It’s ironic isn’t it, that President Obama, who’s never gotten closer to a military uniform than a handshake, is so much more cautious about sending men and women into harm’s way than his predecessor, a onetime Air Force pilot?
The conventional wisdom, after all, is that civilians who’ve never seen a bullet fired in anger are far more cavalier about sounding the trumpets to war than a soldier who’s been there.
Lately the Republicans have been proving it right once more. In reference to Iran, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich have been sounding like four year olds playing with tiny toy soldiers on their living room carpets.
In sharp contrast, Obama has been at his most presidential this week on matters of war and peace. Presiding over coffins and amputees will do that to you.
Or as Otto Von Bismark, who knew a thing or two about the effects of steel on flesh, put it, “Anyone who has ever looked into the glazed eyes of a soldier dying on the battlefield will think hard before starting a war. “
“This is not a game. There’s nothing casual about it,” Obama said at his Tuesday press conference, in remarks so solemn they bear repeating.
“And when I see some of these folks who have a lot of bluster and a lot of big talk, but when you actually ask them specifically what they would do, it turns out they repeat the things that we’ve been doing over the last three years, it indicates to me that that’s more about politics than actually trying to solve a difficult problem.”
He’d said much the same two days earlier to a war-feverish audience at the American Israel Political Affairs Committee convention. “Too much loose talk of war,” he said, thinly targeting his Republican rivals as much as pro-Israel extremists, was playing into Iran's hands.
At the White House Tuesday he pounded the theme:
“If some of these folks think that it’s time to launch a war, they should say so. And they should explain to the American people exactly why they would do that and what the consequences would be. Everything else is just talk. . . .“[T]he notion that the way to solve every one of these problems is to deploy our military, that hasn't been true in the past and it won't be true now," Obama said. "We've got to think through what we do through the lens of what's going to be effective, but also what's critical for U.S. security interests...."
Or as Sun Tzu put it, “He who wishes to fight must first count the cost.”
“And so I do think that any time we consider military action that the American people understand there's going to be a price to pay," Obama said. "Sometimes it's necessary. But we don't do it casually.”
Of course, “the cost of freedom” has long been boilerplate for draft-dodging chickenhawks like Gingrich and Romney. Santorum, forever feckless, equated holding office with military service. George W. Bush, as careless a commander in chief as has ever occupied the White House, invoked the death and maiming of soldiers to justify his criminal invasion of Iraq.
Obama obliquely attacked Bush for that this week.
“When I visit Walter Reed, when I sign letters to families that haven't -- whose loved ones have not come home, I am reminded that there is a cost. Sometimes we bear that cost. But we think it through. We don't play politics with it. When we have in the past -- when we haven't thought it through, and it gets wrapped up in politics, we make mistakes," he said at the White House.
"And typically," he added, "it's not the folks who are popping off who pay the price. It's these incredible men and women in uniform and their families who pay the price.”
Indeed. It makes you wonder: How much lower can Romney, Gingrich and Santorum go?