It was easily one of the 50 most important speeches Barack Obama will ever give: Tonight, he made the case for why he's sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. (Oh, and terrorists? They still want to kill us.)
We basically snoozed our way through the boring "It is important to recall why America and our allies were compelled to fight a war"; and "we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan's Security Forces and government, so that they can take lead responsibility for Afghanistan's future." Our eyelids cracked a little when Obama sketched the time-line of his surge (don't call it a surge, though!): The 30,000 troops will begin to deploy in early 2010 and all American forces will start withdrawing in July of 2011. (No definite date for a complete exit, though, since politicians hate deadlines as much as we do.)
But, really, our ears only perked all the way up when we heard this:
[Afghanistan] is the epicenter of the violent extremism practiced by al Qaeda. It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak. This is no idle danger; no hypothetical threat. In the last few months alone, we have apprehended extremists within our borders who were sent here from the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan to commit new acts of terror. This danger will only grow if the region slides backwards, and al Qaeda can operate with impunity.
It's probably a leftover reflex burnt into our cerebellums by the Bush years, but it seems that nothing really makes you sit up and accidentally spill beer on your shirt like your president dropping the fact that terrorists are among us into the middle of a speech. You remember it: Back when our president didn't have much worthwhile to say it was all blah blah blah TERRORISTS ARE GOING TO KILL US blah blah FREEDOM. People went wild for that stuff!
But now we have a president with a lot interesting things to say and a lot of pretty ways to say them. And while a number of commentators have been quick to point out the similarities between Obama's war strategy and rhetoric, and Bush's, what was most striking to us was the near-complete lack of the fear-mongering and Get Your War On mentality which was used by Bush to such great and terrible effect. (The word "terrorist" appeared just three times in Obama's 33-minute speech, which is going to be either a heartening or infuriating fact depending on what cable channel you get your news from.)
Instead, this was a call to arms based on shared American values and the need to "show our strength in the way that we end wars and prevent conflict."
Unlike the great powers of old, we have not sought world domination. Our union was founded in resistance to oppression. We do not seek to occupy other nations. We will not claim another nation's resources or target other peoples because their faith or ethnicity is different from ours. What we have fought for — what we continue to fight for — is a better future for our children and grandchildren. And we believe that their lives will be better if other peoples' children and grandchildren can live in freedom and access opportunity.
Which we will help them do by leaving them alone (starting July 2011).
Of course this is a better way to rally people than constantly barraging them with color-coded terror alerts and axes of evil and Wars on Terror. And our foreign friends were probably breathing a sigh of relief at such a measured tone (seeing as how it appears they're off the hook for future wars—once they give Obama the additional troops he wants for this one.) So we were happy to indulge Obama as he skipped into poetry land in the last quarter or so of his speech, talking about all the great things he believes "with every fiber of my being," and how America is "passing through a time of great trial," etc., etc., etc., off into a hazy glow of positive vibes and his trademark theme of hard-won optimism in the face of adversity™.
But still: TERROR ALERT: YELLOW!!!