President-elect Obama on Mumbai was cautious in his responses, sticking to his “one President at a time” position. He nevertheless did stress “unequivocably” his team’s commitment to “eliminating terrorists” and declared we could not tolerate attacks motivated by “twisted ideology.” This statement could have been delivered by John McCain.
In responding to a query on his team’s strong viewpoints and personalities, he again emphasized his commitment to military strength. His emphasis was on strengthening our capabilities “in all dimensions.” (This would seem to mesh with my take that he’s not going to be abandoning “hard” power, but rather attempting to supplement it.)
On the right of India to move militarily against Pakistan, he said that sovereign nations have a right to protect themselves but declined to comment further. He reiterated his support for India.
Twice in response to questions he noted that disagreement among his team was expected and welcomed. In response to a very pointed question about his past belittling of Hillary Clinton, he declined to rise to the bait. Outside the “heat of the campaign,” he confirmed that they shared a world view. Again in a subsequent question he expressed his admiration and sung her praises.
On the 16-month withdrawal date, Obama said he had promised to remove combat troops but to keep a “residual force.” He continued that the Status of Forces Agreements “points us in the right direction.” (Clearly, firm deadlines are out and “listening to the commanders” is in, with a high priority for protecting the safety of American troops. The responsibility of power has a sobering effect, indeed.)
All in all, an entirely sober, responsible national security kickoff. The Left may be grinding its teeth. But those hoping for a robust, clear-eyed national security approach had much to be heartened by.