Presidential Speech Reaction

Well, figure I might as well learn the worst by sticking with CNN and hearing David Gergen, Newt Gingrich and Jake Tapper, along with Donna Brazile and Anderson Cooper.

Everybody’s saying it was a good speech. Gergen didn’t like the very brief “right track” message. Gingrich called it “the most pro-American speech he’s given” (aarggh!), and chooses to interpret Obama request for congressional support as request for vote on authorization. Gergen seems to agree, but mainly because he wants a congressional vote.

As the CNN panel drifts off into an argument over how much of a coalition partner Iraq can be, I’ll mention my own immediate reaction: Obama seemed to simultaneously convey determination and “no drama;” the latter appeared aimed at tampening down public panic over idea that bombs are about to go off in America. No question he was seeking to distinguish the current action from two alternative precedents: ground wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and post-9/11 homeland security fears. Again, he wanted to project the action as a continuation of air strikes against terrorists in Somalia and Yemen as much as in Iraq or Syria. Don’t know if that’s sustainable, but it makes good political sense.

Now CNN’s showing off its new commentator, Jay Carney. He seems to be reinforcing the sharp distinction between warfare in Iraq and counter-terrorism elsewhere. Richard Haas comes on after Carney to argue IS is an “insurgent army,” not a terrorist group, and that ground troops are necessary. He does make a valid point that a “coalition” to supply ground troops is a bit hard to find in Syria.

So the lines of argument are clearly emerging that we’ll see in the subsequent spin: is this a new Iraq War Obama refuses to declare, or an intensified counter-terrorism action that requires a stronger Middle Eastern coalition.

John McCain, of course, comes on and blames the whole situation on Obama’s refusal to leave a “residual force” in Iraq and to intervene in Syria. Frankly, McCain’s doing Obama a big favor here by underlying the choice between endless war and however you want to describe what we’re doing now. The only thing better might have been Cheney coming on to blast Obama, but I’m not going to watch Fox to see if that happens.

I’ll leave it there for tonight. What did you think? Please leave your reactions in the comment thread.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.