President Obama's Tin Ear
President Obama went to Ft. Bliss, TX to celebrate the two-year anniversary of the end of U.S. combat operations in Iraq. He expected the soldiers to cheer him for bringing them home. But he received a poor, awkward and almost silent hearing from the troops. CNN and MSNBC cut away from the speech mid-way, and much of the video has disappeared. But credible reports tell of soldiers giving their Commander in Chief as little applause as they could respectfully give. And no wonder - the President has yet again shown a tin ear for the concerns of our military.
The end of combat operations is a meaningless anniversary. Soldiers want to know: did we win, lose or draw? Did we accomplish the mission? Was the sacrifice worthwhile, or was it in vain? Is the world a safer/better place because of what we did? There. In Iraq. Where more than 4,000 of our comrades died and others came home less than whole.
The President couldn't go there. To praise the mission would be to praise his predecessor. He couldn't do that. But he couldn't denounce it in front of those who undertook it. To say that Iraq is better off, or Iraqis are, suggests that the decision to remove Saddam was worthwhile. He couldn't do that. But he couldn't tell the soldiers their mission -- and their sacrifice -- was a waste. So he didn't.
The Daily Caller cited the President as saying the withdrawal from Iraq (and the impending one from Afghanistan) would produce, "Fewer deployments... more time to prepare for the future; and it meant more time on the home front, with your families, your home and kids."
That is an old anti-war trope that recalls the mainly draft army of the 1960s and early 70s that sent mainly unwilling young men to fight. Someone should remind President Obama that this army -- the one he commands -- has been an all-volunteer force for more than 35 years, and since 9-11, has not lacked for young men and women willing to fight for our country wherever it needs them and regardless of the length of deployment. Their families are part of the military; they also understand service.
The Caller continued, [President Obama added,] "Make no mistake, ending the wars responsibly makes us safer and our military even stronger, and ending these wars is letting us do something else; restoring American leadership." He spoke "amid complete silence."
Silence was the most polite response the soldiers could muster. They know President Obama hasn't "ended the wars," at all, much less has he ended them "responsibly." He only ended U.S. participation in them. To a soldier, that reeks of Vietnam. Just as the President spoke in a 1970s metaphor -- thinking the troops just want to keep their heads down and not get hurt -- the troops have a 1970s metaphor -- the abandonment of people who trusted the U.S. to help them.
The troops have a firmer grasp on the present than does the President. We didn't win in Iraq -- we abandoned the locals to enemy forces. We will do it again in Afghanistan. That does not speak to "restoring American leadership."
The Caller concluded, "When he said demobilized soldiers would find jobs because 'all of you have the skills America needs,' he got little reaction. There was no reaction when he promised stepped-up recruitment of soldiers for police jobs."
If soldiers had wanted to be policemen, they would have been policemen. But they chose to be professional soldiers in the very professional military of the United States. People who know how to use firearms are not interchangeable, as the President appears to believe, and the "skills America needs" includes a skilled, professional military. Soldiers do understand that the impending sequestration of funds will wreak havoc with military spending -- which will undermine the military and force many men and women to leave who would prefer to stay and serve. It will not "make us safer and our military even stronger."
President Obama expected the troops at Ft. Bliss to cheer him for his decision to withdraw combat forces and American influence from Iraq and expected them to cheer for his help in becoming policemen instead of soldiers. This may be the most tin-eared performance yet for a president who seems uncomfortable at best with the troops he commands.
Shoshana Bryen is Senior Director of The Jewish Policy Center. She was previously Senior Director for Security Policy at JINSA and author of JINSA Reports from 1995-2011.