Every time I visit the White House, I am struck by its military environment.
Military guards are on duty, the staff has lunch in the White House mess and there's a helicopter pad for Marine One out on the lawn. You see nothing like this in any governor's office I have visited or in the offices of members of Congress, and certainly not in the headquarters of a political campaign or a community organizer.
This military atmosphere may have seemed congenial to a president who made a career in the military like Dwight Eisenhower, and it was not unfamiliar to those who served in World War II, as his seven successors did. But it can be off-putting to those without military experience, such as the Bill Clinton staffer who refused to speak to Gen. Barry McCaffrey, a snub that required an apology from the president, who had once declared that he loathed the military.
This atmosphere may seem jarring as well to Barack Obama, our only president who lived most of his adult life in university neighborhoods, the part of our society most hostile to the military. But now Obama, who was an adjunct professor at the University of Chicago Law School, is commander, in chief and in a time of war, he must issue commands that will result in the deaths of men and women in uniform.
Watching his Dec. 1 speech announcing his new policy on Afghanistan, I thought I saw two Obamas speaking, the professor and the commander in chief.
He chose a venue even more military than the White House, the Eisenhower Theatre at West Point, and spoke gravely and unsmilingly to the assembled cadets.
"It is in the vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan," the commander in chief informed them. And then he added, as if speaking to the faculty club, "After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home." The professor continued, in a paragraph twice as long, to recall his opposition to the war in Iraq, to describe what he considered its baleful effects and to segue to a discussion of the "worst economic crisis since the Great Depression" -- something that Franklin Roosevelt, who was much closer to that economic crisis, seldom if ever mentioned during World War II.
The commander in chief then noted that the military and their families have "already borne the heaviest of all burdens." And he mentioned some of his own: The condolence letters he has signed, the visits to Walter Reed, greeting the caskets at Dover Air Force Base.