On Obama's security speech

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Carried overseas on BBC, and in prepared text here from the Washington Post. WhiteHouse.gov site, by the way, is once again weirdly behind-the-curve in getting material up.

Argumentative crux of the speech to the left (emphasis added):

I have opposed the creation of such a Commission because I believe that our existing democratic institutions are strong enough to deliver accountability. The Congress can review abuses of our values, and there are ongoing inquiries by the Congress into matters like enhanced interrogation techniques. The Department of Justice and our courts can work through and punish any violations of our laws.

This is the reply to people, including me, who think there needs to be some kind of investigatory commission. Taken at his word, he's saying: Congress can do the investigating, the courts (and my Department of Justice) can prosecute. In theory, this works out well. A new president moves ahead; the System provides accountability. We'll see.

Argumentative / explanatory crux of the speech to the right:

I do know with certainty that we can defeat al Qaeda. Because the terrorists can only succeed if they swell their ranks and alienate America from our allies, and they will never be able to do that if we stay true to who we are.

This has been, from the start, the central indictment of the Bush-Cheney approach to al Qaeda. Anything-goes tactics may or may not win battles, but they certainly lose wars. Dick Cheney's speech, cut off by BBC about ten minutes in, is ineffective not just because of its anger/contempt but also because what is billed as a response is in fact one cycle late, simply re-stating the claims Obama went out of his way to rebut (rather that keeping up with the cycle by answering anything Obama said).

Subtle harpoon crux of the speech, in the last paragraph:

We will not be safe if we see national security as a wedge that divides America - it can and must be a cause that unites us as one people, as one nation. We have done so before in times that were more perilous than ours.

The entirety of the Bush-Cheney approach rested on the assumption that there had never been a threat as great as the one demonstrated by 9/11. Condi Rice said this explicitly, in her disastrous (and, in a just world, career-damaging) "al Qaeda was more dangerous than the Nazis" comment at Stanford. The parts of Cheney's speech I saw today, and everything we know about Bush's decisions and statements in office, assumed without argument that they faced choices between due-process and national security more painful than those that George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, or FDR wrestled with. A reminder that others have faced difficult choices and dire threats is useful for judging our response and placing it in the long context of American values that Obama repeatedly emphasized.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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