Obama's "Right War:" A Political Document, Too

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In spite of everything, Dems know they need to (a) act tough (b) talk tough) and (b) be tough on terror -- AT&B is the watchword. The press still writes about counterterrorism as if it is a trademark Republican wedge issue and seems collectively surprised when Democrats offer aggressive proposals that go against the grain. Voters themselves give Democrats more breathing room, but Dem consultants remain very worried about how the Republicans have mastered the symbolism and language of terror politics.

Judging by the early returns -- "Obama As Jack Bauer?" (NBC) -- "Bold" (ABC) -- the press is receiving Obama's speech exactly as the campaign intended. Aides point reporters to the Pakistan lines. Why? They're the toughest, most provocative parts. They are harder than one might expect from Obama; they certainly do not reinforce the stereotype that he's all platitudes and indecivisve. They stand out.

Judging by the excerpts, Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani would feel comfortable delivering about half the speech. John McCain would accept most of it. Remember, even when Obama delivered his anti-Iraq war speech in 2003, he was careful to say that he did not oppose all wars, "just stupid ones." (That a Democrat would have to declare he wasn't opposed to warfare entirely was a sign of how 9/11 and Iraq so distorted the politics of national security).

Let's give Obama the benefit of the doubt. If this speech comports with his principles, Obama endorses pre-emptive military action if U.S. interests are severely and legitimately threatened -- a concept that will not endear him to certain factions of his party but one that is certainly, intuitively embraced by the voters Obama wants to reach.

Obama likes either-or propositions, and his counterrorism effectively merges a law enforcement paradigm with a miliary paradigm. He elevates diplomacy and partnerships but makes it clear that the U.S. is the ultimate arbiter of its own interests.

Obama's problem is that he has no discernable track record or direct experience with national security conflicts. Watch to see how this high-octane speech is received by other Democrats, and whether any of them has the guts to say, yeah, nice words, but why would you, as president, be better at this than someone who knows how government works?

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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