Wednesday, December 02, 2009

President Obama's Letters of Condolence to Families of the Fallen

Shortly after President Obama took office earlier this year, we found out that he had taken a different tact in writing condolence letters to families of the fallen from Iraq & Afghanistan. President Barack Obama has asked staffers to gather details about troops killed in overseas operations so he can personalize condolence letters to their families, according to a report in the Washington Times this week.  If Bush personally signed the letters (my own condolence letter from Bush appears to have been signed by an auto-pen), Bush's letters included nothing personal to make families feel as if their loss had been personally acknowledged by their loved one's Commander in Chief. Obama's approach to writing letters of condolence was a nice change.

When President Obama spoke at West Point about his new Afghanistan strategy called A New Way Forward, he said as President, I have signed a letter of condolence to the family of each American who gives their life in these wars.  It's too bad that isn't true.

We learned recently that the White House has an unwritten policy of not sending letters of condolence to the families of troops who took their own lives.  This is a harsh reality to families whose loved ones lives were lost from the invisible wounds of war.  This policy is not new to the Obama administration and neither was the ban on media coverage at Dover AFB, as soldiers returned in flag covered caskets. Shortly after President Obama took office, he lifted the media ban.  Obama should change this shameful White House policy that cruelly refuses to acknowledge the families tragic loss while their loved one served their country.

Troops who kill themselves on the battlefront or after they return to the homefront are casualties of war as surely as those who die in the field of battle.  The Department of Defense is just coming around to acknowledging the terrible number of suicides as they ponder new policies to try to deal with this tragic consequence of war. While the military has yet to acknowledge the causes of these high number of suicides, it seems clear that 9 years of war and all of the physical and mental strains that exists in battle might be the first place to look.

The Las Vegas Sun wrote a fitting editorial about the family of Chancellor Keesling and their pursuit of receiving the "final honor", a letter of condolence from their son's Commander in Chief.
In November, the Army announced that 140 soliders had committed suicide this year, equaling the record number of Army suicides recorded for 2008. We are reminded of what then-Army Secretary Pete Geren said last year: “Army leaders are fully aware that repeated deployments have led to increased distress and anxiety for both soldiers and their families.” 

The Army now tells soldiers that mental illness is not a condition of which they should be ashamed, and that seeking help will not stigmatize them. But that might be hard for them to believe when the families of their fellow soldiers who committed suicide do not receive letters of condolence from the president.
The president should send condolence letters to all casualties of war, no matter what the cause.  We owe our troops this final honor.

Bad Plan for Afghanistan

I am having deja' vu all over again and I don't mean that in a good way. I don't feel good about this new surge in Afghanistan.  President Obama (or fill-in-the-president) announces 30,000 (or fill-in-the-number) troops to be sent to Afghanistan (or fill-in-the-country)  with a goal of withdrawing forces in 2011(or fill-in the date).  We've heard it before.

President Obama appeared at West Point to give his speech this evening.  It seemed different than when former president Bush spoke surrounded by members of the US military wrapping himself in the flag to portray himself as one of the troops and not as their leader.  Tonight, the Commander in Chief told the cadets "I owe you a mission that is clearly defined and worthy of your service". I wonder how many of those cadets, will return home in a flag covered casket from serving in Afghanistan.  Will Obama go to Dover AFB to witness the dignified transfer of their remains as they return to their final resting place?

Obama tells us that General McChrystal  finds condition in Afghanistan "more serious than he anticipated" and McChrystal's escalation is the path our new President has chosen.  What about Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry's and other's serious reservations about deploying more troops to Afghanistan in the face of widespread corruption in Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government?

This Afghanistan strategy is not a "New Way Forward" as the White House tells us.  This strategy is rolling back 9 years ago and starting over with the strategy we should have had in 2001- remember back in December 2001 when Bush spoke of  bin Laden's capture and said he doesn't care how the suspect is brought to justice. "I don't care, dead or alive — either way," Bush said. "It doesn't matter to me."  Apparently nothing in Afghanistan mattered to Bush.  The U.S.squandered any opportunity to be successful in the pursuit of bin Laden and in fighting al Qaeda/ the Taliban in 2003, when the Bush administration took their eye of the ball and moved their little green army men over to Iraq.  Troops in Afghanistan have carried a terrible burden of being the red-headed step child when they were abandoned, with the lack of troops to accomplish the original mission of capturing Osama bin Laden. While we have a new administration, I am not convinced that we haven't lost our opportunity for a military success in Afghanistan.

I believe that President Obama when he said I do not make this decision lightly.  I opposed the war in Iraq precisely because I believe that we must exercise restraint in the use of military force, and always consider the long-term consequences of our actions.  We have been at war now for eight years, at enormous cost in lives and resources.  Years of debate over Iraq and terrorism have left our unity on national security issues in tatters, and created a highly polarized and partisan backdrop for this effort.  I just believe that he made the wrong decision.

Our country has been at war for 9 years in Afghanistan or Iraq or both. My mind was not changed by Obama's speech describing his new strategy. I only have one question- How many more?  How many more flag covered caskets?  How many broken families; how many children who will endure much of their childhood without one parent or the other? How many new Gold Star families? How many more billions of dollars should be spent? How many needless deaths to support a corrupt, dysfunctional government? How many more wounded veterans and their families will go without care or without sufficient care when they return?  How many multiple deployments must our military serve while so many Americans sit on the sidelines with no skin in the game?