Ah, yes. The infamous “latte salute.” If you haven’t heard about it yet, Obama walked off a helicopter insouciantly clutching an environmentally-deadly Styrofoam latte cup in his right hand. When the two Marines waiting at the base of steps offered him a smart salute, Obama, who seemed to avoid looking at them, vaguely pawed his forehead with the hand holding that cup and then walked on. Here, see it for yourself:
People in the military and conservatives were outraged. Liberals have been outraged at the outrage. Here are a few of the comments I’ve culled from liberals on my “real me” Facebook page:
Obama isn’t military so he shouldn’t be expected to salute.
Reagan started the saluting trend, and there’s no reason to continue it.
Obama has the weight of the world on his shoulders, so it’s ridiculous to expect him to salute.
If you’re going to demand saluting, why not require all presidents to be ex-military. [Bookworm: Not a bad idea, but the liberal who wrote that was obviously being sarcastic.]
We all do things like waving a “hi” while holding a coffee cup. He’s a good guy and sincere.
For military people, the honor of directly serving the president outweighs all other things.
Weak leaders like Reagan (who sold arms to terrorists) disguise their weakness by saluting.
Bush did worse, because he hugged a dog when saluting. [Bookworm: What I see, given my bias, is that Bush found himself holding a dog, and struggled to construct the best salute possible under the circumstances.]
You get the idea. Progressives simply cannot understand why Obama’s failure to perform this silly, formulaic act should excite so much disgust amongst the president’s critics. Certainly, the Left is correct that, just as they viewed every eyebrow twitch on George Bush’s face as a sign of evil or stupidity, conservatives are watching Obama like a hawk for proof that he is indeed a far-Left ideologue, who is hostile to America’s core values and interests. In what is still a kind-of-free political system, this partisanship is natural.
Conservatives, however, are on to something deeper than mere politics or tradition when they look with disgust at Obama’s almost studied disrespect for the Marines. As I mentioned above, you need to look at his body language. It’s not just the limp, cup-in-hand salute he offers; it’s the way he rushes past the Marines, refusing to make any eye contact.
Obama, unlike Eisenhower (whom Leftists note was a general who did not salute the troops), is a wartime president. More than that, he is presiding over the longest war in American history and one, moreover, that appears to be heating up significantly on his watch, with an indefinite, probably far off, end-point.
It doesn’t matter that Obama is trying to distinguish himself from George Bush by promising that his latest war won’t be “boots on the ground” fight. We know that this promise is as untrue as all of Obama’s other promises. After all, Bush also tried a no-boots-on-the-ground strategy, which rejoiced under the name “Shock & Awe.” That strategy failed dismally until the boots-on-the-ground Surge turned the tide.
The reality is that you can bomb battleships and military bases, but you cannot bomb disparate individuals who can instantly melt into the surrounding landscape and population. The only way to deal with that is hand-to-hand combat. That’s what the Israel did to win back Jerusalem in 1967 and to destroy Hamas’s tunnels in 2014; and it’s what the US did to destroy the Iraqi Islamic fanatics in places such as Fallujah.
The problem with boots-on-the-ground fighting is that people die. They die in especially large numbers during the first days of fighting, when the Commander-in-Chief is trying to convince the public in a republican democracy that a ground fight really is a good idea. Sure, these fights produce incredible tales of heroism that are still told around military campfires by modern-day bards, but at the end of the day, a culture that still values most life (more or less, depending on whether the life has already been born or isn’t yet aging its way to death) is left staring at a long list of names carved into a wall.
Moreover, because our Constitution (possibly with an eye to our first president) designates any sitting president as Commander-in-Chief, the American way is for the president to command that all these young men be sent to potential death. This power over life and death is especially large if you’re a Commander-in-Chief who insists on ignoring the clear language in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution that “Congress shall have the Power . . . to declare War” and, instead, contends that he doesn’t need no stinkin’ Congress. He’s the Obama and has the imperial power to declare war.
Not only has Obama given himself the sole power to send these men into battle, he’s doing so at a time when he’s shrinking our military to a size and readiness more consistent with an America right before World War I than with an America fighting a sadistic, hydra-headed enemy all over the world in a battle that has lasted for more than a decade and that promises at least another several years to come. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that more war with less military probably means more military deaths.
So what about that salute? From a lower rank to a higher rank, a salute is obviously a sign of deference. When returned by that higher rank to the lower rank, it’s a sign of respect. The higher ranking officer is recognizing the individual serviceman’s humanity, his training, and his willingness to go into battle. Never is this mutual respect more important than with a Commander-in-Chief who is in the actual process of making life-and-death decisions about these troops.
Given this relationship between America’s Commander-in-Chief and his troops, it’s stunning that Obama’s whole body language says “I don’t see you. You’re not there. You’re not worthy.” Perhaps that’s understandable. It’s so much easier to send the invisible, unworthy ones into battle than to do so with real human beings. After all, as Stalin tellingly remarked to Churchill when the two met at Tehran, “When one man dies it is a tragedy, when thousands die it’s statistics.”
In other words, when conservatives see a Leftist Commander-in-Chief — one who is uncomfortable with the military and who seeks to cut it down to size, even as he plans to send more troops into battle — rush past saluting Marines, avoiding eye contact, and making a bare pretense of a salute, they see a Commander-in-Chief who is saying “Eh, they’re just statistics. Why bother?”