November 2, 2009 | Commentary on Afghanistan War, National Security and Defense, Terrorism

Visit the War Zone, Mr. President

Despite all the Obama administration's chin- rubbing and hand- wringing about how to proceed in Afghanistan, the president hasn't been to the war-torn country since entering the White House.

Actually, it's worse: He hasn't been to Afghanistan in almost 15 months -- since he made a quick two-day visit in July 2008, as a senator and presidential candidate.

Think about it: If you were involved in a critical issue overseas -- such as a big business deal or the health of a loved one -- wouldn't you go and visit, so that you'd have the benefit of seeing things firsthand before making an important decision?

Of course you would -- but President Obama, the US commander in chief, hasn't.

Now, Joe Biden visited Afghanistan as vice president-elect before the Inauguration -- and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry just came back from a trip, and on his return briefed the president.

But Obama has been relying on the views and insights of others, received at meetings and briefings amid all the creature comforts of the White House -- 7,000 miles from Kabul. (Secretary of State Hillary Clinton apparently hasn't been there, either.)

Sure, the president has lots to attend to here at home -- such as socializing health care, ballooning the deficit and redistributing wealth, not to mention date night with the first lady. But that hasn't kept him from going abroad -- a lot.

He's been to France, the Czech Republic, Turkey, the United Kingdom, Egypt, Russia, Italy, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Trinidad and Ghana, to name a few.

Plus Denmark -- to plead for the 2016 Olympic games for Chicago. (After getting a lot of grief for not meeting with his commander in Afghanistan, Obama did squeeze in a 20-some-minute meeting on Air Force One with Gen. Stanley McChrystal during his brief trip to Copenhagen.)

Plus, he's heading for China, Japan>, South Korea and Singapore next month -- and he'll surely make Oslo for this year's Nobel ceremonies in December, to pick up his Peace Prize.

It's clear: While racking up the frequent-flyer miles courtesy of the US taxpayer, he's not set foot in Afghanistan. (President George W. Bush and Veep Dick Cheney made five visits to Afghanistan.)

Somehow, though, for all his pro-troop rhetoric here, Obama hasn't seen fit to visit the 60,000-plus brave US troops over there in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, morale is reportedly declining while the White House dithers over . . . sorry, mulls its next steps.

It means a lot to our service members to rub elbows with the commander-in-chief -- to break bread in the mess hall and get asked about your hometowns and how you're doing. Hey prez, how about a game of hoops with the troops?

While going into harm's way, these men and women need to know that their president believes in them and their mission; that they'll get what they need to fight; that someone is looking after their wounded comrades and loved ones back home.

And they should hear it from him -- in person.

Of course, some insist Obama's conspicuous absence in Afghanistan is pure politics -- that he doesn't want his anti-war, left-wing base to see him as supporting wars they believed he'd end when they elected him.

Regardless, Mr. President, you owed it to the troops, the American people and your own decision-making to have gone to Afghanistan before now. But you didn't. It's a shame and wrong for many reasons.

Fortunately, you have a chance to make up for it: Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Don't spend it in the White House, but instead with some courageous Americans fighting for our country a long way from home.

Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense.

About the Author

Peter Brookes Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

First Appeared in the New York Post