Before President Obama even took the stage tonight, everybody watching the address from West Point knew that Obama would finally embrace General McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy. The commander in chief’s support for the only plan on the table that could turn things around and lead to American success in Afghanistan was the right thing to do, and I believe most Republicans, many Democrats, and a majority of independent-minded Americans will support the policy.
What remained a closely concealed mystery was what was in this president’s heart on the eve of the most consequential decision of his presidency. Watching him repeat his political attacks on the previous administration and on the Karzai government, I was struck by how small he sounded. This was Obama’s moment to make a forceful case for doing the best thing for America and all Americans. This was the moment when his presidency could have crossed over from aloof arrogance to principled conviction.
• More Daily Beast experts weigh in on Obama’s battle cry • Watch: 7 Keys to Obama’s SpeechInstead, he gave one of the most uninspired speeches in front of a military audience that I’ve ever witnessed. He stood steps away from some of the bravest and most skilled men and women you could assemble in one location and droned on about timetables, his opposition to the war in Iraq, and the surge that brought about America’s success there. He made the sacrifice of the men and women of the military sound like something he, too, endures because he writes letters to the families of the fallen.
A president is usually more moved by the impact these encounters have on him than the contribution he makes in a family’s darkest hour. I was struck by how uncomfortable he looked, and how inappropriate his budget mumbo jumbo seemed in front of men and women who make their contributions to this country in ways most of us can’t imagine.
Judging by the early reaction and the faces of the West Point cadets and officers, it’s safe to conclude that what was in this president’s heart at this hour will remain a mystery until he decides to share it.
Nicolle Wallace served as a senior adviser to the McCain-Palin campaign from May to November 2008. She served President George W. Bush as an assistant to the president and director of communications for the White House, as well as communications director for President Bush's 2004 campaign.