President Barack Obama can make a great speech and his attempt to recast U.S. national security policy for his second term Thursday was a good effort.
He dealt with America's unending 9/11 global war, its use of unmanned aerial vehicles, drones, to kill people, including Americans, and the festering constitutional sore of its long imprisonment without trial or prospect of release of prisoners at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Without his saying so, the speech at the National Defense University at Fort McNair in Washington came in the context of his government's having revealed that it had killed four, not three, American citizens in drone attacks. It remains the fact -- in spite of his protestations that he is going to tighten up on the rules for authorizing drone killings -- that these four Americans were executed without benefit of trial, defense or sentencing, on his say-so.
Mr. Obama offered interesting thoughts to those who still hope that he will seize the controls of government and fix some of America's problems. Unfortunately, he also referred to his administration's legacy, which signaled to his enemies that he is already thinking about the record he will leave behind, only four months into his new term, and that if they wish to sabotage that record they should continue to try to block every single thing he tries to do.
The good take-aways from the speech were, first, that Mr. Obama understands that America cannot continue to think it is engaged in a global, unending war. He said that history indicated otherwise.
It is also the case that this country has other priorities, should look ahead and cannot afford financially or in its overall global posture to pursue policies based on that negative mindset.
He is right to go into the trenches once more on Guantanamo, which he has wanted to close since before the 2008 elections. Some 103 of the prisoners there now are on hunger strike. He is also right to change U.S. drone policy. Moving authority over strikes from the CIA to the Department of Defense will provide more transparency and more practice based on rules and permit the CIA to turn away from killing toward more useful intelligence gathering and analysis.
Americans now get to see how much of what Mr. Obama talked about Thursday he is able to put into action, while his critics home in on smearing his record in advance through obstruction.