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March 12, 2012

War Talk

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

President Barack Obama took advantage of a Super Tuesday press event to steal the spotlight from the Republican candidates aspiring to replace him.


While three of those candidates, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former Speaker of The House of Representatives Newt Gingrich and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, were criss-crossing the in-play states making their own case for primary votes, the President stepped up to that famous podium in the West Wing press room.


The podium-mounted Great Seal of the Presidency and White House image superimposed on a blue background convey an overwhelming sense of power and stability.


Unlike a temporary stage thrown together in a high school gym or factory, any thought conveyed from the White House press room just seems more significant.


Past administrations understood the power of that image. You don't see the president in that setting for frivolous reasons; they only play that card when the juice is worth the squeeze.


This time, the subject was war. The most serious conversation a president can have with the American people is when he's talking about engaging in armed conflict.


After a week of focus on the Middle East, thanks to a visit from the Israeli prime minister, President Obama was driven to the Press Room podium by the GOP primary.


Governor Romney, Speaker Gingrich and Senator Santorum have spent the last few weeks talking about Iran. All three have adopted tough-guy rhetoric when discussing the complex theocracy. Alternately, Mitt, Newt and Rick have promised that the Iranians will never possess a nuclear weapon under their leadership.


They casually discuss the use of military force as a mechanism to fulfill that promise. There should never be a casual discussion involving the use of American lives and resources, especially not in the context of a political race.


The three most dominant GOP candidates speak in unison on this point. All three consider the risk of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon a direct threat to U.S. interests, and a serious enough threat to Israel's existence that preemptive military action would be justified.


Not one of these three candidates served in our nation's military. To be fair, neither did our incumbent president, nor is military service a prerequisite to be elected president. Maybe it ought to be.


One thing is for certain. Having to serve, especially in combat or hazardous duty positions, makes one more circumspect when contemplating placing others in a similar position.


That's one reason that the sole Republican candidate who doesn't beat war drums seems to better understand the consequences of such talk. Texas Rep. Ron Paul is a military veteran and an isolationist. One is left to wonder which comes first, his aversion to conflict for conflict's sake, or his deep conviction for the basic principles of liberty.


As the GOP big three were out talking tough, President Obama calmly stepped before the Press Room crowd and gave his rivals a public spanking.


Reminiscent of the Michael Douglas character in the popular Aaron Sorkin film An American President, President Obama used the national media spotlight to show the difference between a guy who wants to be president and a guy who is the president.


Standing tall in front of that blue backdrop, both hands firmly on the sides of the podium, Barack Obama dismissed calls for military force by describing the difference between one who merely speaks of war and one who must commit young Americans to die.


Recent history demonstrates the pain a nation suffers when a young man or woman is killed while defending our country and interests. Flag-draped caskets, rifle salutes and buglers blowing taps evoke strong emotions among even the most jaded.


Whether or not you support President Obama, no one can argue that he now understands the complexities of sending soldiers to war.


The unanswered question, at least at this point, is whether the Republican candidates who want to replace him do.


Here's hoping they figure it out before November.


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