Hamlet No More? The Obama Speech

The speech is over. It was, in many ways, refreshing to see Barack Obama sounding presidential and accepting the mantel of commander in chief. Rather than apologize for our way of life, our democracy and our values, he praised America’s world leadership, and its longstanding commitment to fight tyranny. As he put it, “Since the days of Franklin Roosevelt, and the service and sacrifice of our grandparents, our country has borne a special burden in global affairs. We have spilled American blood in many countries on multiple continents. We have spent our revenue to help others rebuild from rubble and develop their own economies. We have joined with others to develop architecture of institutions – from the United Nations to NATO to the World Bank – that provide for the common security and prosperity of human beings.” And, he added, America has not only sought to “advance the frontiers of human liberty,” but has “not sought world domination.”

For the Left, who believes that the latter is indeed what America stands for, the speech was a ringing rebuke. (To get their take,  read the editorials in The Nation, for example, or Michael Moore’s “Open Letter to President Barack Obama,” in which Moore says that if more troops are sent to Afghanistan, it means only that the president has abandoned his liberal base and given in to the haters. Or read The New York Times left-wing columnist Bob Herbert, who warned that sending in troops and making any commitment to a war in Afghanistan is a “tragic mistake.”)

With this speech, many on the left will abandon the president, treating him as a reincarnation of Lyndon B. Johnson at the time of escalation of the war in Vietnam. To these people, the president made it clear that he does not see Afghanistan as Vietnam, where today, as he put it, there is no popular insurgency supporting the Taliban.

Anticipating resistance, Obama started his speech with a review of why we initially went into Afghanistan.  He told the nation that success there is vital to our national interest and that “our cause is just, our resolve unwavering.” In many ways, as some of the television pundits noticed, the speech sounded much like George W. Bush, who against some in his own party, made the decision to stick by the “surge” strategy in Iraq despite those who said the war was already hopeless and lost.