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Listening to President Obama's Afghanistan speech

Jeffrey D. Porro
Jeffrey Porro writes speeches for corporate and nonprofit executives. He blogs at Tough Talk for Hard Times.

Because President Obama is such a gifted speaker and has such terrific speech writers, you can be sure his West Point address will be stirring and uplifting. But about 30 seconds after he finishes talking, the spell will wear off. Pundits, congressional leaders, policy wonks and lots of normal humans will be poring over the text to tease out exactly what it means for our future role in Afghanistan.

Here's a guide that may help, based on my experience helping corporate and government executives launch new initiatives through "big" speeches.

Study the first paragraph and the last. Those, of course, are the parts of the speech most people remember (and where reporters look first for quotes.) I guarantee the president and his writers will put in more time on those than on any other parts of the speech.

Will the beginning and end summon Americans to a noble mission? Or will it emphasize that our role is limited and describe how we'll get out? Perhaps most important, compare the first and last paragraphs, and analyze how he gets from the beginning to the end. That will tell you a lot about the journey the president wants the nation to take.

Pay close attention to the "stories." Obama, like all great speakers, is a master at making a speech resonate with an audience by illustrating his general points with anecdotes about specific people. Remember this one from his acceptance speech?

And when I hear a woman talk about the difficulties of starting her own business or making her way in the world, I think about my grandmother, who worked her way up from the secretarial pool to middle management, despite years of being passed over for promotions because she was a woman.

At West Point, will he talk about a Marine in Kandahar, a village devastated by the Taliban, families in the U.S. missing their sons and daughters serving in a far-away land, or someone else?

Take a look at who he quotes. One of the ways we speechwriters make our living is by finding quotes that not only summarize a key argument succinctly and memorably, but elevate the speaker by associating him or her with someone famous. And it's great if you can find an unexpected quote by that famous someone. In this case, the perfect quote might be one from Churchill or Reagan on the need to compromise with an enemy, or a famous general on the need to have an exit strategy as well as a victory strategy.

In President Obama's inauguration speech, the first person quoted was George Washington: "Let it be told to the future world that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet it."

If you want a great indicator of what the president intends, search out the first quote he uses at West Point.

See how he defines the "middle way."
Every president wants to make his chosen policy seem "moderate" and "reasonable." A terrific way to do that is to characterize alternatives to his policy as "extreme" or "unreasonable." My guess is the president will spend some time describing why the kind of massive build-up some Republicans are pushing would be unworkable. AND he will detail why a quick withdrawal favored by some Democrats would be dangerous. Appearing moderate is more important than ever for this speech, given the challenge of putting together a majority in Congress that will support his new policy after eight frustrating years of war.

In short, don't be blinded by the president's rhetoric, use it to understand what might really lie ahead in Afghanistan.

By Jeffrey D. Porro

 |  November 30, 2009; 4:03 PM ET |  Category:  Leadership skills Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

how do you announce a failed policy in afghanistan??

easy--just announce publicly a withdrawal date to please the looney left


you send in troops

tonight obama will say:

“Taken together, these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011.”

obama--failed policy-failed leadership

our troops only hope is G-d and their military commanders as obama is clueless

Posted by: ProCounsel | December 1, 2009 7:57 PM

In short, don't be blinded by the president's rhetoric, use it to understand what might really lie ahead in Afghanistan.
In Afghanistan the President will now order a phased buildup to over 100,000 American troops in Afghanistan. In early 2012 the President will bring 20,000 of these American troops home with assurances that by 2014 it will be possible to bring home almost all of the American troops from Afghanistan.

There might be a Never Again mention by the President and reference to the mastermind of 9/11 in the New York show trial.

"We have to sacrifice when the country is in such need to insure that never again..."

All part of the campaign for reelection.

Posted by: bsallamack | December 1, 2009 1:56 PM

thanks nattybump, that misspelling has now been corrected.

Posted by: Andrea Useem | December 1, 2009 11:48 AM

staging the bodies--

a psychological profile of obama

criminal psychologists can construct extremely accurate profiles of psychopaths by the way they stage the bodies after a murder,

or the method live photos are posed.

similarly, the way a government leader poses photos of himself is profilable.

for example, study evil leaders in ww2 photos and note how masses of troops were used by a leader as merely an



mass, not

individiuals, a back drop.

the leader was always depicted



tonight analyze obama speech differently-try this

focus soley on how obama stages the bodies

the lighting

the bodies staged as a mass

the politcally correct mix of diverse ethnic groups

then read,

and only read

the text of what obama says

then watch the speech later with the sound off

then compare with speeches of ww2 leaders--good and evil

Posted by: ProCounsel | December 1, 2009 11:48 AM

As a corporate speechwriter, I differ. I don't see obama as a gifted speaker, and I don't think his speechwriters are brilliant. I think obama can read a teleprompter.

Posted by: wmpowellfan | December 1, 2009 11:29 AM

The Afghani surge is a tragic waste of money and lives and serves no legitimate purpose. Any way you cut it - the Afghani surge is going to hurt Obama politically.

This is the equivalent of Nixon invading Cambodia with 36 B-52s dropping 774 tons of bombs in April of 1970. This escalation infuriated the anti-war movement in America. I took part in a huge anti-war march in the streets of downtown Atlanta.

No matter what Obama says today at West Point - his legacy and future is ruined.

Posted by: alance | December 1, 2009 10:05 AM

"pouring over the text" ???? what? maple syrup? This guy writes speeches for corporate executives? I guess he's too busy to read anything... just a happy illiterate.

Posted by: NattyBump | December 1, 2009 9:29 AM

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