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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

What Did Obama Say About Afghanistan?

We have seldom had a president with such command of language. That ability placed him firmly in charge before he was elected. When he went to West Point to speak on the Afghan War, the nation and indeed the world stopped to listen.

I found his speech well constructed and well delivered as always. Barely had he finished speaking than interpretation of his remarks began. It's one of the hazards of instant punditry. When a leader, even a master communicator who knows how to choose his words with precision delivers a clear message the fog of analysis sweeps in immediately to obscure his thoughts. It's an odd effect.

As someone who focuses on communication I listened carefully to the post-speech commentary to find out what Obama had communicated.

The rejection of his message was swift on the left. The right gave it a tepid nod of approval, with several notable exceptions who burst into applause.

Some progressives already frustrated by the pace of reform branded this as the final straw. The policy statement was a sell out of their desire to end both wars and concentrate on their domestic agenda. The speech itself was not well heard.

Some on the right, including Karl Rove, applauded the policy politely while rejecting aspects of the speech itself and it's specific wording. I have the feeling that the right is all too eager for Obama to ante in and double down. This not only shifts the burden of this war to Obama, it validates their point of view after a long period of withering critique.

Overall, the president's verbal power was reflected in our news media which went to 'round the clock discussion and analysis of what he said. In broad terms what he said is in fact policy and what I heard from the public were a variety of coping strategies for dealing with an unpopular war.

Our media and our political ideologues are nationalistic to a fault. No mention was made of the NATO charter or the US call to lead NATO allies in this campaign. No thought was given (until today when Defense Secretary Gates addressed it) about the timetable some of our allies have already adopted for the end of this mission.

So what did the president say about Afghanistan? It depends on whether you stand on the right, the left, or somewhere overseas. The rest remains to be seen.

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