If you want to understand what his speech was really about, you have to go beyond the yelps of the usual suspects. The left screamed no, because they always do when it comes to war. The right had a harder time, because they basically agreed with the policy, but they still came down against it, because they always do when it comes to Obama.
But the speech wasn't just for America; it was addressed to parties all over the world.
President Obama announced a surge in Afghanistan, but he might have called it by it's real name: Chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy is something very painful that you do to cure a fatal disease. You can only do it for a limited time and it doesn't always work. But sometimes it's the least bad option.
President Obama understands that. "We are in Afghanistan to prevent a cancer from once again spreading through that country " this same cancer has also taken root in the border region of Pakistan." Now his several audiences know it too.
Here are the messages our President was sending.
To the American people. You are turning against this war. So am I. I know I have a couple of years, at most, to take action in Afghanistan, before domestic opposition forces me to bring the troops home.
To the liberal base. I know you don't like it. But you're going to have to take it a while longer. I'm only doing what I promised I'd do during the campaign. Blog all you want, I just bought myself eighteen months to do what I was elected to doŚlead. But now you have a new promise, and starting July 2011 you can hold me to it.
To the conservative opposition. By the time these new troops arrive in theater, I will have nearly tripled the American forces in Afghanistan. That's three times the troops committed by your last president and his team of war hawks in seven years. I'll do it in one. Still, I know you will say "not enough" or "not long enough." But you oppose my every move at home and abroad, you'd oppose me if I said peanut butter likes jelly. I can't worry about you.
To the Taliban. We're coming, in sufficient numbers to make things hot for you. You can either stand and fight or abandon all those cities it took you six years to regain control of. In eighteen months you can try to take them all over again, but by then they may be something they never have been since this war began in 2001: Defended.
To Pakistan. If you keep squeezing from the south, we'll push hard from the north. Together we can put enough hurt on the Taliban to either bust them up or reduce them to nuisance status. But if we can't do it in eighteen months, we can't do it in eighteen years. So stay on it.
To Iran. We're serious about stabilizing Afghanistan if we can. In a year and a half it'll be the Afghan's job to do it, or it won't be done. But don't get too frisky, because I just put an expiration date on our commitment there. In less than two years our armed forces will be at full strength again, out of Iraq and Afghanistan and loaded for bear if you act up. You better hope I get re-elected in 2012, because if a Republican becomes commander in chief in three years, he or she will have enough military headroom to do something seriously foolish in the Persian Peoples Islamic Paradise.
But the most important message of all went to the Afghan government, in the person of Hamid Karzai.
Dear President Karzai. You have eighteen months to live. You can spend those months growing poppies and buying up beach property in Marseille for your eventual exile or getting ready to defend yourself at home. Make no mistake: The cancerous Taliban want to kill you dead and put your severed head on a pike. America is going to give you chemotherapy, but in a year and a half, I pull the plug.
There is nothing like a funeral with your name on it to concentrate the mind. I think Obama got it about right in this speech. When I voted for Obama I was voting for a person as much as a policy. I wanted thoughtful, intelligent competence in a dangerous, changing world. The West Point speech is what that sounds like.
And one last shout-out to my conservative friends. I don't want to hear another word about Obama's use of a teleprompter. When your candidate writes two bestselling books without a ghostwriter you can talk. Until then, shut it. You can bet Obama wrote a lot of those words he spoke at West Point; he'd be entirely within his rights if he read it off a Kindle.