President Obama is giving a much-awaited announcement on his intentions for the conflict in Afghanistan tonight from Eisenhower Hall at West Point. I am following along with commentary:
The Commander-in-Chief Emerges | 8:03 p.m. To a substantial, sustained, but not striking applause, Obama emerged, waving with a staid smile to a sea of gray-uniformed cadets.
Past is Prologue | 8:11 p.m. He’s just finished summarizing the history of Afghanistan’s relationship to 9/11, our deployment in the region, and how the war in Iraq has withheld resources from it, without placing blame, but acknowledging the controversy of that war.
30-Large | 8:15 p.m. The official number leaked earlier has now come out of his mouth: 30,000 troops will head to Afghanistan by this summer, “the fastest possible pace.”
Three Means Justifying Three Ends | 8:23 p.m. He hasn’t mentioned any metrics for the outcomes in the speech, but he outlined each of his objectives: to deny Al Qaeda a safe haven, reverse the Taliban’s influence, and strengthen security forces and the sovereign government. The intended means to accomplishing these are a military effort, a civilian surge, and an effective partnership with Pakistan.
Not an Empire | 8:32 p.m. After dispelling arguments about Afghanistan he determined to be flawed, Obama appealed to the patriotism and values of Americans. He made a poignant point in saying that unlike other nations in history, we do not wage this war for the cause of empire, or for natural resources.
That Old Feeling| 8:36 p.m. Perhaps the best of a few applause break-ins in the speech was after the president’s staunch declaration of a desire to awaken the dormant, united feeling that Americans shared immediately after 9/11: “I refuse to accept the notion that we cannot summon that unity again.”
What Would George W. Bush Do?| 8:45 p.m. The speech is over and the president is shaking hands with the cadets in the hall. On its face, the course of action President Obama agreed to is similar to President Bush’s surge in Iraq (although ironically that troop uptick was at Afghanistan’s expense, and then-Senator Obama opposed it.) A few sources are already calling Obama’s move a surge. It seems odd that these two drastically different figures each doubled down in this way. Sometimes I find it interesting to think how a speech would be received if delivered by another person. Imagine if Bush had spoken this one aloud: how would we feel? The same? A caveat, though: Obama speaks of his love of country in a way it seems Bush could never approach, with a pure, inspiring tone that Bush may feel inside, but could never evoke or enunciate. Also, Obama says the names of foreign places with such wordly ease.
Did the Venue Work?| 8:59 p.m. Obama chose to speak at the United States Military Academy tonight to amp up his perceived authority on matters of war and to imply visually that he knows the possible consequences of waging this war: the lives of servicemen and women in the armed forces. The pans of the camera did that job for him effortlessly. His presence standing at a lectern is both polished and persuasive. The speech was not a home run, but he got his message out, referenced his immediate audience a few times, as well as the nation, Pakistanis, Afghans, and the world overall. So, I suppose this forum conveyed the seriousness of the decision appropriately. Nonetheless, I am curious as to what kind of announcement will warrant an Oval Office address from this president. The passing of health care legislation? For someone so adroit at speaking in so many situations, such as his clear comfort in the town hall-style debate of the campaign, it seems odd that he has not yet availed himself of the Resolute desk.