"What Vice President Cheney calls 'dithering,' President Obama calls his solemn responsibility to the men and women in uniform and to the American public," said Gibbs. "I think we've all seen what happens when somebody doesn't take that responsibility seriously."
~White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs
Life is full of mysteries, but chief among them in this Marine wife's mind at the moment is, "Just how stupid does this White House think we are?" If the events of the past few months have shown us anything, it's that Barack Obama has little enthusiasm for - or interest in - one of the most important duties of an American President: his role as Commander in Chief of the nation's armed forces.
Like so many of his campaign promises, Barack Obama's commitment to the military has undergone constant revision since he took office in January. When he was still actively courting the military vote, nothing was too good for us. The First Lady pledged to make military families "her mission", trotting out piquant tales of desperation in the ranks to make the case that military families face a slew of horrific problems all requiring the immediate intervention of the federal government:
An Air Force wife said she had to give up her job when her husband deployed because she couldn’t find child care....
A Marine wife, a former executive, said she home-schools her children because she couldn’t find a public or private school that could meet her children’s needs....
A Navy wife described the pressures of taking care of her husband’s father, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, while also caring for her infant and her teenager — all while her husband was deployed.
Faced with tragedies like this, it's hard to know how military families manage to soldier on isn't it? According to one source, the First Lady was moved to tears when she heard that [gasp!] some military families are forced to use food stamps! Naturally, the First Family was second to none in its determination to fix a problem that doesn't exist:
The Defense Department conducted its last study on food stamp usage in 2002 and found that 2,100 members of the armed forces redeemed the aid. That figure represented slightly more than 1/10 of 1 percent of the military and had decreased significantly from 19,400 service members using food stamps in 1991.
A military spokeswoman said the seven-year-old study linked living on base with using food stamps.
“That some military members continue to qualify for food stamps is primarily a result of the Department of Agriculture excluding the value of government-provided housing as income in determining eligibility for the food stamp program. The study indicated that the majority of military food stamp recipients lived on base,” Eileen M. Lainez said in an e-mail to Military.com.
“The fact that some enlisted members and even a few officers received food stamps was more a result of larger household sizes and living in government quarters than an indicator of inadequate military compensation.”
For those of you at home who make too much to qualify for a government calculator, here's a quick translation: (1) The number of military families using food stamps is roughly 1/10th of what it was in 1991, and (2) if their monthly housing allowance were included in the income calculation (the way it is for civilians) these military families would make too much money to qualify for food stamps.
Faced with largely imaginary ills, the Obamas are all sympathy. During the campaign, they were more than willing to promote a whiny culture of entitlement that undercuts everything the military stands for - just to win a few more votes on Election day. And as time went on, the illusion of supporting the military continued. In March Congress passed a resolution making 2009 the Year of the Military Family! As if that weren't enough November is, by Presidential decree, Military Family Month. With such heartfelt lip service literally oozing from the White House, one might well ask: how does this president's rhetoric match up with his actions? Since you ask, the answer is, "Not too well".
Obama started his first term by becoming the first president in 56 years to snub the Salute to Heroes ball honoring Medal of Honor recipients. Next, having been handed a thoroughly researched analysis of our options in Afghanistan, he proceeded to take two months to conduct a "comprehensive review" that ultimately resulted in a "new and improved strategy":
When Obama took office, he ordered an Afghanistan review of his own. Led by former CIA official Bruce Riedel, the Obama review team looked at Afghanistan and made its recommendations. On March 27, the president announced his new Afghanistan strategy--one that included many of the recommendations of the Bush administration's review. And that is another indignity. Not only did the Obama administration understand full well that the Bush administration had conducted a comprehensive assessment of Afghanistan, and not only had Jim Jones asked that the Bush review be withheld from the public--but Obama's "new" strategy bore an uncanny resemblance to that prescribed by the Lute review.
Who knew comprehensive strategy reviews had such a short shelf life? Just a few short months later, someone leaked a report General McChrystal prepared at the express request of the President. Lefty bloggers and pundits alike - on no evidence - attacked General McChrystal, calling him a dirty, duplicitous traitor. Few bothered to ask questions that might have enlightened them as to what was really going on:
Is Obama running an administration where an analysis required of a four-star general confirmed into his job by the Senate—an analysis drafted by an international civilian and military team of experts recruited for the task—can be second-guessed by some guy someone at State knows in a think tank? What's worrying about this administration is that the answer may be: yes.
...Suddenly, the strategy Obama announced in March is being ditched. Back then, Obama said that Afghanistan had not received (from the Bush administration) "the strategic attention, direction and resources it urgently needs." Specifically, he charged, the resources U.S. commanders needed "have been denied." "Now, that will change," he said. As late as last month, Obama was declaring the struggle in Afghanistan "a war of necessity" where victory was "fundamental to the defense of our people."
There's an important point here: where was our Commander in Chief when his top commander in Afghanistan was being viciously attacked? Did he step in and defend his subordinate for doing the job he was ordered to do? Of course he didn't. Harry Truman was obviously no community organizer: the brouhaha over McChrystal ensured that the buck wouldn't stop in the Oval Office this time. The McChrystal leak was followed by the revelation that our stalwart Commander in Chief had only met with his top commander in Afghanistan once. Stung by the implication that his "war of necessity" was very much on the back burner, Obama scrambled to find a mere 20 minutes to spare as he idled on a runway in northern Europe. He spent more time than that conducting a beer summit.
Now the Army's largest base has suffered a devastating attack by a deranged Islamist. And how does our Commander in Chief respond? He gives a "shout out" to Joe Medicine Crow, that noted Congressional Medal of Honor winner.
Tell me something: in a moment of national tragedy is it really too much to expect the President of the United States to forego the "shout outs"? Is it too much ask that he learn the difference between the Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Medal of Honor? What we require from our leaders at times like this is not much, really. No one expects them to actually care. What we want is precisely the kind of thing that comes so effortlessly to Barack Obama: honeyed words and a reassuring show of compassion from a man who thinks that quality is the most important attribute a Supreme Court judge can possess. A public acknowledgment that something grave has happened. But for some reason, asking the Commander in Chief of our armed forces to give even the appearance of empathy was a bridge too far.
Americans expect something more from their leaders in times of trouble. We expect grace. Empathy. Inspiration. A sense of solemn gravity that befits the nation's somber mood. When the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded killing 7 astronauts, Ronald Reagan postponed the State of the Union report to address and assuage the nation's shock and mourning.
Barack Obama, on the other hand, gave us shout outs.
As so many have noted, our Commander in Chief finally visited the wounded at Fort Hood the other day. Unfortunately, it wasn't this Commander in Chief:
Instead of comforting his troops, President Obama decided to spend the weekend at Camp David.
Even if one were inclined to give President Obama the benefit of the doubt and assume that he had asked Former President Bush and Mrs. Bush to visit the wounded soldiers because the Bushes live in Texas, why would he ask this of his predecessor and not get on Air Force One overnight to get down there himself?
Why would he not go to be with those whom he is charged to send into battle and who were so horrifyingly betrayed by one of their own?
Because he doesn't give a rat's backside, that's why not.
For the past 8 years, we've heard a lot about how George Bush was too "cowardly" to face the consequences of war. Such bald faced lies are only possible if one is willing to ignore the eyewitness accounts of hundreds of Americans who saw him do just that - with no media fanfare and even less thanks. With every word he speaks and every act he performs, Barack Obama only strengthens the impression that he neither understands nor cares to know the military he must lead as Commander in Chief. Military families are only useful to him as hapless victims of the Bush administration because Obama's entire vision of government rests on the notion that Americans are powerless to rise above misfortune. It's not surprising he spends so little time at Walter Reed, Bethesda, or any of the military medical centers. You see, he wouldn't recognize the spirit of sturdy self reliance that is commonplace there:
Jeremy reminded me, as have many wounded warriors I’ve met, that life is too short not to enjoy it. He and thousands of other disabled veterans across the country have overcome obstacles and adversities that could make even the most optimistic people crack.
They’ve stared death in the face, and are now living their challenging lives to the fullest when it would be so much easier to just give up. But they don’t give up. Beyond the prosthetics, bandages and screws holding them together physically, they’re still Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines, and in traditional military fashion, they just keep driving on.
Demby, who was wounded in the Vietnam War, said it best: “Although these guys’ lives have changed, they look at living with their disabilities as a second chance, a new beginning. Their resiliency is an example to all of us.”
Jeremy is a young man who, faced with the prospect that doctors may soon have to amputate his other leg, replied matter of factly, "If that happens, I'll deal with it, too." Perhaps more than any other institution in America, the military represents values like accountability, resilience, strength under adversity, achievement, and personal responsibility: qualities that used to be thought of as simply "American". It seems strange beyond belief that a President swept into office on the shoulders of voters chanting, "Yes, We Can!" now personifies a philosophy of government based on "No, You Can't" (without my help).
Obama doesn't "get" the military because with every step they take, whether it's on prosthetic legs or the steely sinews of a combat hardened Marine, their strength and independence give the lie to his defeatest rhetoric. All those unbowed shoulders, unbeaten spirits and uplifted heads make him profoundly uncomfortable.
As well they should. Americans don't need to be rescued by the government. We have each other.
Speaking of which, it's hard to think of a better application of Ronald Reagan's philosophy of private philanthropy and the resilience of the American spirit than Valour IT. Give generously, please, and say "thanks" to these folks who defend everything we hold dear.