The Obama Speech I Wanted to Hear

By Susan Gluss, San Francisco Chronicle

A blitz of commentators from both sides of the aisle opined after President Obama's Afghanistan speech. Republicans complained that we tipped our hand by announcing a 2011 withdrawal, while most congressional Democrats applauded faintly. But opinions didn't matter to me; all that mattered was that we committed 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.

Discouraged, I realized, finally, that it's not the president - it's the culture of our state. The U.S. government makes war. Nearly every president gets swept up in it, and Obama is no exception. He's one of the most intelligent, thoughtful, democratic presidents elected in my lifetime; a man of integrity with a vision of our country's possibilities.

Yet he still sends troops to Afghanistan.

As the airwave chatter began to fade, I started to imagine the kind of speech I wanted to hear. I pictured President Obama striding up to the podium, a vision of calm and resolve. He places his hands on the dais in front of him, looks up, and slowly begins to speak in a strong, clear voice:

"My fellow Americans, contrary to news reports, I've decided not to send additional troops to Afghanistan. The toll is too great for our country, crippled by job losses, foreclosures and rising health care costs. I've decided to take the hundreds of billions that the war could cost over the next few years and spend it on public projects to benefit us all."

I imagined dropped jaws of laid-off workers as Obama promised to build free science and technology schools in Detroit to train a new generation failed by a dying auto industry; to open new arts and dance centers in Newark, Los Angeles and Philadelphia to the delighted surprise of beleaguered parents and troubled kids. A promise to launch free health care clinics across Appalachia to the relief of its poorest families; and a promise to buy back mortgages of foreclosed homes so families could get their houses back.

I imagined students slapping high-fives and cheering as the president vowed to finance college educations. I pictured stunned faces and cries of delight as the president ticked off a list of public works projects to preserve our national parks and protect our nation's clean water supplies, while employing America's neediest.

Was it too much to hope that the president would choose to rebuild our country and reject a culture of war?

Don't tell me Afghanistan is a war of "necessity" because of the 9/11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 civilians. We've already lost some 5,200 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan in retaliation for that 2001 attack, with tens of thousands severely maimed for life-not including aid workers, journalists, civilian contractors, coalition partners and Iraqi and Afghan women and children.

Enough already.

We bail out banks, prop up failed corporations, and build weapons - but we don't take care of our own. It'll be up to philanthropists, nonprofit foundations, and charities to do what our country cannot: support our schools, our unemployed and our families in need.

Susan Gluss is media relations director at UC Berkeley School of Law.