Peter Baker's Friday front-page "news analysis" of Barack Obama and Dick Cheney's dueling national security speeches Thursday, "A 'Surgical Approach' to Policy, and Its Pitfalls ," was everything the president could have wanted.
Baker assumed President Obama's speech at the National Archives was motivated by "nuanced" principle, rather than being an awkward political straddle forced onto him by Dick Cheney's effective pushback over the last several weeks. Baker processed Obama's speech precisely the way Obama wanted it processed - as "nuanced" middle ground between the ACLU and the Bush administration.
President Obama defends his national security strategy, he faces a daunting challenge. He must convince the country that it is in safe hands despite warnings to the contrary from the right, and at the same time persuade the skeptical left that it is enough to amend his predecessor's approach rather than abandon it.
Arguably on the defensive over policy for the first time since taking office, Mr. Obama is gambling that his oratorical powers can reassure the public that bringing terrorism suspects to prisons on American soil will not put the public in danger.
Baker surveyed Obama's confused, politically motivated hash of proposals and called it "nuance":
At the same time, he must explain and win support for a nuanced set of positions that fall somewhere between George W. Bush and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Rather than an easily labeled program, Mr. Obama is picking seemingly disparate elements from across the policy continuum - banning torture and other harsh interrogation techniques but embracing the endless detention of certain terror suspects without trial, closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, but retaining the military commissions held there.
"A surgical approach," the president called it in his address on Thursday at the National Archives.
But surgical approaches are rarely satisfying to those on either end of the political spectrum who tend to dominate political dialogue in Washington, particularly when it comes to an issue as fraught with emotional resonance and moral implications as the struggle against terrorists.
Baker parroted Obama's phony middle ground in the war on terror and painted Cheney in extremist terms:
In the reductionist debate in Washington, either any sacrifice must be made to win a pitiless war against radicals, or terrorism does not justify any compromise with cherished American values.
"Both sides may be sincere in their views, but neither side is right," Mr. Obama said. "The American people are not absolutist, and they don't elect us to impose a rigid ideology on our problems. They know that we need not sacrifice our security for our values, nor sacrifice our values for our security, so long as we approach difficult questions with honesty and care and a dose of common sense."
In his rebuttal speech across town, former Vice President Dick Cheney in effect argued that absolutism in the defense of liberty was no vice.
"In the fight against terrorism there is no middle ground, and half measures keep you half-exposed," Mr. Cheney said shortly after Mr. Obama's address. "You cannot keep just some nuclear-armed terrorists out of the United States. Triangulation is a political strategy, not a national security strategy."