Monday, July 21, 2008

Touch and Go

According to reporters accompanying Barack Obama, travel plans for the Iraq leg of his trip remain secret for security reasons. Fair enough. But, from what we’re told, the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate plans to spend less than 24 hours in Iraq, compared to his two-day stay in Afghanistan.

Senator Obama’s decision to do a ”touch-and-go” in Iraq is easily explained. If he spends more time in that country, Mr. Obama might be forced to expand his itinerary, coming face-to-face with evidence that the troop surge has succeeded, beyond all expectations.

As you’ll recall, Obama opposed the troop surge when it was first proposed, and quickly joined the chorus of Democratic nay-sayers who opined that it would never work. Now, with violence down by as much as 80%--and Al Qaida on the verge of a “strategic defeat” (in the words of CIA Director Michael Hayden), Mr. Obama would rather focus on Afghanistan.

Still, we have noticed a couple of trends in the Obama trip that suggest long-term problems in winning the support of an important constituency--members of the U.S. military. During his first stop in Afghanistan, the senator was seated at a table with local Afghan officials. U.S. military officers, largely responsible for the region’s security, were seated on the other side of the room.

Incidentally, the video snippet of that meeting reportedly came from the cell phone of an Obama aide, anxious to tout the senator's arrival in Afghanistan. So this clearly wasn’t a case of “doctored” footage, or selective editing.

Perhaps there wasn’t a seating chart, or Mr. Obama merely wanted to show his support for the Afghans, but the visual from that meeting was stunning, emphasizing the gulf between the candidate, and the majority of those who serve in our armed forces.

The same divide was also evident during his stopover in Kuwait, before traveling to Afghanistan. Members of the press corps positively fawned over Obama’s enthusiastic reception in a gymnasium at Camp Arifjan; this dispatch from Susan Carlson of WBBM-TV in Chicago is typical.

According to Ms. Carlson, soldiers at the base were “overjoyed” to meet Senator Obama, and greeted him with “thunderous” applause when he entered the gym. But there are a couple of problems with that narrative. First, Camp Arifjan is home to more than 9,000 U.S. military personnel. By some estimates, less than 100 turned out to meet Mr. Obama at the base gym. We’re not sure if that number troops can generate “thunderous applause,” even in the confines of a gymnasium.

Additionally, most of the personnel who greeted Obama were junior enlisted members, and they were overwhelmingly African-American. According to DoD figures cited in a 2006 Heritage Foundation report, blacks make up 14% of the U.S. military, slightly higher than their representation in the overall population. But African-Americans represented at least 70-80% of the gym crowd in Kuwait.

It must have been an uncomfortable moment for the Obama campaign, which has worked tirelessly to assemble “diverse” audiences for various events—and even remove controversial images from the background (remember the “head scarf” incident in Detroit?) But, with Obama’s handlers unable to “regulate” attendance--or the backdrop--on a military base, they were left with a crowd that was anything but diverse.

In fairness, we don’t know how many military personnel at Camp Arifjan had time to attend the event. The mission always comes first, and we’re guessing that a lot of troops were preoccupied with their duties. It’s also a safe bet that a most “career” NCOs and officers deliberately skipped the event, due to its obvious, political overtones.

And that decision does not represent a slight to Mr. Obama—or any other office holder. Many of those who have worn (or currently wear) the uniform don’t like being used as a prop, regardless of a politician’s race, policies, or party affiliation.

So, that “enthusiastic reception” was actually a bit underwhelming, given the size of the crowd and the lack of non-minority faces. But, Mr. Obama made the best of the situation, thanking the troops for their service and draining that three-point shot, an image guaranteed to make the evening news.

Besides, Senator Obama knew that the traveling press would never ask him a couple of rather obvious questions: did the composition of the Kuwait crowd raise any concerns, given the candidate’s outreach to all segments of the voting public?

And, given Mr. Obama’s willingness to meet with military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan, why won’t he participate in the televised, “Armed Forces Town Hall Meeting,” scheduled for next month outside Fort Hood? As we understand it, the invitation for that event still stands, but the Senator has declined to attend, citing some sort of “scheduling conflict.” Memo for the Obama campaign: that snub will stick with military voters a lot longer than the candidate’s three-pointer in Kuwait.
ADDENDUM: Sometime before election day, a MSM type will note the GOP's "problem" with black voters, noting that 10% (or less) typically vote for a Republican presidential candidate. but you won't see similar articles or broadcast pieces about Mr. Obama's troubles with military voters--a group he is trying to court on his foreign policy trip.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

You expect to much. After all, he is just the Paris Hilton of Politics (famous for being famous). And as far as his Excellent Adventure - he's just trying to get his Forrest Gump on (associate himself with someone else's history/ accomplishment).