I now have reason to suspect that Barack Obama has a skill of proven value to a U.S. President: the ability to look straight into the camera and not tell the truth, without lying.
Step back in time: On May 7, 1999, a NATO air strike hit the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade killing three and wounding five. The attack came when most inside the building were asleep. The three persons killed were identified as journalists who had been working near the top of the building late into the night. Just above them, the embassy's roof, a field of antennas, was destroyed.
In what gave every appearance of being a deeply heartfelt apology, President Clinton looked into the camera and called it all a mistake saying,
I send my regrets and my profound condolences to the leaders and the people of China.
The official explanations for the accident varied. Early on it was blamed on strike planners' using outdated Michelin road maps that incorrectly located the Chinese Embassy as being in another building. (Bad maps always cause problems.) NATO claimed the real target was a military supply facility thought to be in the building housing the embassy. (With a bad map, anyone could make that mistake.)
For their part, the Chinese didn't buy the explanation. Months later, the in-flight magazine on Chinese airliner flights between the U.S. and China still displayed the three in gruesome photographs showing bloody bodies dressed in street clothes. The Chinese were mad, and would get even.
Step further back in time: About six weeks earlier, on March 27, 1999, a Serbian anti-aircraft missile battery shot down a USAF F-117A Nighthawk stealth (as in purporting to be invisible to radar) fighter. In 2005, the battery commander, Zoltan Dani, in an interviewed with the Associated Press, said,
"We used a little innovation to update our 1960s-vintage SAMs to detect the Nighthawk," Dani said. He declined to discuss specifics, saying the exact nature of the modification to the warhead's guidance system remains a military secret.
Perhaps the "little innovation" was good map?
Now fast forward to the recent: On March 14, 2008, FOX News reporter Major Garrett interviewed Barack Obama about the current controversy concerning the Reverent Jeremiah Wright. Here's part of their exchange:
GARRETT: Sir, would you have -- would you have quit the church had you heard them [his preacher's controversial statements] personally?
OBAMA: You know, I guess -- keep in mind that, just to provide more context, this is somebody who I had known for 20 years. Pastor Wright has been a pastor for 30 years. He's an ex-Marine. He is somebody who is a biblical scholar, has spoken at theological seminaries all across the country, from the University of Chicago to Hampton. And so he is a well- regarded preacher. And somebody who is known for talking about the social gospel. But most of the time, when I'm in church, he's talking about Jesus, God, faith, values, caring for the poor, those -- family, those were the messages that I was hearing. And so you know, I think that the statements that have been strung together are compiled out of hundred of sermons that he delivered over the course of his lifetime. But, obviously, they are ones that are, from my perspective, completely unacceptable and inexcusable.
And if I had thought that that was the tenor or tone on an ongoing basis of his sermons, then, yes, I don't think that it would have been reflective of my values or my faith experience.
GARRETT: So, quick yes or no. If had you heard them in person you would have quit?
OBAMA: If I had heard them repeated, I would have quit. I mean, obviously, understand that -- understand that, you know, this is somebody who is like an uncle. If you have -- to me. He's somebody who helped me find Christ. And somebody who always talked to me in very powerful ways about relationship to God and our obligations to the poor. If somebody makes a mistake, then obviously, you recognize -- I make mistakes. We all make mistakes. If I thought that that was the repeated tenor of the church, then I wouldn't feel comfortable there. But, frankly, that has not been my experience at Trinity United Church of Christ.
So, Presidential candidate Barack Obama has no idea about most of the controversial (to many others) things his pastor preached for the 20 years Obama frequented the church. Had he known and heard those statements himself, he would have quit the church.
Likewise, President William Jefferson Clinton, who never inhaled, deeply regretted the accidental bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. During his apology, he appeared to be on the verge of tearing up.
Only the incurably naïve would be shocked to learn that a U.S. President could be capable of letting loose with a full monty, double-wide, whopper of a fib - particularly when it serves the nation's interests.
The problem is that bending the truth can become a presidential habit if done too often, with too little effort, in matters that involve the politician's self-interest and not those of the nation.
To close, step ahead in time: Next month, after only 27 years of service, the Air Force's F-117 stealth fighter fleet goes into mothballs.
What do you suppose those Chinese journalists were doing near the roof of their embassy in Belgrade in the middle of the night?