I heard a lot of people praise President George W. Bush for “getting” Saddam Hussein. Hussein was a bad guy; Bush was our President when Hussein was captured. There’s no doubt about it, no matter who we are, no matter what side of the aisle we’re on, we should all admit, the world is a much better place without Saddam Hussein in charge of Iraq.
I heard a lot of people praise President Barack Obama for “getting” Osama bin Laden. bin Laden was a bad guy; Obama was our President when bin Laden was killed. There’s no doubt about it, no matter who we are, no matter what side of the aisle we’re on, we should all admit, the world is a much better place without Osama bin Laden in charge of al Qaeda.
I heard a lot of people say they were “courageous decisions” the Presidents made. It takes “courage” and a lot of “guts” to send our military into harm’s way. In that case, we’ve had a long line of very, very courageous Presidents and Congressmen in our country’s history. We’ve had no shortage of leaders with the “courage” and “guts” to send other men to fight. If giving an order from the comfort and safety of the White House, or the Capital, or the Pentagon is courageous, what virtue do the people that actually do the fighting and the dying have?
Not for nothin', but President Bush didn't get Hussein, President Obama didn't get Osama. There were intelligence types working long hours over many years and months to find them; they all deserve a lot of credit, but how about the actual commandos? Men risking their lives, they’re the people that really "got" them. There are men that fly into danger on speeding aircraft, under the radar very close to the ground with no lights, rush toward gun fire, enter buildings in enemy territory with no idea of what’s on the other side of each door and kill or capture our enemies; they’re the people that deserve every bit of the credit. Just the training to get to their level of professionalism is more than enough to break the vast majority of us (easily much more than 99% of us). Just training for missions like these is enough to make most of us lose control of our bowels. The work, the long hours, no time off, not enough sleep and living in conditions that most of us can’t imagine, and that’s all before they get to go on a mission and get shot at.
Presidents Bush and Obama were very, very, very safe when they “got” the bad guys. In fact, the only thing they really “got” was the good news over the telephone.
The Presidents might have been playing rounds of golf or attending fund raising events, they might have been sitting at their desks, or on a couch, or on Air Force One, or on a couch on Air Force One, or in the Rose Garden, or in a comfortable bed, they might have been vacationing in Texas or Hawaii, all the while with Secret Service Protection, while the commandos were training and preparing for their missions.
The Presidents might (might) have 'risked' their political careers and legacies, but the people that were really risking were the men with boots laced up, faces blackened and weapons in their hands. The Presidents might have been dodging questions from reporters while the men that were sent on these missions were dodging bullets. Who was really risking what? Who would you describe as “courageous”?
Since when did we start giving the people in Washington credit for what the young people in our military accomplish? That really seems relatively new. Presidents live in incredible luxury, they wear expensive suits and shoes, they’re pampered by many private servants, secretaries and chefs, they sit in their climate controlled offices, they have their own army of body guards keeping them safe, so what are they risking? Are they putting their popularity on the line? Do they stand to lose an election if things don’t go well?
Did FDR liberate Europe, or was it soldiers, sailors and airmen? Who was struggling up the sand on Omaha Beach getting blown to pieces? Was it the President? Who defeated the Japanese at great cost on Guadalcanal, Tarawa and Iwo Jima? Was it the President or the Marine Corps? Who flew the missions over Germany and suffered more than 30% casualties on those missions? Was it the President or the Eighth Air Force? Did the President liberate Hue during the 1968 Tet offensive? Was it President Johnson or the 1st Cavalry Division that fought the NVA at the Ia Drang Valley? Who captured Baghdad? Who repelled Picket’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg? Who hung on against the odds at Valley Forge, or Bastogne, or Khe Sanh? Who charged up San Juan Hill?
When the U.S. and our allies invaded Nazi occupied France on D-Day, General Eisenhower had two speeches prepared, one for defeat, one for victory. In the 'fail' speech (written in advance), he praised the soldiers but blamed himself; in his ‘victory' speech, he just praised the soldiers. He didn't give credit or blame to the president, he never even mentioned the president. In victory, the credit belonged to the soldiers; in defeat, he took the blame. I’m pretty sure that's what leadership looks like.
When presidents and political leaders like us to think that they’re the ones doing the dirty work, when we hear them use the word “I” to describe successful military operations, when they pose with a flight suit in front of a “Mission Accomplished” banner, we need to remember who is really getting the jobs done. The commandos that dragged Hussein out of his hole, or flew into Pakistan to kill bin Laden, those are some of the people that deserve to say “I”, but they can’t. Unless there’s a horrible leak to the press, we’ll never know their names. That doesn’t mean we can’t remember that they exist. They’re somewhere out there right now, not saying “I got him”.
While the presidents and people in Washington are rehearsing and reading their speeches, straightening their ties, having makeup applied to their faces, while they’re sipping cold drinks on the golf course, eating seven course meals with their campaign donors, partying with George Clooney, joking with Jay Leno or getting three hundred dollar haircuts, while they’re living in a luxurious fantasy world, the very serious men that go on these risky missions are somewhere else, underpaid, cold and exhausted, either on a mission or training for a mission. They’re somewhere reading the news stories, about the president’s courage.