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November 10, 2009

Obama’s Boots on the Ground

Obama Fort Hood Memorial.jpg

Although the Fort Hood shooting rampage was only inferentially connected with the war in Afghanistan, the fact this memorial service…

directly coincides with Obama’s still-ongoing Afghan war assessment…

and Obama’s dramatic visit to Dover ten days ago to visually honor, and own, our war dead…

and occurred on the eve of Veteran’s Day…

and included Obama’s characterization of these deaths as war deaths (“Here, at Fort Hood, we pay tribute to thirteen men and women who were not able to escape the horror of war, even in the comfort of home.”)…

and the speech also included two different references to 9/11…

Obama Fort Hood rifle.jpg

Obama’s presence at the Killeen, Texas base — and the unique emotional symbolism in these pictures — tie and identify the President that much further not just to the military and the war but to Bush/Cheney’s post-9/11 placement of America on a permanent war footing.

The way the hands and the helmet align in this photo, for example, puts Obama’s bond with the military, and these deaths, visually on par with the depth of the bond with his wife.

And in the inset photo (click for full size), notice how Obama forms the link between the photographs of the murdered soldiers and the boots, helmet and and rifle of the “battlefield cross,” the photo coming as close as it can to actually putting Obama into those boots and, more dramatically, putting the soldier’s rifle in his own hand.

Whether Obama and his team were fully aware of the dramatic memorial at Fort Hood (or even thoroughly and enthusiastically embraced it), I find this Administration lacking when it comes to a deeper appreciation — call it a Deaver-level appreciation — of how fundamentally pictures shape and define a presidency.

I appreciate how principled Obama is and how much the value of “taking responsibility” lies at the core of his personality. At the same time, however, I don’t know if his team really gets how difficult it is to adjust your image if you later chose, say, to walk back from a deeper involvement in Afghanistan or a more militaristic profile after embedding yourself so deeply into these kinds of frames.

Certainly, if Obama wasn’t already there just on a much deeper commitment in and to Afghanistan, with these pictures, I’d say he’s “bought the farm.”

(Post revised 11:30 pm PST)

(photo 1: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images. photo 2: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images. caption: US President Barack Obama walks to the stage past one of the 13 pairs of boots, a rifle, and a helmet, memorials during the Fallen Soldier Memorial at the III Corps & Fort Hood Memorial Ceremony on November 10, 2009 in Killeen, Texas, honoring those killed November 5, 2009 at Fort Hood. US Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan, 39, a psychiatrist and specialist in combat stress, allegedly killed 13 people and wounded 42 in the shooting rampage. linked photo: Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters.)

  • Blue Shark

    In Both of the Obama’s faces I see the following thought:
    …Some days really suck!

  • Nemo

    Eyes Wide Open!

  • jonst

    “Bought” it. Remodeling it. Upgrading it. Renewing the soil to grow more of the same. On board brother, on board.

  • nordmend

    surprise, surprise.
    in the top photo, the obscuring glare on the photos of the dead render them, well, faceless.
    each soldier-gun-boot-helmet becomes, visually, just another mass produced killing unit.
    ” inferentially connected with the war in Afghanistan ” ? those aren’t arctic combat boots.

  • bystander

    Obama as figurehead performing ceremonial duties. But is he a titular head? I suspect the images that would explain this one, or give it context are hidden from us. I’m not so sure the farm wasn’t purchased for him a long time ago.

    Some were dismayed to see how quickly the Obama people grabbed at the powers, the secrecy, the unaccountability that had led Bush into such opprobrium.
    Perhaps it should come as no surprise that turning around the huge secret empire built by the National Security State is a hard, perhaps impossible, task.
    Now a new president quickly becomes aware of the vast empire that is largely invisible to the citizenry. The United States maintains an estimated one thousand military bases in other countries. I say “estimated” because the exact number, location, and size of the bases are either partly or entirely cloaked in secrecy, among other things to protect nuclear installations. - Garry Wills; Entangled Giant

  • KingElvis

    I think BAG’s analysis is wrong – in that he thinks making great “Deaver” symbolism has to be backed up with substantive Hawk-iness.
    Remember that it was Reagan who pulled out of Lebanon in response the ‘terrorist’ (not really terrorist to attack soldiers – but it was a suicide truck bomb) attack with nearly 300 dead Marines.
    He then colluded with our bitter enemy and ‘terror’ sponsor, Iran – in fact they had taken US hostages – by selling them missiles – and violating the constitution by keeping it secret from Congress.
    The imagery was 180 degrees from actions. Lets hope Obama’s gravitas toward the Army can be cover for extrication from the Afghanistan quagmire.

  • mcmama

    I see sadness. Huge, aching sadness. The boots, the helmets, the portraits, where the President’s hands fall – it’s all secondary to the grief in these pictures.
    I see a chief executive struggling with the difficulty of the choices he must make. There is no Bush/Cheney chest-thumping here. In fact, would we have seen Bush at this ceremony? I don’t think so. The Bush/Cheney administration lacked the moral courage to face the consequences of their actions.
    I don’t know what the right action is with respect to Afghanistan. The situation there is so much more muddled that it was in Iraq, and I believe that the President is trying to make the right choice – for us, and for them. There are downsides to every possible course. He has to choose among dangers and horrors and he’s trying to make that choice with eyes wide open. These pictures put the difficulty of that choice front and center.

  • jtfromBC

    This part of Obama’s tribute raises alarm bells for me.
    It may be hard to comprehend the twisted logic that led to this tragedy. **But this much we do know – no faith justifies these murderous and craven acts; no just and loving God looks upon them with favor. And for what he has done, we know that the killer will be met with justice – in this world, and the next**

  • Wordsmith

    Tell me why. *Just curious; no criticism.

  • jtfromBC

    In this highly charged emotional event with multiple anecdotal comments,sketchy second hand stories of medical competency, mental condition and religious affiliation of Dr. Nidal Hasa, I felt Obama by bringing Gods Divine retribution offered comfort to many Christians but served to inflamed the growing numbers of our Evangelical Christian military.
    However as time passes I suspect more than a few ‘ordinary Christians’ are asking what Divine retribution is in store for our Christian Leaders, who lied or knowingly offered half truths, whose actions subverted the UN, the Geneva Convention, The International Court and The US Constitution with highly questionable legal advice sought from the Justice Department to justify wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    How will God judge Obama’s retaining many of those illegal Imperial powers acquired from the previous regime, his unwillingness to investigate our own potential criminals and murderers.
    This latest incident is worse than a tragedy it is a result of errors which began the day after 911 and have been accumulating ever since.
    Until some courageous or drastic measures are taken to confront and correct our error strewn path, I fear we are headed for a hell of a lot more killing.
    Sorry for the rambling, my little inner voice started the feeling that something was amiss, for what its worth this is my best response to your very difficult question

  • DennisQ

    I really dislike the idea of representing a dead soldier with a helmet atop a rifle pointed directly into the ground. The pistol grip is somewhat phallic, isn’t it? If it were located farther down from the helmet, the unconscious symbolism would be explicit, and laughable. Along with the helmet and the boots, the pistol grip makes an irreverent comment on a grunt’s life.
    It’s hard to select one aspect that’s more jarring than another. Eleven boxes in a neat row, as if in formation. The picture might be captioned Obama Reviews the Troops. On the right side of the picture, the rifles appear to emerge from the soldier’s boots.

  • bystander

    I am told by people I respect that Barack Obama cannot pull out of both Iraq and Afghanistan without becoming a one-term president. I think that may be true.
    One of the strongest arguments for continued firing up of these wars is that none of these presidents wanted to serve only one term (even Lyndon Johnson, who chose not to run for a second full term). But what justification is there for buying a second presidential term with the lives of hundreds or thousands of young American men and women in the military?
    It is unlikely that we will soon have another president with the moral and rhetorical force to talk us out of a foolish commitment that cannot be sustained without shame and defeat. If it costs him his presidency, what other achievement can match it?
    During his presidential campaign, Barack Obama said he would rather be a one-term president than give up on his goals. Here is a goal no other president we can imagine would have a possibility of reaching. Presidents who just kick the can down the road are easy to come by. Lost lives and limbs are not. - Garry Willis, One-Term President

    Throughout his campaign last year, President Barack Obama said repeatedly that the real central front of the war against terrorists was on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. And now he is living up to his campaign promise to roll back the Taliban and al-Qaeda with significant resources. - Peter Bergen, Winning the Good War

    Isn’t it unfortunate that Obama promised us Afghanistan during his campaign?

  • Wordsmith

    what i originally thot when i heard the president said something about the afterlife and one’s reward was that it was strange, out of sync – something – especially as it relates to what has gone on with the two ‘wars’ in Iraq & Afghanistan. yes, in relation to the lies and the liars who relayed them not only to us but the world, the errors, the murders, the killing, the destruction – the pure destruction. and we’ve haven’t even gotten to what’s happened / happening to those in our military.
    it struck me odd since the military is in essence a killing machine. to me, there’s no correlation between the military and religion. I’m not a fan of evangelicals; i grew with them and around them as a kid. i don’t like much about them and especially their ‘theology.’
    I’m keeping an eye on my nephews for a few days and using my sis’ laptop & it’s not going well. I’ve written out an answer twice and somehow managed to lose it. thanks for answering. if i think of anything else, i post it.

  • nordmend

    “But what justification is there for buying a second presidential term with the lives of hundreds or thousands of young American men and women in the military? [...] ”
    and lest we forget – tens of thousands of non-american dead, _millions of lives disrupted (how many generations for that to heal, even in a best-case-scenario?), countries destroyed, wealth squandered, environments soiled.
    we never talk of war reparations, we can’t even envision that far.
    it’s a bag o’ cats though. if the troops were brought home, they would either a) be sent off to trash some other country, or b) trash america.
    what political entity in the u.s. has the stomach for a serious retooling of the military to actually benefit people? swords to plowshares is easy, bombers to health care, not so much.
    big, big, task ahead of us all, and it’s here now.

  • jtfromBC

    Nadia Hijab, a senior fellow at the Insitute for Palestine Studies, concludes her article, ‘After Fort Hood’ with,
    “In times of tragedy, we all seek meaning and comfort. For me, special comfort came from an unexpected source: Army chaplain Col. Frank Jackson. At the service he conducted at Ft. Hood on Sunday, Jackson noted the tendency to “search for something, someone to blame.” He urged the congregation to “focus on things we know” and asked them not only to pray for the people killed and wounded and their families, but also for the suspected shooter and his family. Hundreds of miles away, I was moved by Jackson’s capacity for understanding and empathy, and I joined him in prayer.”
    I trust Obama heard this directive…

  • acm

    I also noticed what nordmend said — the feeling of mass-produced, perhaps sanitized, units. how different if the display involved actual, worn boots from each soldier?

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