Which made his last-minute assertion of "resolve unwavering" so hollow. It was meant to be stirring. It fell flat. In August, he called Afghanistan "a war of necessity." On Tuesday night, he defined "what's at stake" as "the common security of the world." The world, no less. Yet, we begin leaving in July 2011?Instead we got a politician's speech.
Does he think that such ambivalence is not heard by the Taliban, by Afghan peasants deciding which side to choose, by Pakistani generals hedging their bets, by NATO allies already with one foot out of Afghanistan?
Obama's surge speech wasn't that of a commander in chief but of a politician, perfectly splitting the difference. Two messages for two audiences. Placate the right -- you get the troops; placate the left -- we are on our way out.
And apart from Obama's personal commitment is the question of his ability as a wartime leader. If he feels compelled to placate his left with an exit date today -- while he is still personally popular, with large majorities in both houses of Congress, and even before the surge begins -- how will he stand up to the left when the going gets tough and the casualties mount, and he really has to choose between support from his party and success on the battlefield?
....And this commander in chief defended his exit date (vs. the straw man alternative of "open-ended" nation-building) thusly: "because the nation that I'm most interested in building is our own."
Remarkable. Go and fight, he tells his cadets -- some of whom may not return alive -- but I may have to cut your mission short because my real priorities are domestic.
Has there ever been a call to arms more dispiriting, a trumpet more uncertain?