The President’s tactics were flawed. It was a good idea, positioning himself as commander on the stage at West Point, as if he were announcing an order of battle in Afghanistan to the 4,600 cadets, which they would have understood and appreciated. But the President had to make it a policy speech, too, and it was not at all a good idea to ask the cadets, at the end of a typical Tuesday at West Point, to pay attention to a policy speech. At least two cadets were observed to be dozing, and who can blame them?
Also observable was a disconnect between old and new communications. The President’s organization used the new communications expertly during the presidential campaign, using the reach of the Internet to build youth constituencies. Tonight, though, that expertise was not on view. The new communications would have connected most effectively with the cadets. Instead, they were subjected to the old communications, broadcast television, which is the same as sitting at a railroad crossing while the train goes by, until the rail car you wanted to see comes into view.
Better if the President had flown to Afghanistan, made the speech in a hangar there through an online feed, watched by the cadets online (with plenty of television images of them in their quarters, studying and watching), and by the U.S. television audience watching the President’s online image. In war and peace, it’s a revolutionary new communications age, and tonight the dozing cadets understood that better than the President and his people.