With the long-belabored deliberations of his war-council concluded and the decision to deploy 30,000 troops to Afghanistan to get the job done now revealed, I think it is worth noting the importance of the “how” and “where” of last night’s speech. Earlier this week, Dana Milbank of the Washington Post wrote about the use of military venues for Presidential speeches, and I couldn’t help but think of his words while watching President Obama address the audience at West Point last night.
While there are many on the ‘right’ and ‘left’ who will find fault with whatever the President had to say, I give him an enormous amount of credit for taking his orders directly to many of the men and women who will be charged with implementing them. I would call it guts, even “chutzpah,” to stand before a group of people, many of whom will die, sacrifice limbs, and cause enormous heartbreak because of long deployments and say, “This is what I am telling you to do for your country.”
The President could have given the same speech from the safe confines of the Oval Office, and it would have been fine. Yet, there is a difference between delivering a speech about sending people into battle from the most famous office and giving it in front of the people who will actually go into battle and die, be wounded and forever changed.
It means you have to look them in the eye.
That could not be an easy feat for Obama. Based on comments during their respective times as president, as well as their time out of the Oval Office, we know it wasn’t easy for Bush, Clinton, Bush, Reagan or any of Obama’s predecessors either. Even Lincoln, the hallmark of Executive Branch leadership, bore the pain and burden physically and emotionally, knowing he was sending people to die because of his orders.
As gutsy a move as it was for Obama to be face to face with those who will encounter the hells and horrors of the battlefield because of his decision, it was even more inspiring to me to look at the audience full of cadets and see the best and brightest of our country, knowing that each of them had volunteered their lives in service to their county.
The word, “Wow” does not fully capture the character of these people and the thousands of others who wear our nation’s military uniforms. But until I can find another word to describe them, it will have to do.
God has blessed this nation with millions like them throughout our history, and I couldn’t help but feel we were blessed once again last night.