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Liberal blog buzz: Sizing up the speech

From NBC's Ali Weinberg
While many liberal blogs praised the mechanics of President Obama's speech, many had criticism for what they viewed as his mixed message on strategy.

Americablog's John Aravosis on Obama's prose and politics: "Obama did a great job of using the pomp and circumstance of office, as Bush and other Republicans always do, to lend an air of dignity to the evening." He adds, however, "In the end, I don't think the speech really changes anything… the right is still going to hate him, and the left is still going to be ticked that we're sending more troops."

Salon.com's Glenn Greenwald also writes of his differing views on Obama's Afghan policy and last night's speech: "Obama's escalation is, in my view, more likely to subvert rather than promote the security goals he cites to justify it. But if Obama's approach -- reflective of the Republican "realists" to whom he seems to listen most -- slays the pervasive, preening "liberal hawk" fantasy that we invade and bomb other countries in order to help them, that will at least be an important value. "

Washington Monthly's Benen also notes the way the President summarized the past eight years of America's involvement in Afghanistan, which was flecked with "passive" criticism for the Bush administration. "The president said "reinforcements did not arrive," not, "Bush didn't send them" -- but the underlying message is hardly subtle.

Afghanistan was headed in the right direction ... then Bush turned to Iraq ... then Afghanistan began to deteriorate ... then al Qaeda reorganized ... then the Afghan government faltered ... then the Taliban started reclaiming much of the country. U.S. commanders requested more U.S. troops and didn't get them."

Benen on why he went into the president's speech, and left it, feeling skeptical: "I don't know what the 30,000 additional troops are going to do when they get to Afghanistan. I don't know what our new objectives are. I don't know how U.S. troops will begin withdrawing in July 2011 -- just a year after additional troops arrive -- or what can reasonably be accomplished over the preceding 12 months. I don't know how we'll pay for the escalation. I don't know if we'll meet benchmarks, or if the benchmarks actually exist. I don't know how the administration can pressure the Afghan government, or how it will respond. I don't know if the Karzai government can be trusted, or whether it will ever have the confidence of the Afghan people. Other than that, the whole situation is as clear as day."

Andrew Sullivan on what the President didn't address in his speech: "We cannot have the adult conversation about how much terrorist damage the US should tolerate compared with the costs of trying to control this phenomenon at its source. We are not mature enough as a country to have that conversation. And Obama has decided it isn't worth confronting that question now."

Politico's Ben Smith points out that the "Taliban's oppression of Afghan women and girls," a major part of Obama's previous addresses—was absent from this one: "Tonight's speech includes a passing, abstract reference to "human rights" -- but not a single reference to Afghanistan's women and girls. That, presumably, falls into the category of "nation building."

Charles Lemos of MyDD.com writes: "This is a disheartening moment, one where words truly fail to capture the enormity to which the President is committing the nation and its resources. Perhaps there will be a political price to pay but that is irrelevant compared to the cost we are about to pay in blood and coin. May history forgive our errors."

Some blogs, including the Washington Monthly and Talking Points Memo, had open threads for readers to offer their thoughts while President Obama delivered his speech. Below, a few examples:

On Washington Monthly, T-Rex writes, "I'm not thrilled with the idea of escalation either, but I do like the fact that unlike Bush, or Nixon or LBJ, he did set a fairly clearly defined, modest goal and a date for draw-down."

Fyreflye: "Another Democratic President too cowardly to stand up to the clamor of the war party. Afghanistan will be the graveyard of American imperialism as surely as it was of the Soviets and so many occupiers before. And yet they're wondering why so many of us will not bother voting next year."

diachroni writes on Talking Points Memo: It's how persuasive the speech is that is the true criterion. And on this score, an absolute failure. We must win this war, but if Karzai and Pakistan don't play along, we'll pack up and leave? Either Obama 's threat to pull out is hollow, or this war is not necessary.