President Elect Barack Obama dropped broad hints during his campaign about his defense priorities and President Obama reaffirmed most of them during his inaugural speech today. Short version: Torture Out, Allies In, Peace Cool Again.
If order of appearance is an indicator of priorities, then his early and sharpest greatest focus will be on closing Guantanamo and ensuring that no one in the federal government -- military or civilian -- tortures anyone or breaches fundamental civil and legal rights. He told the huge crowds on the Mall that he rejects "as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake."
Next, he reassured the crowd that "we are ready to lead once more. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense." This line drew considerable cheers from the audience. But then he segued our leadership straight into the importance of allies, American ideals and, perhaps most interestingly, restraint. "Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with the sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint." Hardly a message that might have come out of the Bush White House.
Obama then fleshed out a bit as to what this meant, pledging to "begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan." Other top national priorities: "lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet."
And in a clear message to any ratbag out there who might be scheming (Putin, Kim Jong Il et al) to take advantage of an untested young president, he sent a very clear message. ''We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you."
Perhaps the most nebulous and potentially interesting portion of the speech was about how "America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace." For each troublesome or potentially troublesome group he sent a message. "To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West -- know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.
"To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it."
So it begins.