President Barack Obama was greeted with fleeting applause and extended periods of silence as he offered profuse praise to soldiers and their families during an Aug. 31 speech in Fort Bliss, Texas.
His praise for the soldiers — and for his own national-security policies — won cheers from only a small proportion of the soldiers and families in the cavernous aircraft-hangar.
The audience remains quiet even when the commander-in-chief thanked the soldiers’ families, and cited the 198 deaths of their comrades in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The audience’s reaction was so flat that the president tried twice to elicit a reaction from the crowd.
“Hey, I hear you,” he said amid silence.
The selected soldiers who were arrayed behind the president sat quietly throughout the speech.
CNN and MSNBC ended their coverage of the speech before it was half-over.
The president’s speech to the soldiers is part of his constitutional duties as commander-in-chief.
But Obama and his wife are also trying to reach out to military families in several critical swing-states, including Virginia and Florida. (RELATED: Obama warm to scientists, cold to soldiers)
That outreach, however, has been damaged by repeated flubs from the White House, including its public emphasis on soldiers’ wounds rather than on their accomplishments, and Obama’s effort to distance himself from the anti-jihad campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.
For example, Obama gave Vice President Joe Biden the task of developing a post-war agreement with Iraq’s government in 2009. The effort failed, reducing U.S. gains from the campaign that killed almost 4,500 troops, and as well as thousands of jihadis and Sunni insurgents seeking to regain power. The subsequent withdrawal of nearly all U..S. troops has allowed Iran to increase its influence in Iraq. In turn, that influence helps it support Syria’s dictatorship against Sunni insurgents.
White House officials are trying to avoid additional flubs. On Friday, for example, White House officials rushed to debunk a report that the president had used an autopen to sign condolence letters to soldiers’ families.
Throughout Friday’s speech, the loudest reactions came when the president name-checked the nicknames of the soldiers’ brigades. Major military units have their own rival cheers, and those could be heard from portions of the audience when he referred to individual units.
The troops’ silence continued through several obvious applause-lines.
There was isolated cheers when Obama said his withdrawal policy would ensure “fewer deployments … more time to prepare for the future, and it means more time on the home front, with your families, your home and kids.”
The silence deepened when the president lauded his strategy of withdrawal from the war. “Make no mistake, ending the wars responsibly makes us safer and our military even stronger, and ending these wars is letting us do something else; restoring American leadership,” he said amid complete silence.
When he said demobilized soldiers would find jobs because “all of you have the skills America needs,” he got little reaction.
There was no reaction when he promised stepped-up recruitment of soldiers for police jobs.
He won some applause when he announced his support for soldiers injured in combat.
The most enthusiastic applause came when he lauded the soldiers’ military mission, and promised continued support for that professional task.
An anecdote about his meeting with a wounded soldier was met with a tepid response, until he described the soldier’s determination to recover and return to his unit. “He’s where every soldier wants to be – back with his unit,” Obama said, generating applause.
Similarly, his declaration that “around the world there’s a new attitude toward America, a new confidence in our leadership” yielded only silence, while his next sentence — “When people are asked ‘Which country do you admire most?’ one nation always comes out on top, the United States of America” — prompted relative enthusiasm.
The White House’s video-feed cut off 10 seconds after the president finished his speech, before the audience’s reaction overall could be gauged by viewers.