Wednesday, February 11, 2009

About Face?

Another Bush administration policy about to be reviewed by the Obama administration is the ban on news coverage of the return of American soldiers' remains. Defense Secretary Warner has ordered the review in light of the White House interest in the policy.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said yesterday that he has ordered a rapid Pentagon review of a policy that bars the media from covering the return to the United States of military personnel killed overseas. He asked for the review after President Obama said Monday that the White House is looking into the policy.

"From a personal standpoint, I think, if the needs of the families can be met and the privacy concerns can be addressed, the more honor we can accord these fallen heroes, the better," Gates said. ...

Gates said that he had asked more than a year ago about changing the policy. But he said he was told that, if media were allowed to cover the fallen service members' return to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, many of the service members' families would feel compelled to attend, which would pose a financial hardship for them and slow the return of the remains.

That excuse is a new one on me, and I'm surprised that Secretary Gates bought it. I suspect that at the time then-Vice President Dick Cheney made it clear that the policy was not going to change and the reason given was the one that popped into his head as the handiest excuse to offer.

The real reason for the ban on coverage, of course, was that key members of the Bush administration (among them Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld) remembered the cumulative effect of hundreds of flag draped coffins being shown on the nightly news during the Viet Nam era. Those images finally brought home the reality of war to millions of Americans and helped turn the tide when it came to support for the war. The Bush war machine didn't want a repeat of that, especially when it came to Iraq.

It will be interesting to see how President Obama handles the issue. So far, he hasn't reneged on his promise to withdraw troops from Iraq as quickly as is prudently possible. However, he has also made it clear that he intends to order troop increases for the war he believes in, Afghanistan. Will he be willing to risk growing loss of public support for that war as the body count rises (and it surely will) and the media shows those flag draped coffins on a regular basis?

His decision on this issue might turn out to be a pretty good indication of just how much change will be tolerated by the administration.

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Blogger Woody (Tokin Librul/Rogue Scholar/ Helluvafella!) said...

Obama may permit it now.

After all, casualties are way down.

But if the shit hits the fan again, say in afghanistan, for example, and the bodies start coming back en masse, well things change...

6:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah Woody, that would be a buzzkill.

5:52 PM  

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