West Point was wrong venue for Obama’s message

Just last month, I had the honor of speaking to three classrooms of cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point – the same venue (although for me, much smaller audiences) from which President Barack Obama delivered his Afghanistan policy speech last week.  In my opinion, the president erred in choosing this spot from which to give this speech.

My father attended and graduated from “the Point” and, although I visited this storied campus only a couple of times as a child, for me any mention of “West Point” invariably conjured up images of “The Long Gray Line” of cadets marching in disciplined unison across the parade grounds (known as “the Plains”).  As recently as my most recent visit last month, I was awed to stand among the cadets at this unique institution, so steeped in the history of the magnificent military leaders it has produced – from Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee, to George S. Patton and Dwight Eisenhower.  But none, perhaps, of these West Point graduates personifies what West Point truly means to America, than Five-Star Gen. Douglas MacArthur, whose statute overlooks the Plains.

As I watched President Obama’s televised speech before an auditorium filled with cadets, I could not help thinking of MacArthur’s final visit to West Point in 1962, when at the age of 82 he delivered a 34-minute speech to more than 2,000 cadets.  His farewell address to the cadets has been called one of the most moving public speeches in American history.  It was delivered in a great hall at West Point, not from a sterile stage with a bland, blue-curtained background, as was the venue chosen by President Obama’s handlers last week.  Unlike our current commander-in-chief who appears to be uncomfortable speaking publicly without the aid of Teleprompters, MacArthur used no notes and employed no mechanical aids other than a microphone so his words could be heard by the assembled multitude.  He chose to do what so many of America’s great military leaders have done – speak to their troops from the heart not from a script.

MacArthur’s words spoken to the cadets on May 12, 1962, centered around the three words emblazoned on the seal of the United States Military Academy – “Duty, Honor, Country.”  This motto, which also is seared in the minds of all who have ever attended that institution, obviously meant so much to the then-retired general that he chose this place and that theme to deliver his final address, capping a long and admirable military career that included the Medal of Honor.

Yes, many presidents and other political leaders have chosen to deliver speeches at West Point and at our nation’s three other military academies.  And there is nothing improper in a president choosing to deliver any speech wherever he wants, including at a military location – after all, the president is the commander in chief.  But there is a time and a place for everything, and what may be appropriate at one time and place, is not necessarily so at another.

If President Obama had read and digested MacArthur’s speech, and reflected on what it said about West Point, before committing to deliver what turned out to be a fairly mediocre policy address from its auditorium, perhaps he would have realized that this was not the right venue, or the right time, or the right message. 

I refer not so much to the substance of what the president spoke about (already, minds far sharper than mine have expressed confusion over exactly what the president’s “plan” is and what it actually means in reality), as about the tone and purpose of his message.  Going to West Point to try and thread a political needle by mixing doses of military policy, domestic politics and economics, and hoping that such a muddled message will gain military gravitas simply because it is delivered at West Point, confirms that this president does not yet truly understand the majesty of either the office he occupies or of the military he commands.

42 comments Add your comment

jopar

December 7th, 2009
7:58 am

Bob, you would pick that preening, egotistical, down-right disturbed McArthur to make your point.That momma’s boy did not understand the majesty of the office of the presidency either, but Mr.Truman from Independence fixed that!
There’s way too much idolatry of things military in this country already.

Conservative White Male

December 7th, 2009
8:00 am

He should have held it at the U.N., they are the only ones who believe in peace.

West Point should have respectfully declined Obama’s invitation to speak. He has never served in the military and he also hates the troops with a passion. He wants them to get killed so our military will be weakened and then Al-qaeda can walk right over the border

Mutts R Stupid

December 7th, 2009
8:16 am

In the name of fighting our enemies, every disgrace in the book has been committed by these pointed headed clowns, from murdering crowds of civilians in Korea because they might contain a few communists, to the mass murder in Viet Nam of anyone and everyone with slanted eyes, to the slaughter of retreating Iraqi troops in 1991, to reckless air strikes against civilians in villages across Iraq and Afghanistan. There is no Duty or Honor in any of that, just cowards wrapping their ugly rear ends in the flag for cover. We have been reduced to fighting third world peoples in their own counties, and LOSING, as we rightly should. Enough of these foreign wars in the name of creating democracies. Enough of the puppet governments. Abolish West Point, and both the other service Academies, they just give the politicians an army to play with, and that never ends well.

BlastFromThePast

December 7th, 2009
8:31 am

MacArthur was a pompous and dangerous warlord who got FIRED by his civilian boss for being a danger to this country. Bob, try a safer form of complaining and whining. Ike and Reagan are ok since they slept most of the time and didn’t command significant live wars.

Chris Broe

December 7th, 2009
8:58 am

MacArthur delivered that moving address to the cadets at West Point exactly five months before the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Only a scant ten years before that, keynote speaker MacArthur could not hold the attention of Republican delegates at the 1952 national convention.

A blink of only a year before that (1951) MacArthur had urged Truman to invade China, and talked openly with the press about his sure path to victory over communist forces in Korea.

MacArthur finally conceded the larger point about civilian control of our strategic military vision during his farewell address at West Point, and so armed with that confirmation of our nation’s founding purpose, (war as last resort), JFK was able to resist the attack plans of his generals about Cuba, and the world was saved (till the next general goes full Dr Strangelove).

Chris Broe

December 7th, 2009
9:06 am

I think the chide, “wrong war at the wrong time with the wrong enemy” was coined then by Gen. Omar Bradley, as the joint chiefs one by one abandoned support for MacArthur’s strategic vision about China.

Of course Bradley could have stolen the phrase from French surrender monkeys but who knows.

Road Scholar

December 7th, 2009
9:11 am

CWM or MRS: I am having trouble with which one of you is more….Stupid!

Enough of the teleprompter comments. Anyone who has given a presentation has used notes/outline/etc. If not you were not in a politically charged arena where any slip would be pounced upon. Or you didn’t care about any fallout. Would you rather have a power point presentation? Where was Perot’s graphs and charts?

Scout

December 7th, 2009
9:16 am

He should have given the speech at the Vietnam Memorial and if he hasn’t been there yet, he needs to take a midnight stoll to the mall and read every name ………………………

Scout

December 7th, 2009
9:25 am

Jacky Jack

December 7th, 2009
9:45 am

Mutts Are Stupid…. 8:16Post. You are quite misinformed. Solders salute sharply and charge up the hill. They don’t make policy or commit troops into combat. They simply follow orders. As for as them being cowards, I simply say this to you. “You would have to stand on your momma’s shoulders just to kiss their as…..”

Mutts R Stupid

December 7th, 2009
9:56 am

Jacky Jack, it is the individual soldier who commits the war crime, like Lt Calley at Mai Lay. Using napalm on a third world people just because you have the ability to do so, and they do not have the ability to do it to you is a war crime in my book. Those are human beings you are burning to death, and remember they are fighting on their soil, defending their land against YOU trying to impose an AmeriKan puppet government disguised as a democracy. AmericKa has made many enemies over the last 100 years, and when the dollar dies, as it must, we will have ZERO friends and 100% enemies who will give us NO mercy. We reap what we sow.

lmno

December 7th, 2009
9:57 am

You’re a very negative person Mr. Barr. You are beginning to remind me of Andy Rooney with the complaining about nothing.

Mark

December 7th, 2009
9:58 am

There have been good articles and bad opinion articles by Bob Barr, but I do not remember one as pointless as this one. Bob, could you not tell AJC: “Sorry guys, I know I am to write something, but I do not have a thought in my head right now, and it would be a shame to waste a third of the Opinion page on a piece of drivel lacking any meaning, which is the only thing I can think of today.”?

sam

December 7th, 2009
10:17 am

maybe he should’ve given the speech from an aircraft carrier docked 500 yards from shore with a banner reading “bob barr’s columns are pointless drivel”

sam

December 7th, 2009
10:19 am

by the way, those west point cadets are some of the finest people america has to offer..lets not confuse them with some troubled kid with nowwhere else to go that ends up joining the military…

Chris Broe

December 7th, 2009
10:29 am

“His farewell address to the cadets has been called one of the most moving public speeches in American history.”

Second in importance only to George Washington’s who headed off a mutiny by his generals with his own moving speech to them after independence had been secured and the Revolutionary War was over.

I actually think is the best piece Barr has written to date on this blog because of it’s larger context. Barr is refuting the civilian judgement of our commander in chief like MacArthur refuted the judgement of his commander in chief.

It is a moving, and fitting tribute to an old soldier. That it reads like Operation Valkyrie does not detract from it’s poetic value as art.

Jacky Jack

December 7th, 2009
10:33 am

Mutts Are Stupid….I don’t want to get into a pissing contest with you but….You seem to me to be a “Water-Walker” a “Crusader”. In war, sir, there is the way it is and the way it ought to be. Unfortunately, we live in the way it is. I didn’t/don’t believe in some of the conflicts that we have been involved in. However, calling the soldiers that are called on by there country and answer that call “cowards” is simply inexcusable. If you disagree with the policies “voice” your opinion in the voting booth. Not hiding behind a computer screen. This seems to me to be, well…cowardly.

john

December 7th, 2009
10:34 am

“the majesty of either the office he occupies or of the military he commands.”

*the majesty* of the military he commands… HAHAHA roflmfao. nice, Mr. Barr, nice.

Jacky Jack

December 7th, 2009
10:43 am

Sam….10:19 post. “Troubled kid with nowhere else to go.” I served with some of those “troubled kids”. Some were drafted, some joined. Most served honarably. Don’t go shooting all the dogs just cause one of them has fleas! I also agree that West Point produces some of America’s finest. But the NCO’s make the Army work.

dewstarpath

December 7th, 2009
10:54 am

- It’s the Long GRAY Line. The color, not a name.
And what’s up with “mutts r stupid” ?

sam

December 7th, 2009
11:00 am

Jack, you’ve got to admit there are a few (small percentage) that fit the description…none come out of west point. and i agree, about the dogs/flees thing..these guys go and fight, wherever that may be, no questions asked (publicly at least). for that they deserve our respect.

Joan

December 7th, 2009
11:16 am

This administration is filled with a bunch of political correctness weinies–who insist that three Navy seals, in the commission of their duty to find and apprehend a terrorist who brutually killed US civilians, gave the guy a bloody lip, are court martialed, while at the same time giving known terrorists an opportunity to avail themselves of the leftist media who will spew the sick garbage they will vent at the trial in New York for months if not years. I wonder whose side Obama is really on. I have said it before, he is the Manchurian candidate become reality. He is very dangerous.

sam

December 7th, 2009
11:19 am

thanks joan..i need a little crazy on monday mornings

DJ

December 7th, 2009
11:26 am

Typical wrong-wing crap. All wrong-wing robots, repeat after me: “WE MUST OPPOSE ANYTHING OBAMA SAYS OR DOES. WE MUST OPPOSE ANYTHING OBAMA SAYS OR DOES. WE DO NOT NEED IDEAS OF OUR OWN. WE DO NOT NEED IDEAS OF OUR OWN (besides cutting taxes on the wealthiest 1% of course).

Talk about a bankrupt line of reasoning. Hey Barr – while you’re at it – why don’t you complain that he was wearing the wrong shoes, and that his breakfast wasn’t “patriotic enough”, or maybe it should have started 15 minutes earlier to be how ‘real Americans’ do it.

Honestly: THE REPUBLICANS LOST. Remember? America didn’t elect Obama as much as the media claims – AMERICA VOTED SOUNDLY TO KICK THE REPUBLICANS OUT. You had eight years and you did as much damage to this country as everyone in the last hundred combined. So sit down, be quite, and if you behave maybe someone will call on you during the question and answer portion.

The wrong wing had it’s chance and THEY BLEW IT. Now it is someone else’s turn. No guarantee they will get it right, but AMERICA WANTS THEM TO TRY. NOT YOU AND YOUR ILK.

DJ

December 7th, 2009
11:27 am

hey JOAN – you think Obama is the Manchurian candidate, but I bet you LOVED George Bush and that guy couldn’t even read. Is that really who you want leading the most powerful country in the world? A guy who can’t read?

dewstarpath

December 7th, 2009
11:40 am

DJ – you nailed it on the head, but the message
will fall on deaf ears.

Mark

December 7th, 2009
12:08 pm

“Barr is refuting the civilian judgement of our commander in chief like MacArthur refuted the judgement of his commander in chief.”

That is a laugh. Firtst of all, Barr is not refuting anything. He admits it: “I refer not so much to the substance of what the president spoke about …” So what is all the article about? ” Yes, many presidents and other political leaders have chosen to deliver speeches at West Point …” “And there is nothing improper …” There is no substance in what Barr has written, other than petulant griping.

ohmy

December 7th, 2009
12:24 pm

Please read, if you have not, Rick Atkinson’s The Long Gray Line

ohmy

December 7th, 2009
12:32 pm

Joan. Use something besides Fox News as your credible source. The guy was punched in the stomach after he was in custody. I would have taken the opportunity to punch this guy as well, but I am not in the Navy. Discipline is paramount (they teach you this in the armed services) and this is how the Navy does things, especially in the wake of moments like, say…Abu Ghraib.

Fred

December 7th, 2009
1:01 pm

Bob, your opinion reminds me of a very thorough, strategic and informative presentation a group leader made to our organization and one of the first commenters informed him he misspelled the word believe. For you to comment on such drivel as to venue, but be oblivious to substance, speaks volumes about your mindset and motives. God save this country!

The American People

December 7th, 2009
1:03 pm

Obama : No class, No experience, No idea. Change in 2010 and 2012, Change we are looking forward to. Yes we can!!

Derwood

December 7th, 2009
1:50 pm

DJ
Republicans lost has nothing to do with people’s comments about Obuma. Obma will have America close to socialism by the time his term is out. People are finally beginning to see Obuma for what he really is. He is a wolf in sheeps clothing. His excessive traveling as teh coutnry goes broke is uncalled for. The waste he continues to use while traveling all over would generate thousands of jobs for America. I am grom Georgia and I hold Sanford Bishop our representative responsible for all teh sewing plants to leave America. Do you know how Obuma plans on handlign teh illegal immigrants that continue to come to America. We had a Tomato farmeer in south georgia checked by Home land securtiy to make sure he was in compliance with all rules and laws. He was, which disappointed Home land Securiy. HLS told him it has pretty well been decided the best way to handle the illegal immigrants is to close down farming operations that use this type of labor, which will cause the illegal to stop coming into America. Now isnb’t this a pitiful way for a commander in chief to handle this problem? This DJ is the mentality in which Obuma thinks. May God remember those who voted for Obuma.

StevenCee

December 7th, 2009
2:06 pm

While I’ve most often agreed with your views, on this I am disappointed in what looks like petty, & off-point finger-pointing. He came there, so he could explain why he is sending THEM into harm’s way, since it’s THEM, and not any other Americans, called upon to sacrifice for this terribly mismanaged excursion. And simply because the TRUTH is that he faced NO good strategies (thank you Rumsfeld/Bush/Cheney), so he had to choose one, and his low-key presentation reflected the somber, and unpleasant action he is taking.

This is NOT a moment for a rah-rah, cheerleading moment, and I’m glad he didn’t fall prey to that facile temptation. For all the gung-ho rhetoric of the last Commander-in-Chief, it sure didn’t accomplish much, perhaps he was heeding Theodore Roosevelt’s “walk softly & carry a big stick” advice, than following the footsteps of his failed predecessor….

As to “truly understanding the gravity of the office” (of the presidency), perhaps that concept should’ve been in your mind, before leading the witch hunt, …err…. impeachment of one of our recent presidents. One who I am no fan of, but still believe that distracting & destructive circus did this country far more harm, than his removal would’ve done good….

"refero quattuor"

December 7th, 2009
3:40 pm

Margaret Thatcher: “The trouble with Socialism is, sooner or later
you run out of other people’s money.”

“When you subsidize poverty and failure, you get more of both.”
James Dale Davidson, National Taxpayers Union

“The more corrupt the state, the more it legislates.” Tacitus

“A Liberal is a person who will give away everything he doesn’t
own.” Unknown

Politicalcompass.org

December 7th, 2009
3:45 pm

Conservative White Male- Simply an idiot. Please refrain from using this message board.

Barr didn’t say anything remotely controversial here, and it seems many of you are eager to bash one of our old generals today.

Stop with the ad hominid, and if you don’t know what that means, look it up, or better yet, go get a college degree.

Jefferson

December 7th, 2009
4:01 pm

Maybe we should privatize the Army then contractors(um… who can we enrich?) can charge rent for providing a backdrop for speeches

The substance of the speech was wrong, imo.

Mark

December 7th, 2009
4:19 pm

Politicalcompass.org: It should be “ad hominem.” You should have looked it up. It is a wrong use of the expression anyway,

sam

December 7th, 2009
4:33 pm

thanks mark..i wasnt going to say anything and be labeled a douche

Bill Sutherland

December 7th, 2009
5:03 pm

Bob;

OK your dad went to West Point… what have you done lately for your country Bob?

… Are you one of those famed journalist’s that needs only to complain yet finds nothing to help. Our nation is in hard times Bob; and all you have to write about is how our Commander and Chief decided to address this nation in one of his more serious decisions since he took office to send more troops in harms way? What have you done Bob…complain and piss off the rest of us in the military by yelling how unfair it is that our Commander decided to address one of the most precious commodities we have left, our young men and women who are the brightest and have decided to serve our nation?
At West Point? You call it “The Point?” I’ve heard it called USMA, West Point…but never the Point?
So what have you done for this country? Have you ever served? Have you ever worn a military uniform? I doubt it… My son who attends there now is in his Junior year and he didn’t complain about the President coming. Even though all 4400 of them had to sit for three hours and wait for President Obama to arrive. Yet none of them complained. But you and the rest of your conservative cronies should have the koninis to write why? Why Not? He is the President and he decided to speak there.
First as Commander and Chief, he has the absolute right to do so. But more so why not address those outstanding young men and women who will on the horizon be going overseas to fight against those that would love to see this country fail.

Your demeanor is biased and oddly only because your dad attended there. If you had served one day in battle for defense of this country maybe, just maybe you might have some silly reason to complain. But you and your conservative friends think just because the President didn’t serve in the military why does he have the right to speak there? As a 30 year military man, enlisted that has fought in defense of this county in two wars I think he (as the President has every right to speak to the nation with the Cadets as a background). Now before you note anything about me, I didn’t vote for him. But he is in office by a commanding lead and was elected. So now he is our commander.

The answer should be obvious yet your own redundancy fails you. Wake up Bob smell the coffee. ..

Joan

December 7th, 2009
5:19 pm

And today the administration tells us next year will be the bloodiest on the battlefield. And, what exactly are we doing there??

StevenCee

December 7th, 2009
8:46 pm

Great post Bill Sutherland! And many sincere thanks for your service…..

Stumpy

December 7th, 2009
9:47 pm

DJ: You’re really going to stand by the statement that GWB can’t read? Dumbest thing I’ve read in months. Thanks for making liberals look even worse.