The travails of being commander-in-chief 

Peter Baker has an interesting article in the New York Times on Barack Obama as commander-in-chief. On Commentary’s Contentions blog Jennifer Rubin reads this as saying that Obama really doesn’t want to be commander-in-chief. I have taken a different view, particularly in a December 2009 Examiner column written just after Obama announced his Afghanistan policy at West Point. I wrote then:

 ”The commander-in-chief then noted that the military and their families have “already borne the heaviest of all burdens.” And he mentioned some of his own: the condolence letters he has signed, the visits to Walter Reed, greeting the caskets at Dover Air Force Base.

“These acts seem to me an indication that Obama takes seriously his responsibilities as a military commander, and that he steels himself to do his duty even when it is unpleasant (as George W. Bush did, though he did not see fit to mention it in his major speeches).

“I suspect the rest of us cannot fully appreciate the psychic burden of ordering into harm’s way men and women whom you see in front of you and shake hands with. Only the most cynical person, more cynical than any of our presidents, could fail to be affected by this, and this commander-in-chief devoted several paragraphs to explaining why he believed the war in Afghanistan was worth the sacrifices it must entail.”

My view of nine months age finds support in Baker’s article, notably in these paragraphs:

“But Mr. Obama also confronts the consequences of the direct combat he has ordered. Last year, he flew to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to greet soldiers’ coffins. During a later meeting with advisers, Mr. Obama expressed irritation at doubters of his commitment. ‘If I didn’t think this was something worth doing,’ he said, ‘one trip to Dover would be enough to cause me to bring every soldier home. O.K.?’

“In March, during his only trip to Afghanistan in office, he met a wounded soldier, maybe 19, who had lost three limbs. ‘I go into a place like this, I go to Walter Reed — it’s just hard for me to think of anything to say,’ an emotional Mr. Obama told advisers as he left.

“The moment stuck with him. Three months later, after ousting General McChrystal, Mr. Obama marched into the Situation Room and cited the teenage triple amputee as he reprimanded advisers for the infighting that had led to the general’s forced resignation. ‘We have a lot of kids on the ground acting like adults and we have a lot of adults in this room acting like kids,’ he lectured.”

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Michael Barone

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