One common reaction to President Barack Obama's prime-time address outlining a new strategy for Afghanistan: He bore a striking similarity to the president he replaced.
"Much of this speech could be delivered by Bush, even if it would mean something different," Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein wrote on Twitter during the speech.
Also on Twitter, The American Prospect's Adam Serwer wrote: "I hate to say it, but I think everyone's kinda thinking it: POTUS sounded a little like the guy we voted out of office last year."
The comparisons come despite the fact that Obama devoted much of the first portion of the speech to describing a litany of flawed decisions by the Bush administration—from the decision to invade Iraq, to a lack of necessary reinforcements in Afghanistan—that set the stage for the current crossroads. In addition, Obama cited closing Guantanamo Bay and ending torture as crucial to America's interests—an implicit criticism of the previous administration.
• More Daily Beast experts weigh in on Obama’s battle cry • Watch: 7 Key Moments of Obama’s SpeechReviewing similar televised addresses from former President George W. Bush on Iraq, there were indeed rhetorical parallels—even if the context and substance of their speeches were significantly different. Both used the example of September 11 to articulate the rationale for their mission—a mission they defined as thwarting direct threats against American interests at home and abroad.
“It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak. This is no idle danger; no hypothetical threat," Obama said. "In the last few months alone, we have apprehended extremists within our borders who were sent here from the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan to commit new acts of terror."
Or, as Bush described the consequences of failure in Iraq in his January 2007 address announcing a "surge" of forces:
“Our enemies would have a safe haven from which to plan and launch attacks on the American people. On September the 11th, 2001, we saw what a refuge for extremists on the other side of the world could bring to the streets of our own cities. For the safety of our people, America must succeed in Iraq.”
Both framed their military challenges of the moment as part of a larger ideological conflict, tying the struggles in Afghanistan and Iraq respectively to a global battle against radicalism. In his West Point speech, Obama cautioned that "the struggle against violent extremism will not be finished quickly, and it extends well beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan. It will be an enduring test of our free society, and our leadership in the world." In his 2007 address, Bush described the war in Iraq as part of a broader Middle East challenge that he termed "the decisive ideological struggle of our time" and described as between "those who believe in freedom and moderation" and "extremists who kill the innocent, and have declared their intention to destroy our way of life."
Both ended with parallel rhetorical flourishes emphasizing the grit and "resolve" of the American public in enduring the coming months of war.
"America—we are passing through a time of great trial," Obama said in his final paragraph. "And the message that we send in the midst of these storms must be clear: that our cause is just, our resolve unwavering. We will go forward with the confidence that right makes might, and with the commitment to forge an America that is safer, a world that is more secure, and a future that represents not the deepest of fears but the highest of hopes."
His predecessor described similar challenges in the concluding paragraph of his own speech.
"Fellow citizens: The year ahead will demand more patience, sacrifice, and resolve," Bush said. "It can be tempting to think that America can put aside the burdens of freedom. Yet times of testing reveal the character of a nation. And throughout our history, Americans have always defied the pessimists and seen our faith in freedom redeemed."
Some conservative commentators criticized Obama for rhetorical choices that were arguably similar to Bush's speeches. The National Review's Jonah Goldberg blogged that Obama avoided using the phrase "jihadism." But Bush did not use either that phrase or the related "jihad" in his speech announcing a surge in Iraq. Nor did he use the term in a televised address on Iraq in 2005, a televised speech reflecting on the fifth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, or a televised speech in 2007 announcing a drawdown of troops in Iraq.
Obama's speech was significantly longer, about 4,600 words compared to just under 3,000 in Bush's 2007 address, and touched on more topics. Unlike Bush, for example, Obama explicitly addressed the limits of American resources in prosecuting the war, suggesting that Congress would have to find new ways to finance an expanded troop presence.
Benjamin Sarlin is a reporter for The Daily Beast. He previously covered New York City politics for The New York Sun and has worked for talkingpointsmemo.com.