Michael Totten

Obama's Afghanistan Speech

I’d rather spend a day working on my book than picking apart President Obama’s speech where he announced a “surge” of troops in Afghanistan, so let me just say I agree with both John Podhoretz and Tom Ricks, two men who often don’t see eye-to-eye on foreign policy and the military.
Here’s “John Podhoretz in Commentary”:http://www.commentarymagazine.com/blogs/index.php/jpodhoretz/185022:

Whatever the flaws in the speech itself — and they were considerable — Obama’s announcement and the details of the plan together represent a landmark moment. After spending a few months desperately looking for another choice, a third choice, a cute choice, Obama did in fact surrender to the logic of the presidency. Having called the conflict in Afghanistan a “war of necessity,” he has committed the nation to it, and himself to it.
He is clearly acting against his own gut instincts and those within the ideological tendency that is his natural and longtime home, and that does take courage. Indeed, that is what accounts for the unsatisfying quality of the speech he delivered. He was trying to find language with which he could make his decision explicable to people like him — indeed, perhaps even to an alternate-universe Barack Obama who hadn’t won the presidency and would almost certainly have viewed the notion of committing more troops to Afghanistan in a Bush-like “surge” an awful proposition. That mollification isn’t really possible, and so the speech didn’t work as a matter of rhetoric or suasion.
But that is a missed opportunity for him. It doesn’t really matter. It’s the policy that matters.

And here is “Tom Ricks in Foreign Policy”:http://ricks.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2009/12/02/quit_picking_on_obama_s_ode_to_ambivalence, basically seeing things the same way, yet from the other side of the political spectrum:

This speech was an ode to ambivalence, an aria of ambiguity, a rasher of reluctance. It was addressed to those who, like him, really didn’t want to send more troops to Afghanistan. It was for those who care more about rebuilding New Orleans than Kandahar or Mosul. He was explaining to them why he was breaking with them. He had after great deliberation concluded that it was necessary to escalate.

To really get this speech, I think you had to be someone who voted for Obama, who believed he was elected to end our wars, and was feeling terribly and personally disappointed with the president over the possibility of a surge in Afghanistan — and the failure to close Guantanamo, and the lift the ban on gays in the military, not to mention the bailout of Wall Street fatcats. Hence the explicit discussion of the Vietnam analogy, and the review of the folly of invading Iraq in 2003.