John McCain continues to hammer Barack Obama for cancelling a planned visit with wounded troops at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. Senator McCain has already rolled out a new ad on YouTube; it reminds voters that Obama found time to go to the gym during the Germany leg of his foreign policy excursion, but passed on meeting with wounded warriors from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Not surprisingly, two different versions of the cancellation decision have emerged in recent days. According to Obama's handlers, the Senator wanted to avoid turning the visit into a "political event." In response, the Pentagon says the candidate cancelled after being told that he couldn't take members of his campaign staff--or his own cameras--in the hospital.
While Mr. Obama's decision has spurred plenty of debate, there is one element that deserves greater scrutiny. Major Garrett of Fox News was one of the first (and few) reporters to note that Obama's visit was cancelled after being informed that his chief military advisor, retired Major General Scott Gration, would not be allowed to accompany him to Landstuhl.
We've written Gration and his role in the Obama campaign in previous posts. He retired from the Air Force two years ago and was one of the first flag officers to endorse the Illinois Senator's presidential bid. Gration also played a leading role in recruiting other retired generals and admirals to the cause, including his former boss, former Air Force Chief of Staff Merrill "Tony" McPeak.
Since then, Gration has become a key member of the Obama team. When the presumptive Democratic nominee met with Jordan's King Abdullah last week, General Gration was the only other person in the room. There has also been some speculation that Gration had a hand in recent attacks on John McCain's military record, although he has not publicly criticized the Republican nominee, leaving such chores to attack dogs like Wesley Clark and General McPeak.
As a senior advisor Mr. Obama, General Gration would not be allowed to visit Landstuhl in that capacity. Apparently that rule--applied to both campaigns--struck a nerve with Obama, and he decided to cancel the hospital visit.
But that begs a rather obvious question: why was Gration's participation so necessary for the trip to Landstuhl? As the McCain campaign noted, Senator Obama is free to visit any military medical facility in his "day job" as a lawmaker. Indeed, preparations for his arrival began well before Obama began his world tour.
And, getting there from Berlin is no problem. Landstuhl is located in the large American military community in southeastern Germany; just assemble a motorcade, hop on the autobahn, and you'll be there in less than three hours. Or, just ask the military for a helicopter to ferry Obama and his fellow senators to and from the medical center. Should be easy enough to arrange.
But without Gration in his contingent, Mr. Obama decided to take a pass. Did the Senator feel he needed some sort of military "top cover" to make the trip? Someone who could explain the finer points of the medical evacuation system and military health care? Or, someone who could lend a little "gravitas" members of the armed forces? Whatever the reason, General Gration's participation was deemed so important that without him, the visit to Landstuhl was cancelled.
If Obama can't negotiate his way through a military treatment ward without flag-level escort, it speaks volumes about his "comfort level" around members of the armed forces--and it won't win any of the respect he referenced in a recent interview.
On the other hand, if the candidate (or members of his campaign) view such visits through a pure, political prism, it says even more about how they view the military--especially when Senator Obama still found time for a workout, sightseeing, and a brief photo-op with German para-military police.
In any case, the Landstuhl decision will come back to haunt Mr. Obama. General Gration understands that, and should have insisted that his candidate keep the commitment, with or without him.