Let’s be honest: I was dreading last night’s speech. Having been burned before by a President that used our nation’s fear and pain to launch a misguided, ill-directed and downright wrong war , I instinctively cringe when I know my President is going to spend 30 minutes telling me why we must continue to send our brothers and sisters overseas to fight, and many to their death.
I realized before cutting on my television that the only key difference between this speech and the many that Bush gave some 8 years ago would have to be an element of trust: Did I believe the President’s reasoning? Did I trust his judgment and goals? Because no matter how much time he spent warning me of al Quaeda’s terror and telling me that victory is within reach, nothing would matter if he couldn’t make me trust his agenda, no matter how much I may dislike it. And I certainly do.
But, last night, much to his credit, President Obama did a great job of trying to earn my trust.
Here are the four thoughts he conveyed to prevent me from throwing on my “Peace Now” t-shirt and running down to the White House lawn this morning with signs in protest:
1. He didn’t demonize the religion of our enemies.
He defined al Qaeda as “a group of extremists who have distorted and defiled Islam”. A little intellectual honesty goes a long way.
2. He gave a timetable for at least beginning a withdrawal.
Can he guarantee when the war will end? No. But he at least has a concrete goal for a withdrawal. It’s a risky move to set a date that he may or may not be able to meet, but it showed his dedication to bringing our troops home.
3. He considered the “longterm consequences of our actions”
He gets it. He knows that the longterm consequences of war are much greater than a line in a history book. Bodies on the battlefield, families decimated, and a forever changed political landscape are just a few of the irreversible results, and its comforting to know that our President understands that.
4. He addressed the need for global allies.
He acknowledged our frailty as a nation at the same time that he acknowledged our strength. He recognizes that we cannot fight alone and that global support and partnership is necessary to continue.
Let’s be clear: I am pro-peace. And nothing would have made me happier than to have the President say that our troops are coming home – NOW. But he didn’t, and given his decision, he gave the best speech that he could.
As I turned off the tv last night, one thought kept pounding over and over in my head: this is our generation’s war. The war we will be remembered for. The war our children will read in history book and then run home to ask about it. And I cried.
I do not believe that the end (a stable Afghanistan, the end to al-Quaeda) automatically justifies the means (dishonesty, the death of innocent civilians and hundreds of thousands of our own troops), but knowing that an end is in sight, albeit with an escalation of troops, is simply the best outcome that we can now hope for.
Erica L. Williams is the Deputy Director, Campus Progress Center for American Progress