This is the President of the United States at his press conference in Antalya, Turkey, November 16, 2015:
But what we do not do, what I do not do is to take actions either because it is going to work politically or it is going to somehow, in the abstract, make America look tough, or make me look tough. And maybe part of the reason is because every few months I go to Walter Reed, and I see a 25-year-old kid who’s paralyzed or has lost his limbs, and some of those are people I’ve ordered into battle. And so I can’t afford to play some of the political games that others may.
We’ll do what’s required to keep the American people safe. And I think it’s entirely appropriate in a democracy to have a serious debate about these issues. If folks want to pop off and have opinions about what they think they would do, present a specific plan. If they think that somehow their advisors are better than the Chairman of my Joint Chiefs of Staff and the folks who are actually on the ground, I want to meet them. And we can have that debate. But what I’m not interested in doing is posing or pursuing some notion of American leadership or America winning, or whatever other slogans they come up with that has no relationship to what is actually going to work to protect the American people, and to protect people in the region who are getting killed, and to protect our allies and people like France. I’m too busy for that. (Complete transcript, here.)
The reporter, Jim Avila, had asked Obama why, given the catastrophe in Paris, he thought that his plan for dealing with ISIS was working. The President was asked essentially the same question three times during the course of the news conference, and he gave long, detailed, full responses, each time addressing different aspects of the issue.
What was most moving to me was what I imagined to be the scene in Walter Reed Hospital, when the President came into the room of a wounded soldier, some man or woman who was now paralyzed or who has “lost his limbs,” and what that scene must have been like for both people, for they must have known that the wounded soldier had been wounded as a consequence of orders from his visitor. Conceivably, the soldier could say, I did my duty. He could also say, You did this to me. He could say, Help me. But the President must have seen his inescapable responsibility for the soldier’s condition and the burden of the necessity to get it right. Earlier, in his response to the second question, this time from Jim Acosta, the President said this:
I just want to remind people, this is not an abstraction. When we send troops in, those troops get injured, they get killed; they’re away from their families; our country spends hundreds of billions of dollars. And so given the fact that there are enormous sacrifices involved in any military action, it’s best that we don’t shoot first and aim later. It’s important for us to get the strategy right. And the strategy that we are pursuing is the right one.
This President does not deny his political opponents the right to say what they want to say, but he points out that “this is not an abstraction.” Warriors are wounded as a consequence of what politicians decide. And when Donald Trump then says, “I would bomb the shit out of them,” and his audience cheers and Trump grins, I think, he’s a stupid unfeeling pre-adolescent kid, playing with adult toys, who has no idea how dangerous his playthings are or how to play with them.
Whenever I see this kind of thing—and it happens all the time—I am brought back to someone, some religious person frequently like Jerry Falwell, or some politician like Rick Santorum, or some judge, like Antonin Scalia, who, casually, even gleefully, announces some judgment on gay people, indifferent to the wounds he is causing in the very real, very vulnerable, human bodies of other Americans.