When The First One Falls

Copyright © by Len Holman, 7/7/14


  The President has sent two relatively small contingents of special force troops to Iraq to assist the Maliki government in staunching the bleeding caused by the fighters of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).  It’s just a few hundred troops, nothing overwhelming, nothing to worry about.  The President has repeatedly and forcefully said that there will be “no boots on the ground” in Iraq. 

  Well, so much for THAT promise.  He should have said “there won’t be very many boots on the ground—for a while, anyway.”  So all our attention is focused on Iraq and the rise in gas prices the turmoil is causing in the States, and not much attention on people like Sgt. Thomas Z. Spitzer.  The headline in my local paper was declarative in its dark black print:  “Marine Killed in Afghanistan.”  Sgt. Spitzer, a five-year Marine vet, was on his second deployment, a mortarman in the 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, killed in combat during a firefight with the Taliban in the Sangin Valley. 

  Nothing, sadly, extraordinary there because I live just a few miles from the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, and during the last few years (and for quite a few years before that), we have felt the thumping concussions from artillery as Marines practiced their calling, and we held onto the dishes in the cupboards when the choppers flew over on training flights, and ground our teeth when we got stuck behind yet another convoy of Marine vehicles coming to the base for training, before going off to make more headlines like that just mentioned.  The Marines came to train and go off to fight, for years, for second and third and fifth deployments.  Young men going off to keep American interests safe.  Some didn’t come back.  Some came back missing pieces of their youth and their bodies.  Some came back whole in body but broken in mind.  Sgt. Spitzer’s death came almost three years, exactly, after the death of his friend in that same deadly valley. 

  Yes, there is still a war on in Afghanistan; there are still people dying there, constantly on duty and scared and alone in the Afghan night, wondering whether they’ll ever see American soil again.  Not too many people seem to care.  Go outside and look around and try to discern whether there is death in the air for American troops in a far off land.  Politicians and chatterers on cable news decry our leaving these countries, countries most Americans can’t find on a map, but who, on holidays like the 4th of July, get so-o-o patriotic and either want us to go in, guns blazing and “fix” things, or get out, every last soldier and Marine, and stay the hell out.  Either way, it is clear that we have had a hold of a tiger by its tail and it refuses to lie down and purr. 

  Enter our cautious Commander-in-Chief.  Of course he is a product of his bi-racial heritage, a man who has had to step lightly, make nice, and get by while being watched by everyone as he grew up, watched for mistakes and missteps—things the young man was extremely sensitive to.  He is a man who doesn’t see—or want to see—the ugly, stubborn, polarized way the world can be, and I wonder how long it takes such a man to choose which socks he’ll wear in the morning.  He chooses his words carefully and he considers.  He considers because he is tiptoeing through a mostly white political world and that’s the color and tenor of life at the top of the political food chain which ends in the big house on Pennsylvania Avenue.  He is a poor manager because he needs, psychologically, to stay aloof and apart, to preserve his preciously –attained and stubbornly-held Self, his independence from unfair and unwanted scrutiny. 

  This also makes him prone to incrementalism, a lack of boldness—which is good in some cases, bad in others, but cannot be a one-size-fits-all solution to everything.  That red line in Syria?  He’ll get back to us on that.  The VA mess? The IRS snafu?  Immigration?  Ditto.  He is unsure and not sure-footed.  Will there be mission-creep in Iraq?  What will happen when the first “advisor” is shot dead or blown up?  How long will it take Senator McCain to become outraged (not very long, by his past record) and how long before Obama says anything about what MIGHT happen next (quite a while, by HIS past record)?  The President held his fire in Syria because even with a program, you couldn’t tell one “rebel” group from another; you couldn’t say whom to support and what support to give.  Now, we apparently know.  Better late than never. 

  The problem with an incrementalist approach is that it implies a fear of making a mistake.  It implies that there is a “solution” to any problem if one just thinks long enough and gets enough advice.  But humans make mistakes, and it is too late for our president to step lightly to please.  There is no pleasing some, and although a person cannot snap his fingers and overcome a lifetime of trying to be accepted, a president must TRY.  There is no doubt in my mind that our President is a good, honorable man, but in this vicious world, he is ill-prepared to lead.  Mr. President, make a mistake, or two or nine.  It’s ok.  There is no “perfect” solution to anything anymore—if there ever was.  Obama had repeatedly told the American public that we are getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan.  And when that first advisor falls, what is going to happen, and how long will it take for Obama to decide?  And isn’t it too late for Sgt. Spitzer?


Return to Bylines

Bookmark and Share