November 10, 2009

Obama’s Boots on the Ground

US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama pay their respects to the fallen soldiers and civilians at Ill Corps Headquarters at Fort Hood Army Base on November 10, 2009 during a memorial service for the soldiers and civilians killed in a shooting rampage on November 5.          AFP PHOTO/Jim WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Although the Fort Hood shooting rampage was only inferentially connected with the war in Afghanistan, the fact this memorial service…

directly coincides with Obama’s still-ongoing Afghan war assessment…

and Obama’s dramatic visit to Dover ten days ago to visually honor, and own, our war dead…

and occurred on the eve of Veteran’s Day…

and included Obama’s characterization of these deaths as war deaths (“Here, at Fort Hood, we pay tribute to thirteen men and women who were not able to escape the horror of war, even in the comfort of home.”)…

and the speech also included two different references to 9/11…

Obama Fort Hood rifle.jpg

Obama’s presence at the Killeen, Texas base — and the unique emotional symbolism in these pictures — tie and identify the President that much further not just to the military and the war but to Bush/Cheney’s post-9/11 placement of America on a permanent war footing.

The way the hands and the helmet align in this photo, for example, puts Obama’s bond with the military, and these deaths, visually on par with the depth of the bond with his wife.

And in the inset photo (click for full size), notice how Obama forms the link between the photographs of the murdered soldiers and the boots, helmet and and rifle of the “battlefield cross,” the photo coming as close as it can to actually putting Obama into those boots and, more dramatically, putting the soldier’s rifle in his own hand.

Whether Obama and his team were fully aware of the dramatic memorial at Fort Hood (or even thoroughly and enthusiastically embraced it), I find this Administration lacking when it comes to a deeper appreciation — call it a Deaver-level appreciation — of how fundamentally pictures shape and define a presidency.

I appreciate how principled Obama is and how much the value of “taking responsibility” lies at the core of his personality. At the same time, however, I don’t know if his team really gets how difficult it is to adjust your image if you later chose, say, to walk back from a deeper involvement in Afghanistan or a more militaristic profile after embedding yourself so deeply into these kinds of frames.

Certainly, if Obama wasn’t already there just on a much deeper commitment in and to Afghanistan, with these pictures, I’d say he’s “bought the farm.”

(Post revised 11:30 pm PST)

(photo 1: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images. photo 2: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images. caption: US President Barack Obama walks to the stage past one of the 13 pairs of boots, a rifle, and a helmet, memorials during the Fallen Soldier Memorial at the III Corps & Fort Hood Memorial Ceremony on November 10, 2009 in Killeen, Texas, honoring those killed November 5, 2009 at Fort Hood. US Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan, 39, a psychiatrist and specialist in combat stress, allegedly killed 13 people and wounded 42 in the shooting rampage. linked photo: Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters.)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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