I just sat with 50 other Yale students for over an hour to hear the president speak about a grave issue of national security. We all stopped studying for exams in order to listen to the important announcement, and what one hell of an announcement it was.
By now, most American's know that a team of U.S. operatives killed Osama bin Laden in a "firefight" with no American casualties. However, before we join in the chants of "USA" with spontaneous crowds outside the White House, let's take a few moments to examine President Obama's speech, arguably the best he has given in recent months.
Five aspects of his remarks stand out:
1) Obama emphasized that America and al Qaeda are "at war." This is an important shift from the president who wanted to try Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in a civilian court in New York, and who vowed to shut down Gitmo during the 2008 campaign. The tone here tonight was clear: The terrorists who plot against the United States are (illegal) combatants who deserve the full front of our military fury, not our legal rights.
2) The president gave a nod to his predecessor, in an acknowledgment that America has never been, nor ever will be, at war with Islam. This took class and grace, and Obama merits credit for it.
3) This speech was traditional. From the inclusion of "under God" in his closing remarks, to the references to retributive "justice," Obama channeled the Judeo-Christian values that still define our nation -- again, a welcome shift from the president who went out of his way to give a nod to "non-believers" in his inaugural address.
4) Somehow, Obama managed to take this moment to combat feelings of American declinism. The memo: We can do anything we set out to do. Compare this simple yet effective message to his recent flop of a State of the Union speech, in which the example of our greatness was the fact that "America is the nation that built the transcontinental railroad." This moment disproves those who sing the song of the "fall of American Empire," resolve, and spirit.
5) Most importantly, Obama tonight reaffirmed America's role as a force for good in the world, a force that extends beyond our borders. After U.S. troops took a backseat in NATO operations against Muammar Gaddafi, many (including me) worried that our will to "oppose any foe" in the defense of liberty played second fiddle to the whims of the UN, EU, and the Arab League. Thankfully and surprisingly, Obama reaffirmed our commitment to be a "shining beacon on a hill" to light the world.
Today, I am proud to be American; I am proud of our troops; and, heck, yes, I am proud of our president. He did one damn good job.