Last night, the president did his best to advance, and shore up, domestic issues which remain his utmost concern. The wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the larger fight against violent Islam were barely mentioned. This is not a surprise, but is certainly a mistake. Not only is it bad policy to both under-emphasize and misunderstand national-security issues, it’s also bad politics — as Martha Coakley found out in Massachusetts. The people know the difference between criminalizing terrorism and fighting it, and will vote on it in 2010.
As for the speech, the president said very little that was new: ending the war in Iraq (nothing about “victory”), being “successful” in Afghanistan (I was waiting for Joe Wilson to yell “win!”), and getting in some tough talk on Iran, that has yet to come to fruition. Also of note, the president didn’t mention closing Guantanamo Bay, or prosecuting KSM in New York City. Not sure if that’s a sign of shifting winds on those issues, but I sure hope so.
The only “new” item in his speech was his call for a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Attempting to change a policy, which is supported by top Pentagon brass and war-fighters in the field, will cause another big political fight on Capitol Hill. Certainly, while both sides will fight on the margins about the policy’s utility, it’s not a strong centerpiece proposal for national-security “change” leading into 2010.
Right now, everyone is focused on jobs, jobs, jobs — and understandably so (because the internal polling tells them so!). However, come the midterm elections, national security will be equally important (again, it was almost Scott Brown’s #1 issue out here in Massachussetts and polled very well with independents). The president’s policies thus far — minus his troop increase in Afghanistan — have not been as strong as they should be. This speech didn’t change the status quo on that front.