By Steve Coll My thoughts on President Obama’s Afghanistan speech are up over at Think Tank. The President gave his generals what they asked for, essentially. He also purchased from his own deeply skeptical party eighteen months of political forbearance. That is the boiled-down news of the speech last night. As policy, the speech seemed ...
By Steve Coll
By Steve Coll
My thoughts on President Obama’s Afghanistan speech are up over at Think Tank.
The President gave his generals what they asked for, essentially. He also purchased from his own deeply skeptical party eighteen months of political forbearance. That is the boiled-down news of the speech last night.
As policy, the speech seemed hard-headed, realistic, careful, and in my oft-laundered view it offered the right choice in a difficult situation. As rhetoric and narrative, however, it disappointed. One problem was that the line of Obama’s argument suffered from its embedded and deliberately constructed contradictions. We are going in but we are going out; we are fighting to defend a vital national interest, but only to the extent that we can afford to do so. We must prevail in this struggle, but we must recognize that we have other challenges that are perhaps more important. All that duality does not lend itself to a smooth narrative or an emotional crescendo.
The speech’s first section—justifying the length of the President’s autumn policy review, and blaming his troubles, mutedly but unmistakably, on his predecessor—seemed, in this setting, and given the solemn and forward-looking character of the President’s decision, unnecessarily defensive. At the least, this first passage was out of rhetorical step with the rousing ending, which was by far the best formal section of the writing. There the President summoned his gifts to invoke a vision of national unity and America’s role in the world that was consonant with his inspiring campaign for office. As uplifting as they were, however, those passages actually treated a different subject—they were about the kind of Presidency Obama wished to have, and not very much about his decision to redouble his commitment to the war in Afghanistan. The final section felt a little like the speech the President would have wished to give from start to finish if he had not inherited a deteriorating Afghan war and boxed himself into fighting that war during the election campaign.
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