Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Cancellation Choice

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.


James Skylar Gerrond said...

Ok, I'm going to demonstrate some political or protocol ignorance...Why couldn't Obama take Major General Gration with him to Landstuhl? Is this an undue influence regulation that applies since he is a former flag officer?

Mrs. Davis said...

I believe it has nothing to do with Gration's past and everything to do with his current position as political advisor. No one is allowed to turn troop visits, especially wounded troop visits, into political fodder. So politicos are png.

James Skylar Gerrond said...

Ok, Mrs. Davis you are correct, it did not have anything to do with him being a former military officer. Here is a little bit more to the story and a quote direct from Sen. Obama...

"Senator Obama did not want to have a trip to see our wounded warriors perceived as a campaign event when his visit was to show his appreciation for our troops and decided instead not to go,'' Gration said.

But the Pentagon said that wasn't true, that Obama was more than welcome to come, it was just that he couldn't bring the media or campaign staff.

So here's what Obama said about it all:

"The staff was working this so I don’t know each and every detail but here is what I understand happened," Obama said. "We had scheduled to go, we had no problem at all in leaving, we always leave press and staff off -- that is why we left it off the schedule. We were treating it in the same way we treat a visit to Walter Reed which I was able to do a few weeks ago without any fanfare whatsoever. I was going to be accompanied by one of my advisors, a former military officer."

Continued Obama, "And we got notice that he would be treated as a campaign person, and it would therefore be perceived as political because he had endorsed my candidacy but he wasn’t on the Senate staff. That triggered then a concern that maybe our visit was going to be perceived as political. And the last thing that I want to do is have injured soldiers and the staff at these wonderful institutions having to sort through whether this is political or not or get caught in the crossfire between campaigns."

"So rather than go forward and potentially get caught up in what might have been considered a political controversy of some sort," Obama said, "what we decided was that we not make a visit and instead I would call some of the troops that were there. So that essentially would be the extent of the story."

Pulled from...

Unknown said...

Reading between the lines, it looks like Gration had tagged along on previous visits to Walter Reed, in violation of DoD policies. The Obama campaign didn't want to risk getting caught on his high-profile overseas tour, but that brings me back to the original question: why couldn't Obama go to Landstuhl on his own, or with other senators in tow, without Gration?

James Skylar Gerrond said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James Skylar Gerrond said...

@Spook: Despite the fact that you and I don't see eye to eye on politics, I can't begrudge you a very, very valid point.

I can't think of any reason that Obama couldn't have gone to Landstuhl sans Gration. I think this was a pretty large misstep by the Obama campaign.

PCSSEPA said...

Obama is low on substance and low on honor. It doesn't even sound like he is in charge of his own campaign,"The staff was working this so I don’t know each and every detail but here is what I understand happened," Obama said. There was no reason that he couldn't have gone to Landstuhl unaccompanied by Gration. It was going to be a political stop to show his "support" for the troops although he does not support the mission. He is a master sophistrist and we should all be wary of him.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
James Skylar Gerrond said...

ok, the last one was NOT me and I'm not sure why it is showing with my name...