by Joe Shea
September 4, 2010
A MEXICO LOVED AND LOST
ANGEL FIRE, N.M., Aug. 31, 2010 -- It took 19 months, but as President Obama addressed the American people tonight on the end of the U.S. combat role in Iraq, it was clear to me that the young Illinois Senator had grown into the job a majority of Americans entrusted to him.
The usual suspects of conservative punditry thought he was dull, or disconnected or distracted. But as the father of two Army Captains who served in Iraq with honor, and the son of a Normandy liberator, the connection for me was real and the message was important.
Unlike a Belgian Congo, or a Spanish Morocco, or a French Guyana, or a British Honduras, or a Portuguese Macao, in our lifetime there will be no American Iraq, American Bosnia, American Somalia, or even American Afghanistan.
I thought of U.S. Marine Lt. Michael Felsberg who played ball and ran track with my kids in South Florida. He never returned from Iraq. His parents lost their only child. America lost a leader but the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Mosul, Baghdad, Rawah or Tikrit would be less than they could be if they do not learn of Michael and the thousands of other U.S. men and women who fulfilled a mission many of them would have preferred not doing in the first place.
The President made the connection to the loss of life and limb at a time when money spent on a war he opposed could better have been used in Boston, Binghampton, Boise or Berkeley instead of Baghdad. Unfortunately he does not have the power to recreate that which he inherited.
Americans who gleefully click "Forward" or "Reply to all" to the racist jokes, the Tea Party innuendos, and the Moslem-baiting, could have - in fact, should have - leaned back in their chairs and watched the President of the United States. He candidly and honestly wrestled with the knowledge that his voice and his signature commands those whose coffins are draped with the Stars and Stripes as they are laid to rest, and those whose prosthetics and psyches are the new reality of their lives.
Some critics will call it all political and wonder why a tribute to the Strykers who headed home through Kuwait, leaving behind 55 comrades whose families grieve, should be linked to economic issues. I felt just the opposite.
I wonder if Warren Buffet, the billionaire investor who controls dozens of corporations, will pick up the phone tomorrow and tell his CEOs, "While listening to the President I decided next quarter's 'guidance' doesn't matter. Go ahead and make the deal we talked about, expand the plants in Wichita and Ocala, and let's recruit the best and brightest - especially veterans - for jobs that will pay off in two or five years instead of two or five quarters."
In paying tribute to those who serve in uniform, the President actually pays tribute to the business leaders, politicians, preachers, and teachers I know who never came near a battlefield, have no kids in the military, know no military families, and sadly have even told me that if The Draft is ever reinstituted they will immediately head for Canada.
Although a majority of Americans will deny it, they have not truly believed that America is at war. As another funeral cortege slowly drove into the Santa Fe National Cemetery yesterday for the burial of Pvt. Charles M. High IV, 21, killed in Afghanistan as America went about its normal chores.
Yesterday and today U.S. flags flew at half staff on the governor's orders, but mostly it is just family and friends of the fallen soldier whose lives are changed forever by war.
If the enemies of the President, who hope for a re-election defeat or worse, think that a televised address which asks us to pause and think about Charlie High and his comrades is a waste of time, they might rethink their position.
Charlie played the viola in the Eldorado High School orchestra, taught himself the guitar, and loved Junior ROTC. He was the kid next door squared.
His dad told reporters: "I would say he's a true American hero. He fought and died for his country. He died doing what he wanted to do. I'd just hate to see him go so young, of course, but he was quite a young man all the way around. When he was home we could see how much he had grown. And he'd grown into a nice young man and it was horrible for it to end this way."
The President admonished the Iraqi people that the treasure of American youth is now their legacy to succeed or fail, to change the Saddam Hussein despotic history to something, well, something different.
As a candidate, one has the luxury of soaring rhetoric which too often crash-lands in the maelstrom of future events. As President, there are moments in which one becomes "presidential" and critics be damned.
For tonight's message, thank you Mr. President.