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Sunday, June 23, 2024

Byron Williams: Was visit to Dover just a Photo-Op after all?


Dear President Obama:

I realize the timing of this letter may not be the best. You’ve been preoccupied with the midterm elections.

But the anniversary since your visit to Dover Air Force Base to meet fallen soldiers as they returned home recently passed and I simply would like to inquire whether you have any plans to return?

Maybe you returned to Dover without the press, if so, my deepest apologies for this correspondence. But that seems unlikely.

At the time of your visit, I applauded you for lifting the 18-year ban on media coverage of the return of fallen soldiers to Dover. I have long been a critic of that ban because I felt it not only hid the true cost of war from the American people, it was a political act that shamelessly hid behind the valor of Americans who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

There was no need for you to go to Dover, your predecessor never bothered to show up. But your visit had the makings of a memorable moment, signs of something different emanating from the White House.

It was befitting, but somewhat paradoxical, that a war president, who had just won the Nobel Peace Prize would be there to honor the 18 soldiers recently killed in Afghanistan as you prepared for a potential troop increase.

After your scheduled trip to Dover in the early morning hours to greet the fallen soldiers and their families, I asked, “Would you go to Dover after you revealed your plan for Afghanistan?”

When you visited Dover, I felt you did so on former President George W. Bush’s dime. The fallen soldiers were the result of his policies.

Although you were commander in chief, there was still some distance, allowing you in retrospect to be at Dover as president without having to assume full presidential responsibility.

Since that time you’ve increased troop levels, removing all doubt that Afghanistan is your policy. The fallen now reflect on you, no one else.

In addition to the midterm elections, the health care legislation, TARP, and the BP oil spill, have understandably consumed your time, but we’re talking about war.

Like it or not you are a war president. If you can go to Dover before you enacted your Afghanistan policy, why haven’t you gone since?

I’m clear that the mission is a difficult one. Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev stated this week, “victory is impossible in Afghanistan.” He ought to know.

Moreover, few believe Afghanistan will morph into Jeffersonian democracy, but what’s more alarming is that Afghan President Hamid Karzai hardly reflects characteristics of an authentic ally.

I know Afghanistan’s internal problems impact external behavior that may run counter to U.S. interests in the region, but Karzai makes former South Vietnam President Ngo Dinh Diem look like Winston Churchill.

What may be even more concerning is that Karzai appears to be the best option available. You have increased troop levels for a mission that hardly feels like it has clarity of purpose.

Your decision, though not Faustian, does have that heavy, bogged down feel that suggests an indefinite military presence. You need to return to Dover — not only for the fallen, but also for yourself.

The humility derived from confronting the gravity of such decisions must temper the boldness by which you sent men and women into harm’s way.

As it currently stands, you severely risk making last year’s trip to Dover appear as nothing more than a photo-op. The right wing’s usual suspects of gadflies, offering their bombastic, predictable diatribe said as much.

I discounted them at the time, but your failure to return, at least once since you implemented a new policy gives their utterances more credence than they would otherwise warrant.

Perhaps it’s best that you do not visit Dover. Maybe there was an internal decision to keep you insulated from the tragic residue of your policy decision that is inevitable in war.

Or could it be one year is not enough time between visits?

But Mr. President, I’m afraid there is no way around this; you raised the bar of expectations by your willingness to visit Dover. One year later, it simply appears as one of those things politicians do because it polls well and dominates the news cycle, at least for day.

Too bad, because when you visited Dover, I hoped it had the makings of an iconic presidential moment. Was I wrong?

Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and syndicated columnist. He is the author of Strip Mall Patriotism: Moral Reflections of the Iraq War. E-mail him at or visit his Web site

From The Huffington Post