The president’s understated finest hour

Obama eschews rhetorical flair to deliver long-awaited news of Osama bin Laden’s death.


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The hour was late, the news was out, and the drama was gradually dissipating.

So the president skipped the rhetorical flourishes and got to the point.

“Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda, and a terrorist who’s responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women and children.”

This was not a time for grandiloquence or gloating or boosterism.

The moment—this president’s finest hour and the most striking achievement of his presidency—spoke for itself.

So President Obama, correctly, kept his near-midnight address brief, understated and textbook clear. Read the president’s full remarks.

First, the facts. The mass murderer, finally, was dead.

Second, the chronology. Obama quickly reviewed the “bright September day” 10 years ago when the world stopped, with a deft metaphorical touch.

“And yet we know that the worst images are those that were unseen to the world. The empty seat at the dinner table. Children who were forced to grow up without their mother or their father. Parents who would never know the feeling of their child’s embrace. Nearly 3,000 citizens taken from us, leaving a gaping hole in our hearts.”

Third, the theme. The president then seized the elements of “national unity and reaffirmation” as the heart of his message.

“On that day, no matter where we came from, what God we prayed to, or what race or ethnicity we were, we were united as one American family.”

And so, the president said, we “went to war against al Qaeda to protect our citizens, our friends, and our allies.”

The point of this thesis, of course, was to use bin Laden’s death to try to rekindle the spirit of can-do camaraderie that seems to have departed since the attacks on America. An overly ambitious goal, perhaps, but a noble purpose nonetheless.

Fourth, the heroic recap. Obama then spent the bulk of his comments briskly reviewing the steps that led to what is—and what even his most virulent critics would grudgingly concede has been—”the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al Qaeda.”

The president talked of the progress against terrorism over the last 10 years, with the exception of collaring the elusive bin Laden. But all that abruptly changed, he said, “when I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden.”

And while Obama went on to diplomatically thank the Pakistanis and appropriately referred to the efforts of his predecessor in ensuring that this was a battle against terrorism and not “a war against Islam,” he made abundantly clear who, specifically, deserved “credit” for the mission that closed the deal.

“I met repeatedly with my national security team … I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action … Today at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation.”

This victory came on the Obama watch—the crowning accomplishment of his administration—and the president and his team unabashedly made certain America got the message.

Fifth, the thankful and poetic conclusion.

The strongest part of Obama’s brief remarks was his conclusion, where, after thanking the brave “men” (no women on this particular operation) who carried out the killing and remembering again the 3,000 who died and the families they left, the president allowed one, final poetic passage reprising his themes of unity and triumph.

“Let us remember that we can do these things not just because of wealth or power, but because of who we are: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Mission accomplished.

In case you missed it. Watch it here:

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