Thursday, January 28, 2010

State of the Union: Obama's national security rhetoric bogs him down

President Obama faced a tough task in the State of the Union speech, presiding as he does over a still-stagnant economy and domestic political discord. So it is not surprising, and even appropriate, that foreign policy would not be a main theme. But even so, it was noteworthy just how little attention he devoted to national security issues. And the comments he did make -- which felt crammed in towards the end -- focused more on the goals of drawing down our troop deployments than on victory in Afghanistan and Iraq. He introduced the national security section by rhetorically targeting his own critics, with a defensive-sounding plea to "put aside schoolyard taunts about who's tough." Which he followed in the next paragraph by noting the hundreds of al Qaeda members that in the last year "have been captured or killed -- far more than in 2008." The elimination of the threat from hundreds of al Qaeda terrorists and supporters is a laudable achievement; why cheapen it with what sounds like, well, a taunting comparison to his predecessor?

In sum, this State of the Union comes from a president still struggling to reconcile his lofty campaign hopes with the hard realities of governing, and the pressing demands of domestic politics with his inescapable responsibilities as commander in chief.

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