We cannot continue to rely only on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives that we've set. We've got to have a civilian national security force that's just as powerful, just as strong, just as well funded.
It is a curious phrase, and very much open to interpretation. In context, Obama seemed to mean that civilians undertaking civilian activities both at home and abroad could make an equal contribution to national security --broadly defined as restoring good will toward the U.S. in foreign countries and protecting Americans from natural disasters and the like as well as guarding against terrorism. But it's also an incautious phrase, as tone deaf to the sensibilities of many Americans as the first President Bush's invocation of a "New World Order" at the time of the Gulf War. While the full phrase "civilian national security force" should dispel the fears expressed by people like Rep. Brown about Obama's alleged intent to create a Gestapo-like organization, the "national security force" bit was bound to raise alarms. Critics have speculated that Obama had in mind something like the organizations fostered by Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, which are accused of spying on and otherwise harassing dissidents, and the senator's seeming insistence that this entity be "just as powerful, just as strong, just as well funded" as the military was bound to have some people wondering why.
Since this blog doesn't play by American Bipolarchy rules, I can note that the exact same words out of Senator McCain's mouth would have sparked similar alarms in the liberal-left blogosphere. McCain and Obama both, in fact, are strong advocates of "national service." That aspect of McCain partly explains why more libertarian Republicans preferred George W. Bush during the 2000 primaries. McCain made proposals similar in detail to what Obama advocated in Colorado, but to my knowledge never used the exact phrase that has spooked some people. The similarity of their ideas, nevertheless, may explain why Obama's remarks weren't much exploited by Republicans during the late campaign.
It may just have been a misconceived bit of rhetoric that was repudiated once its liability sunk in, but some people have a habit of interpreting all political rhetoric indiscriminately or unconditionally. As opposed to cynics who assume that rhetoric = lies, these others assume that each speech is a naked confession of a candidate's genuine intentions, especially if those inferred intentions confirm their own pre-existing fears. For someone to expunge the offending passage, from this perspective, could only be an admission of guilt, not a realization that the words didn't sound right. But someone may simply have realized that the phrase created a wrong impression that impressionable people would assume was the right one.
The easiest way around this would be for a reporter to ask the President-elect what he meant in Colorado Springs. He may have been asked already, since I'm only catching up with this story, and any new answer might not satisfy anyone, but for the sake of argument the question is worth asking.