How Chait understands Obama’s remarks (seen above):
President Obama’s speech today defending his conduct in the war on terror was notable for what he was defending it against — not against the soft-on-terror (and maybe sorta-kinda-Muslim) attack that Republicans have lobbed against him since he first ran for president, but against critics on the left. … Politically, if not substantively, Obama’s speech today represents a watershed moment. For the first time in the post-9/11 world, the domestic political threat in the war on terror comes from the left rather than the right.
Matt Welch wants more than a speech:
There was much to like in Obama’s speech today if you like words, and share the broad worries he outlined above. And it is surely true that changing policy becomes easier after you make public arguments about changing policy. But the fact is Barack Obama is the president of the United States, and according to both the Constitution and especially the way executive power has accrued over the past century, Obama actually has quite a bit of latitude to impose his values on the waging of American war. After 52 months in office, it’s long since past time to stop judging the man by his words alone.
Max Fisher focuses on the case Obama made for drones:
Although there’s a complexity to Obama’s moral case for drones, it reduces down to a binary: Using drones can kill civilians, but not using them would lead to even more civilians being killed. There are many, many more moral, ethical and legal issues related to drones, some of which are in the speech and some of which aren’t. And there is a wide range of gray areas in how they’re implemented, against whom, under what circumstances and what guidelines. But it’s this basic proposition – taking lives to save others – that seems at the heart of Obama’s case.
Ackerman’s bottom line:
Obama’s new approach to the drones in Year Thirteen of the war on terror should feel familiar. It contains an echo of how he wound down the Iraq and Afghanistan wars: not by drawing a hard and fast end to them, but by allowing military commanders to very slowly reduce the size of their forces. If it worked well enough for flesh-and-blood troops, Obama is basically saying it’ll work well enough for robots.
PM Carpenter praises the speech:
One phrase deployed by Obama really struck home. In America’s continuing battle against terrorists, there is “no moral safe harbor.” Not, anyway, for a president, this one or the next. Virtually every counterterrorism path that a president pursues is a trade-off–a little security here for a piece of your liberty there; 10 innocents killed in exchange for a thousand later saved–and it’s just so damn refreshing to hear a president admitit rather than suppress it through a fog of uberheroic, hyperpatriotic neocon bullshit. Wars do compromise our values; we eventually become what we hate; and President Obama appeared to be running the clock back. He knows where this is headed, and it ain’t good.
Allahpundit heard little new:
He’s offering a robust defense of drone warfare to a public that already accepts it. The speech is really just an unusually exhaustive compendium of the foreign-policy establishment’s favorite counterterror bromides. Foreign Policy magazine has a Cliff’s Notes version of the four major takeaways, but none of them are actually major. He wants to close Gitmo, which we knew; he kinda likes the idea of independent oversight on drone strikes but maybe not too much, which we could have guessed; he wants to codify drone practices to make sure they’re used as narrowly as possible, but an Obama official couldn’t tell FP how that differs from the current policy; oh, and he thinks it’s time to stop thinking of this as a “boundless” global war on terror and start thinking in terms of discrete actions, which is semantic nonsense.
Kilgore was stuck by how often Obama blamed Congress:
One thing is fairly clear: the speech poses a challenge to congressional Republicans that may not be that easy for them to meet, distracted as they are and as divided as they tend to be on national security policy these days. As Slate’s Dave Weigel quickly noted, Obama four times shifted responsibility for current dilemmas at least partially to Congress: on drones (where he insisted the appropriate congressional committees have known about every single strike); on embassy security; on the 9/11-era legal regime that still governs anti-terrorist efforts; and on Gitmo (where Republicans have repeatedly thwarted effort to transfer detainees to U.S. prisons).
And Benjamin Wittes thinks Obama is more powerful than he lets on:
Obama does not need Congress to narrow or repeal the AUMF or to get off of a war footing. He can do it himself, declaring hostilities over in whole or in part. And Obama, needless to say, did not do anything like that. To the contrary, he promised that “we must finish the work of defeating al Qaeda and its associated forces” and while he used a lot of nice words about law enforcement and a lot of disparaging words about perpetual states of war, he also promised to continue targeting the enemy with lethal force under the AUMF. In other words, he promised—without quite saying it directly—to keep waging war
My thoughts here.