperplastic

    ‘is it rex or is it memoreel?’

  • Books Alive

    Lee served as Superintendent of the US Military Academy from Sept. 1852 until March 1855, so this portrait may reflect his appearance at that time (age 45-48) and be so prominently hung for this reason. Lee declined to write a memoir after the war, so students of the war need to look elsewhere for Lee’s thoughts on that subject.

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