Critics have accused the president of “dithering.” Supporters say it’s been a period of “thoughtful reflection.” Whatever the case, this speech has been months in the making (the war in Afghanistan has been eight years in the making). So I have a feeling the speech won’t be one of those seven-minute George Bush specials. I’m predicting 35 to 40 minutes of thoughtful reflection.
8:02 — Lots of handsome dress greys in the audience.
8:04 — The president starts with a succinct and effective recap on the events in Afghanistan so far, from 9/11 through the war resolutions in Congress to the NATO commitment – as cadets break out their digital cameras.
8:06 — “Then, in early 2003, the decision was made to wage a second war in Iraq. The wrenching debate over the Iraq War is well-known and need not be repeated here.” You’re so right, sir. Let’s not bicker and argue about who invaded who…
8:12 — “I opposed the war in Iraq precisely because I believe that we must exercise restraint in the use of military force, and always consider the long-term consequences of our actions.” Did the president just honestly admit that he opposed a war in front of a military crowd? Very classy, sir.
8:15 – The president breaks it down: We must deny al Qaeda a safe-haven. We must reverse the Taliban’s momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government. And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan’s security forces and government … We will meet these objectives in three ways.”
8:16 — Way the First: 30,000 troops will deploy in 2010 to target the insurgency and get more Afghans into the fight.
8:18 — Way the Second: Pursue a civilian strategy with the Karzai government. “The days of providing a blank check are over.”
8:19 — Way the Third — We will recognize that our success is linked to Pakistan.
8:22 — To recap (the president has obviously taken a public speaking class) — “These are the three core elements of our strategy: a military effort to create the conditions for a transition; a civilian surge that reinforces positive action; and an effective partnership with Pakistan.”
8:24 — Obama takes on some of the critics of the war in Afghanistan. To those who say this is another Vietnam, we were attacked first! To those who say we should leave the troop levels where they are, this would just be “muddling through.”
8:25 — And to those who say we should have a more expansive, open-ended commitment? “As president, I refuse to set goals that go beyond our responsibility, our means, our or interests. And I must weigh all of the challenges that our nation faces. I don’t have the luxury of committing to just one.”
8:26 – PBS keeps catching cadets nodding off in the audience. Did these guys have a 14-mile march before the speech or something?
8:31 — Time for the president to wake this crowd up! “Our union was founded in resistance to oppression. We do not seek to occupy other nations. We will not claim another nation’s resources or target other peoples because their faith or ethnicity is different from ours. What we have fought for — what we continue to fight for — is a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if other peoples’ children and grandchildren can live in freedom and access opportunity.”
8:35 — Bring it home, sir. “It is easy to forget that when this war began, we were united — bound together by the fresh memory of a horrific attack …. I refuse to accept the notion that we cannot summon that unity again. … We will go forward with the confidence that right makes might, and with the commitment to forge an America that is safer, a world that is more secure, and a future that represents not the deepest of fears but the highest of hopes. Thank you, God Bless you and God Bless the United States of America.”