He left room for all his critics, left and right, to express dissatisfaction: He will pick up the pace of closing Guantanamo, but it will not close immediately; he’ll put restrictions on the use of drones but won’t stop using them; he declared an end to the “global war on terror” but pledged to “a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists.”

This last bit — an attempt to displace a sweeping and terribly flawed definition of the anti-terrorism struggle with a careful, practical but also less stirring depiction of the task ahead — is a window on the Obama conundrum.

He’s an anti-ideological leader in an ideological age, a middle-of-the-road liberal skeptical of the demands placed on a movement leader, a politician often disdainful of the tasks that politics asks him to perform. He wants to invite the nation to reason together with him when nearly half the country thinks his premises and theirs are utterly at odds. Doing so is unlikely to get any easier. But being Barack Obama, he’ll keep trying.