Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Live-blogging President Obama's prime-time speech on Afghanistan

8:04 - Obama coins a portmanteau word: "toperatives."

8:09 - "Afghanistan is not lost, but for several years now, it has moved backwards." Obama's delivery here was uncannily evocative of George W. Bush's.

8:14 - I'm glad Obama says, of the war on terrorism, "This is not just America's war," and lists some of the terrorist attacks that have happened around the world since September 11, 2001. A welcome change from the glibly myopic refrain we heard during the Bush administration that "we" haven't been attacked again.

[UPDATE: Here's the prepared text of the speech. The key passage:]

We must keep the pressure on al Qaeda, and to do that, we must increase the stability and capacity of our partners in the region. Of course, this burden is not ours alone to bear. This is not just America's war. Since 9/11, al Qaeda's safe-havens have been the source of attacks against London and Amman and Bali. The people and governments of both Afghanistan and Pakistan are endangered. And the stakes are even higher within a nuclear-armed Pakistan, because we know that al Qaeda and other extremists seek nuclear weapons, and we have every reason to believe that they would use them. These facts compel us to act along with our friends and allies.
8:27 - A long-term commitment to nation-building in Afghanistan can't be fulfilled "at a reasonable cost." "The nation I'm most interested in building is our own." It's refreshing to finally have a president who's willing to bluntly acknowledge, in the context of foreign policy, that our capabilities are finite and that trade-offs sometimes need to be made.

[Another update from the transcript:]
I am mindful of the words of President Eisenhower, who – in discussing our national security – said, "Each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration: the need to maintain balance in and among national programs."

Over the past several years, we have lost that balance, and failed to appreciate the connection between our national security and our economy. In the wake of an economic crisis, too many of our friends and neighbors are out of work and struggle to pay the bills, and too many Americans are worried about the future facing our children. Meanwhile, competition within the global economy has grown more fierce. So we simply cannot afford to ignore the price of these wars.

All told, by the time I took office the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan approached a trillion dollars. Going forward, I am committed to addressing these costs openly and honestly. Our new approach in Afghanistan is likely to cost us roughly 30 billion dollars for the military this year, and I will work closely with Congress to address these costs as we work to bring down our deficit.

But as we end the war in Iraq and transition to Afghan responsibility, we must rebuild our strength here at home. Our prosperity provides a foundation for our power. It pays for our military. It underwrites our diplomacy. It taps the potential of our people, and allows investment in new industry. And it will allow us to compete in this century as successfully as we did in the last. That is why our troop commitment in Afghanistan cannot be open-ended – because the nation that I am most interested in building is our own.
(By contrast, here's Bush's second inaugural address: "We go forward with complete confidence in the eventual triumph of freedom. ... America, in this young century, proclaims liberty throughout all the world, and to all the inhabitants thereof. Renewed in our strength - tested, but not weary - we are ready for the greatest achievements in the history of freedom.")

8:35 - He ends with a mix of Obama-like inspiration and Bush-like resolve: "Our cause is just. ... Right makes might."

I'm not qualified to judge the actual military strategy Obama was announcing with this speech. (How many people watching could honestly say they are?) But the speech itself was as smoothly effective as we've come to expect from Obama.

UPDATE: Here's the complete video:


Meade said...

"...take away the tools of mass destruction."

Meade said...

Why does it sound like he's scolding us?

John Althouse Cohen said...

I'm glad he said "tools of mass destruction." It's an appropriately broad phrase -- clearly a deliberate shift. The previous focus on "weapons of mass destruction" was strangely narrow.

John Althouse Cohen said...

Maybe Obama just reaches certain groups in a way that falls flat with others. I remember seeing a pundit on TV during the '08 race (E.J. Dionne?) saying Obama's speeches are like dog whistles for young people. I don't feel like he's scolding me at all. I feel like he's respecting my intelligence.

Jason (the commenter) said...

We will support Afghan Ministries, Governors, and local leaders that combat corruption and deliver for the people. We expect those who are ineffective or corrupt to be held accountable.

Would you want to be one of the people who was "supported" by America? Remember, Obama just put a time limit on our stay in Afghanistan. Very soon you'll be alone with all the people America decided to punish.

And we will also focus our assistance in areas – such as agriculture – that can make an immediate impact in the lives of the Afghan people.

Good luck finding a better cash crop than heroin.

As President, I refuse to set goals that go beyond our responsibility, our means, our or interests.

I guess the Democrats in Congress had better be prepared for him to veto their healthcare legislation then.

We have to improve and better coordinate our intelligence, so that we stay one step ahead of shadowy networks.

Shadowy networks=Fox

Because every nation must understand that true security will never come from an endless race for ever-more destructive weapons – true security will come for those who reject them.

When they are taken over by countries like China who can overpower them with conventional weapons?

I have spent this year renewing our alliances and forging new partnerships.

The less he speaks about this the better.

And we must make it clear to every man, woman and child around the world who lives under the dark cloud of tyranny that America will speak out on behalf of their human rights, and tend to the light of freedom, and justice, and opportunity, and respect for the dignity of all peoples.


We will not claim another nation's resources...

With free trade there's no point.

But I also know that we, as a country, cannot sustain our leadership nor navigate the momentous challenges of our time if we allow ourselves to be split asunder by the same rancor and cynicism and partisanship that has in recent times poisoned our national discourse.

Translation: Criticism is unpatriotic.

It is easy to forget that when this war began, we were united – bound together by the fresh memory of a horrific attack, and by the determination to defend our homeland and the values we hold dear. I refuse to accept the notion that we cannot summon that unity again. I believe with every fiber of my being that we – as Americans – can still come together behind a common purpose.

Why do Americans need to come together? Obama is only sending 30,000 more troops and leaving Afghanistan in a few years. He even spent the first half of the speech telling us how we weren't going to put all our resources into this war because we need to focus on our own country.

And the message that we send in the midst of these storms must be clear: that our cause is just, our resolve unwavering.

Um, doesn't it end in 2011? Did one person write the beginning of the speech and another the ending?

Meade said...

"I don't feel like he's scolding me at all. I feel like he's respecting my intelligence."

Hmm... interesting perspective. Maybe I was projecting but I thought many of those young cadets looked like they felt they were being preached to.

Very effective line: "...the nation that I am most interested in building is our own."

Jason (the commenter) said...

JAC: I'm glad he said "tools of mass destruction." It's an appropriately broad phrase -- clearly a deliberate shift. The previous focus on "weapons of mass destruction" was strangely narrow.

People would have freaked out if the words "weapons of mass destruction" had come out of his mouth. There was no way he could have said it. The same goes for "axis of evil". It's just too George Bush for a Democrat to say now.