Obama’s 9/11 speech echoes political themes

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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President Barack Obama used his speech on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 atrocity to paint a picture of overseas military losses and of domestic resilience under stress.

“Two million Americans have gone to war since 9/11 … Too many will never come home. Those that do carry dark memories from distant places, and the legacy of fallen friends,” Obama said in a speech to the invited audience at a “Concert for Hope” held Sunday evening at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

“Our strength is not measured in our ability to stay in these places; it comes from our commitment to leave those lands to free people and sovereign states, and our desire to move from a decade of war to a future of peace,” said Obama, who promised in his 2008 race to end what he said were two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Administration officials recently announced plans to leave only 3,000 U.S. troops as military trainers in Iraq after this year.

The President was still editing the speech today aa he traveled between New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., according to a White House official.

His tone was sharply different from the speech former President George W. Bush gave Saturday. (RELATED: Obama pays respects at 9/11 memorial in New York)

“The temptation of isolation is deadly wrong,” Bush said. “A world of dignity and liberty and hope will be safer and better for all. And the surest way to move toward that vision is for the United States of America to lead the cause of freedom,” Bush said, reprising his strategy of undermining Islamic terrorism by promoting political and economic freedom in the Arab world.

After lionizing the passengers of Flight 93 for “launching the first counteroffensive of the war on terror,” Bush also praised the the military. “They have kept us safe, they have made us proud,” he said at the Shanksville, Pa., memorial to the 40 passengers and crew killed when that flight crashed.

Since 2001, more than 6,240 U.S. soldiers have died from combat and accidental causes in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the independent website www.icasualties.org.

Meanwhile U.S. forces have killed thousands of Islamist leaders, spurred an Arab backlash against Al Qaada, and replaced dictatorships with elected governments in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Along with his emphasis on overseas losses, Obama painted a more optimistic picture of life within the United States.

“These past ten years tell a story of resilience … This land pulses with the optimism of those who set out for distant shores, and the courage of those who died for human freedom,” Obama said.

The president’s speech echoed talking points distributed by the White House to administration officials preparing for the 9/11 anniversary, according to an Aug. 29 New York Times article. Those separate talking points for domestic and foreign audiences urged officials to emphasize optimism and resilience under stress since 2001.

“Resilience takes many forms, including the dedication and courage to move forward,” said the memo about foreign audiences.

And the memo for U.S. audiences said: “We will also draw on the spirit of unity that prevailed in the immediate aftermath of attacks.”

To emphasize Americans’ fortitude, Obama quoted a letter from a woman named Suzanne Swaine, whose husband and brothers perished in one of the World Trade Center’s twin towers. Swaine, who has since raised three girls, wrote that “It has been ten years of raising these girls on my own … I could not be prouder of their strength and resilience.”

“That spirit typifies the American family,” Obama said.

The same theme of resilience also appears in Obama’s recent stump speeches in which he has urged listeners to stand by him despite the nation’s economic slump. In June, for example, he told supporters at a Florida fundraiser that letters from ordinary Americans to the White House show “incredible resilience and incredible stick-to-itiveness, and a sense on the part of people that no matter how down they are, they’re not out.”

Obama’s Sunday speech leveraged that sense of Americans’ staying power. “Over the years we have also seen a more quiet form of heroism – in the ladder company that lost so many men and still suits up to save lives every day; the businesses that have rebuilt; the burn victim who has bounced back; the families that press on,” he said.

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