In one of my few real conversations with President George W. Bush, I was struck by the degree to which he seemed always to have given thought to this question: How would what he said, and what his subordinates said, affect the morale of those fighting for our nation, and their families? Bush was willing to say something that wasn’t politically advantageous—and not to say something that might have been—if he thought this would adversely affect the spirit of those he had the honor to command.
If only some of our current leaders were as careful.
Last week, while defending the prospect of negotiations with the Taliban, Vice President Joe Biden blurted out:“Look, the Taliban per se is not our enemy. That's critical. There is not a single statement that the president has ever made in any of our policy assertions that the Taliban is our enemy . . .”
There are a couple of striking things about Biden’s statement.
First, he clearly gave no thought to how this would sound to those who have fought the Taliban, and to the families of Americans killed and wounded fighting the Taliban. Indeed, many of these young men and women were sent to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban by his own administration. Does Biden not understand the affect on our troops and their families of his statement? Are there not other ways he can justify negotiations with the Taliban, if that is his administration’s preferred course, than by saying those who against whom our young men and women have fought life and death battles are not our enemy?
Second, Biden’s justification is revealing—“There is not a single statement that the president has ever made . . .” What matters is not what our young men and women have done. What matters, in the world according to Biden, is what the president has said. What matters is that, if one engages in lawyerly parsing of his boss’s statements, one can find an alleged consistency in his assertions. Biden seems to care more about justifying Obama’s statements than our troops’ sacrifices.
The irony is that if Biden wants a model of rhetoric he can follow, he might consult . . . President Obama. (Obama's deplorable action in abandoning Iraq is another matter altogether.)
Discussing the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq on December 14 at Fort Bragg, Obama simply and appropriately said that our entry into the war “was a source of great controversy here at home, with patriots on both sides of the debate.” Obama knew it was no time—with American troops coming home, with Americans reflecting on the sacrifices their sons and daughters had made—to revisit the question of the war’s necessity. Indeed, at Fort Bragg, President Obama, described at some length the extraordinary achievements made by our soldiers and Marines in a war he had opposed, and gave credit to a surge he had voted against.
Obama also said at Fort Bragg, speaking to all who have served, “Because of you, in Afghanistan we’ve broken the momentum of the Taliban.” It sure sounds like the president thinks the Taliban’s an enemy.
Obama concluded his remarks:
“That’s why you, the 9/11 Generation, has earned your place in history....
“All of you here today have lived through the fires of war. You will be remembered for it. You will be honored for it—always. You have done something profound with your lives. When this nation went to war, you signed up to serve. When times were tough, you kept fighting. When there was no end in sight, you found light in the darkness.
“And years from now, your legacy will endure in the names of your fallen comrades etched on headstones at Arlington, and the quiet memorials across our country; in the whispered words of admiration as you march in parades, and in the freedom of our children and our grandchildren. And in the quiet of night, you will recall that your heart was once touched by fire. You will know that you answered when your country called; you served a cause greater than yourselves; you helped forge a just and lasting peace with Iraq, and among all nations.”
President Obama might send a copy of his remarks over to his vice president.