But he wasn't in Afghanistan out of mere pride for the troops. As usual, Obama was using the troops for political purposes. Whether he's taking credit for their successful missions ("Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan") or portraying them as victims of brutal, hawkish foreign policy (we "have seen over 3,000 lives of the bravest young Americans wasted" in Iraq), the troops are but implements in Obama's quest for political victory.
And so Obama headed for Afghanistan when news broke that hospitals with the Veterans Affairs had falsified waitlists, resulting in the deaths of dozens of veterans. Because he cares.
This follows a long pattern for Obama. In April 2009, Obama flew to Iraq for a surprise visit. The press dutifully recorded accounts of cheering throngs of troops eager to get a picture of the president with their cameras. They did not, however, report on allegations at the time that soldiers were pre-screened for placement at the Obama event, and that cameras were handed out to the troops.
In October 2009, Obama got up early -- earlier even than he usually does for his tee times -- to visit Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, and watch the coffins of fallen soldiers come home, amid accusations that the war in Afghanistan was spiraling out of control. The New York Times reported, "The images and the sentiment of the president's five-hour trip to Delaware were intended by the White House to convey to the nation that Mr. Obama was not making his Afghanistan decision lightly or in haste." That sentence disappeared from the original report shortly after it hit the Internet.
The following month, Obama visited Osan Air Base in South Korea, where he stood before troops and stated, "you guys make a pretty good photo op." He used that perspective to its full advantage one month later, when he announced his short-term, midlevel surge in Afghanistan at West Point (New York).
And, of course, when push came to shove during his re-election campaign, Obama showed up -- surprise! -- in Afghanistan, on the one-year anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden, where he stated, "The goal that I set -- to defeat al-Qaida and deny it a chance to rebuild -- is now within our reach."
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