Though I believe some last minute preparations were made, and even some review of the protocol for the transferring of remains, President Barack Obama made the midnight visit to Dover Delaware to honor the 18 fallen Americans who died in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. This kind of visit was never made by former President George W. Bush whose administration launched the post 9-11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In all fairness, President Bush made clandestine visits to wounded soldiers at the Walter Reed Medical facility not intended for the media’s consumption.
But here is a page out of the book of Lincoln. Unlike Lincoln’s appearance at the dedication of the Gettysburg cemetery during the Civil War, President Obama isn’t so much framing as claiming. There’s no nuance about it. At a time when some generals have suddenly decided they are specialists in nation building in addition to combat, it’s time the commander-in-chief makes the point, symbolically and otherwise, that he is at the top of the chain-of-command and ultimately assumes the responsibilty for decisions and outcomes. And regardless of what the critics say this President doesn’t shirk that responsibility. More than likely decisions have already been made in terms of strategy and regional stakeholders; committing troops is just another part of that process.
Generals David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal have shared their views and recommendations willingly with the press as if they had their own publicists. Maybe they have visions of George Washington dancing in their heads. Colin Powell was described as the “good soldier” under two Bush presidencies. I don’t believe Powell submitted his letter to any news bureau when he resigned his cabinet post as Secretary of State.
I have to say, I enjoy working with veterans and military groups. I like the culture of accountability, responsibility, and most important, punctuality. I can see why people join the military because they like the culture and the discipline.
But civilian life can have those same qualities especially for those who understand the responsibilities of governing and being a leader. It is a good thing that the civilian President makes the trip to Dover when he’s about to make one of the most important decisions in his presidency. Whatever that decision is, Barack Obama isn’t afraid to own it.