Well, it’s taken about a week or so for enough details to emerge about Senator Obama’s canceled visit to the hospital for American troops in Landstuhl, Germany, and it’s a smidgen more complicated than originally presented — and, as is eminently predictable, falls pretty well between the two sides who first started tussling about it.
As a bit of backdrop, it’s become customary for government officials to visit troops who have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. President Bush has made numerous trips to Walter Reed, and has met with families of those killed in action. He’s also hosted quite a few wounded vets at the White House.
It’s also become customary (backed up by military regulations) for these visits to be kept largely free of publicity and politics. The only time I can think of Bush’s actions in this area getting much attention was when it came out that Cindy “Momma Moonbat” Sheehan, who was demanding a meeting with President Bush, had actually had one, and one time President Bush kept a promise he made during one visit and went for a jog with a soldier who had lost a leg in Afghanistan.
It isn’t just Bush who does these visits. A lot of Senators and Representatives also make these calls, all quietly. Senators McCain and Obama have both been to Walter Reed hospital many times, and during his recent visits to Afghanistan and Iraq, Obama visited with wounded soldiers.
So, what the hell happened in Germany?
It appears to be a case of the Obama camp’s ineptitude more than anything else.
Obama’s people contacted the Pentagon about the visit, and got the go-ahead. No problems there.
It wasn’t until the two parties actually got ready to go that the Pentagon sent up a red flag. These visits are not for the politician’s entire entourage, just the official and a couple of aides. And the Obama camp thought it would be good for them to bring along one guy who is a veteran, and advises Obama on military matters. On the surface, not a bad idea. Obama has no military experience of his own (even Bill Clinton, with his brief flirtation with ROTC, had more military experience than Obama), so having someone with him who “speaks military” would probably be helpful.
The problem is that this guy (whose name, I believe, has not been reported) was not a member of Obama’s Senate staff, but his campaign staff. The presence of a campaign official on this trip ran the risk of making the visit look like a campaign exercise, and that is a major no-no.
At that point, the Obama camp had a choice to make: leave behind the campaign official, or blow off the trip entirely.
They chose poorly.
They chose to make the aide’s presence the deal-breaker, and Obama spent the time slotted for the trip either shooting hoops or playing tourist.
Let’s make one thing clear: it’s now apparent that the presence of the press was never an issue. I suspect that this confusion began with the Pentagon citing the regulations governing such visits, and two big rules of them are that they are not to be used for political gain or publicity. That means no press or political operatives — just the official and those who serve that official in an… er, official capacity. Senators? Fine. Senate staffers? Fine, but only a few. Political officials? Nope. Press? Nope.
The Obama camp didn’t exactly help itself. They issued a fairly terse statement, stating that they had chosen to cancel the trip because the Pentagon excluded a campaign official, then said very little — hoping it would go away.
So here we see this was not an example of Obama’s disdain for the troops, or his demanding that the visit be properly publicized, or be used for political gain. Nor is it an example of the Pentagon “double-crossing” Obama, of Bush ordering that his visit be sabotaged to make him look bad.
In the end, it’s yet another example of the Obama camp showing incredibly poor judgment (the characteristic that Obama touts as his greatest strength). No one in the Obama ever thought that having a guy who works for his presidential campaign accompany him on an official senatorial function trip would be seen as questionable. No one connected the dots betwen the Pentagon’s long-standing rule of “no political operatives” and the fact that, apparently, the only veterans around Obama work for his campaign and not his Senate office. And when that blew up in their faces, they didn’t say “OK, buddy, you stay on the plane while the Senator goes to the hospital” but instead said “fine, we can’t bring the veteran – slash – political operative, we ain’t going.”
I happen to think that these kinds of visits are essential for our elected officials. They should look in the eyes of our wounded troops (or, in some tragic cases, hold the hands of those who have lost their eyes) and see the real cost of the decisions they make. They should know that real human beings carry out — and pay the price — for the policies they set. It is, I suspect, a very humbling and very somber experience, and no one who wants to be Commander in Chief should avoid it.
To their credit, both Senators McCain and Obama have done just that, on numerous occasions. Senator McCain has an advantage, having been in the place of these young men and women, but I have tremendous respect for both men for doing this — and believe they will continue. And as I said, Obama did visit with wounded troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. So the skipping of the visit in Germany really isn’t much of a thing.
Except he had promised to do so, and didn’t.
He let a very minor, very trivial matter — the presence or exclusion of a specific single aide — become a deal breaker, and blew off meeting with those troops recuperating in Germany. And I am certain that some of them were looking forward to meeting him.
That was the wrong decision, and it was one that he didn’t need to make. It was, in a sports metaphor, an “unforced error,” and it showed yet again that the guy just isn’t ready for prime time.
No matter how much some Europeans seem to love him.