Almost anything this White House says is what Tom Sawyer called “a stretcher,” unless it’s a fib, or sometimes a lie. Perhaps it’s not willful. Barack Obama seems to think that if he says something, it must be true.
The president is determined to preserve his campaign promise that so long as he is president the United States will never, never see combat. But since Americans do “see combat,” and are seeing it every day in the Middle East, he has to make sure that combat is not called combat. This is of a piece with his earlier insistence that the radical Islamic officer who shot up Fort Hood, Texas, killing 13, was not the perpetrator of terrorism, but merely a purveyor of “workplace violence,” perhaps nothing more than the warehouse cat pouncing on a rat. It’s not clear who Mr. Obama thinks he’s fooling, but he may believe it himself.
Peter Cook, the press secretary at the Pentagon, acknowledged the other day that while American soldiers may find themselves in “combat situations” in Iraq, that doesn’t mean they’re in a “combat role.” Mr. Cook later realized that his job description doesn’t necessarily include making himself look silly, and tried to recast his remarks. “They have found themselves under fire,” he said, and “that is combat.” But they “are not in the lead in combat operations.”
If Mr. Cook recalls his experience in military service, if his military experience is something more than watching old war movies over a Memorial Day weekend, he’ll remember that soldiers regard both incoming bullets and outgoing bullets as what a soldier (and everybody else) calls “combat.” The president’s wishes have nothing to do with definitions. Mr. Obama’s White House should get lessons in remedial English.
The actual facts about the American role are clear enough. The Pentagon earlier conceded that the Marine Corps had deployed an artillery unit close to the front in Iraq, firing real shells (which look something like bullets, only a lot bigger) and that a Marine had been killed there. Questions about what the Americans are doing in Iraq pains the Obama administration. This is not necessarily pain about the sacrifice of brave men, but pain about what acknowledging the facts does to Mr. Obama’s adamant insistence that American soldiers won’t have a combat role in the U.S. operation called Inherent Resolve, which began almost two years ago.
The president’s inherent resolve, but not the fierce resolve necessary to win wars, has spread beyond Iraq. “They’re not going to be leading the fight on the ground,” the president said of his troops in April, when he announced that he would send 250 soldiers, mostly special operations forces, to Syria. “But they will be essential to providing the training and assisting local forces.”
Perfuming the language and pretending that combat does not draw the blood of soldiers if it’s called something else demeans the sacrifice of good men and true. It sends the message that the president is not inherently serious about doing what must be done to win the day. America’s enemies — and the enemy is exactly what they are — have got Barack Obama’s number, and the president himself is the man who gave it to them.