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Perhaps He Will Grow as Commander-in-Chief

This was the heart of the President’s speech on national security:

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort — even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

On further reflection, I think this passage is unsatisfying and, at some level, dishonest at its core. The first two paragraph are another, albeit more illusive way, of castigating the Bush administration (Have we never lead before?). He is not preparing the country or his followers for the realization that security does not emanate through the justness of a cause. That is why we need to pursue it. Security is achieved, frankly, by the brave women and men in armed service and national security agencies doing their job. It was not “expediency” which led to setting up Guantanamo or enacting FISA — it was the legitimate concerns about that security, which does not fall like rain from the sky. We will see how much his “expediency” resembles his predecessor’s in the weeks and months ahead.

His statement on Iraq was evasive at best. We are to “leave Iraq to its people” — but in what condition and after achieving what? And if we are going to continue to spend millions and, yes, lose some more lives what is the leaving for? He is going to have to do better when he tells the parents of those injured or killed that we are simply in the process of leaving Iraq to its people. Whatever he thought of the reasons for the war, we defeated al Qaeda, are leaving a stable ally behind, and have dispensed with a terrible tyrant who was not only a menace to his people but to the entire region. One wonders: what it is that prevents him from recognizing these truths, and, yes, giving his predecessor some of the credit?

The President’s message was to a large extent about putting petty differences behind and pulling together for the common defense. That’s hard to do if you are not honest with the American people and do not practice what you preach. It was a wasted opportunity.


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