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A Fine Speech in Afghanistan

Barack Obama made an excellent — even inspiring — speech Sunday, before American and other coalition troops in Afghanistan. He expressed a boundless appreciation of our soldiers and a sense of ongoing commitment to the fight there.

The president told the audience in uniform, “You’ve earned your place next to the very greatest of American generations.” That’s more than an expression of gratitude; it’s a declaration that reflects the historic magnitude of their fight.

On winning, Obama said, “I am confident all of you are going to get the job done right here in Afghanistan,” and he described “our mission” to “disrupt and dismantle, defeat and destroy al Qaeda and its extremist allies.” One could quibble with the absence of the word victory, but it hardly seems worth it. After all, as he talks about the “defeat” of our enemies, our own victory is self-evident.

The line that earned the biggest spontaneous show of enthusiasm was about commitment: “The United States of America does not quit once is starts on something. You don’t quit, the American armed services does not quit. We keep at it and we persevere, and together with our partners we will prevail. I am absolutely confident of that.” After the long, uncertain policy-decision period last fall, it’s important that he hammer that message home as frequently as possible.

Obama talked about “bringing hope and opportunity to a people who have known a lot of pain and a lot of suffering.” It would have been nice to hear him mention freedom or consensual governance, but it’s important to remember that this was not a policy speech. It was a morale booster for the men and women fighting abroad.

The president offered his most robust defense of American exceptionalism since his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in December. “In an uncertain world the United States of America will always stand up for the security of nations and the dignity of human beings,” he said. “That is who we are. That is what we do.”

This was a contender for the best speech of Obama’s presidency thus far. May he continue to inspire on Afghanistan. And may some of that inspiration leak into other foreign policy areas, where notions of America’s commitment and the protection of human dignity have been found disgracefully absent.


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