Pinera staked his entire political future on the high-risk endeavor he called Operacion Esperanza, or Operation Hope. He was effusive in describing the lengthy rescue effort as "the miracle at San Jose mine," spoke unabashedly of the faith of the trapped men and their families, called the rescuers and the rescued "heroes," and overtly thanked God for answering their prayers.
Minutes later, the impromptu airport celebration ended as quickly as it started. By the time the Air Force pilot and I reached our boarding gate, the televisions in the terminal had cut away to a commercial. When programming resumed, it was for a news update. The Reaper pilot nodded toward the nearest TV and said: "It would be nice if he could give us accolades like we just saw for what we're doing in Afghanistan. But I guess that won't happen unless someone puts it in his teleprompter."
On the screen was a recap of America's commander in chief making a political speech at George Washington University. According to the caption beneath his image, President Barack Obama was talking about "Moving America Forward." Few in the airport were paying attention.
The contrast between the two heads of state, Pinera and Obama, was palpable -- and should serve as a lesson for the surviving members of the O-Team. If Obama wants to preserve his presidency, he needs to take a page from the Pinera playbook.
Chile's president was fully invested in the success of rescuing the trapped miners. Unlike Obama during the offshore oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Pinera was very much a hands-on manager during the two-month, meticulously planned rescue operation, consistently under-promising and over-delivering. He was humble enough to reach out to others for technical help. The 13-ton drilling equipment that cut the rescue shaft through solid rock was delivered in 48 hours from Pennsylvania. And after Luis Urzua -- the last miner to be rescued from "that dark hole in the earth" -- came out, Pinera unabashedly led his countrymen in an emotional, spontaneous rendition of their national anthem.
Obama could garner considerable advantage by associating himself with some of his own very bright, brave countrymen: those serving in Afghanistan. American courage, faith and perseverance abound in the shadows of the Hindu Kush. And like the rescue in the Chilean desert, it is a great success story. But claiming this triumph will require that our president overcome his severe case of victory-deficit disorder.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.