Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The President's speech - perhaps the best Obama could do, but still some jarring lines

While I rather agree with Bill Kristol that the President's speech was the best we could expect from an anti-war president in a time of war, I also didn't like his repetition of his deadline for Afghanistan and I agree with Jonah Goldberg's criticism of the economic portion of the speech. When speaking of Afghanistan, Obama underlined his commitment to having a definite deadline on when we leave a war when he said, "As with the surge in Iraq, these forces will be in place for a limited time to provide space for the Afghans to build their capacity and secure their own future." That's a long way from the heartfelt language of Secretary of Defense Gates who was sounding a lot more determined in the speech he also gave yesterday.
“If the Taliban really believe that America is heading for the exits next summer in large numbers, they will be deeply disappointed and surprised to find us very much in the fight. And the realization that we will still be there after July 2011 aggressively going after them will, I believe, impact their morale and willingness to continue resisting their government and the international coalition.”
So whom do we believe, Gates or Obama? And what about what the commandant of the Marine Corps, General James T. Conway, said last week that the Taliban is relying on Obama's deadline to keep fighting.
"We think right now it's probably giving our enemy sustenance. . . . We've intercepted communications that say, hey, you know, we only have to hold out for so long," he said.
It's a far cry from President Bush's repeated determination to stay the course in Iraq, a determination that Senators Obama and Biden certainly criticized at the time. Conway thinks that some of the Taliban are losing their determination to keep fighting and the Taliban is bucking them up by telling them that they only have to hold out until July. How much harder would it be for the Taliban to send that message if Obama were making the same message that Bush emphasized when Bush supported the surge in Iraq?

The swivel to the nation's economy felt like a limp attempt to mimic the Gettysburg Address swivel to the need for civilians to take up the cause of those who have fought and fallen. But instead of linking the burden that our fighting men and women have carried to what we still need to do in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama tacked on a call for us basically to go along with Obama's domestic agenda.
And so at this moment, as we wind down the war in Iraq, we must tackle those challenges at home with as much energy, and grit, and sense of common purpose as our men and women in uniform who have served abroad. They have met every test that they faced. Now, it is our turn. Now, it is our responsibility to honor them by coming together, all of us, and working to secure the dream that so many generations have fought for –the dream that a better life awaits anyone who is willing to work for it and reach for it.

Our most urgent task is to restore our economy, and put the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs back to work. To strengthen our middle class, we must give all our children the education they deserve, and all our workers the skills that they need to compete in a global economy. We must jumpstart industries that create jobs, and end our dependence on foreign oil. We must unleash the innovation that allows new products to roll off our assembly lines, and nurture the ideas that spring from our entrepreneurs. This will be difficult. But in the days to come, it must be our central mission as a people, and my central responsibility as President.
Goldberg wrote,
This is what really disgusted me. If you read this closely, what Obama is saying is that not only do we owe it to the troops to rally around his discredited and partisan economic agenda (“It’s our turn”), not only is it a test of our patriotism to sign on with his environmental and industrial planning schemes, but that doing so “must be our central mission as a people.”

I find everything about that offensive.
I know that, with the nation's attention focused on our economy, Obama probably felt that he had to say something about the economy and his speechwriters were probably looking for some sort of transition from the war talk, but the result was an failed attempt to draw a connection between our support for our troops with Obama's domestic agenda. It was jarring and unappealing.