It seems altogether appropriate that the first major national commemoration following this year's epochal election was Veterans Day. The occasion provided an opportunity for President-elect Barack Obama to demonstrate again what his statements during the long
campaign should have made obvious — namely, that he intends to provide support for the troops in the most practical way possible: by making sure they are fully armed and not overextended (neither of which conditions has existed for most of the last eight years) and that he further will make sure that appropriate benefits — medical and otherwise — are in place once these heroic survivors of battle return to their native shore. This last condition, too, has been in short supply.
Appropriately, Obama will not shut down or reduce America's current military commitments without express consultation with commanders in the field. So he has indicated. But it is appropriate, too, that he follow through on his ultimate goal of terminating the wastefully open-ended commitment of resources to Iraq, especially since the government of that country has made it clear of late that it expects such a timely termination of our involvement. Finally, Obama has pledged a return to the vigorous pursuit of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda and, to that end, has proposed to refocus attention on the worsening problem areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
As the presidential transition got under way, there was considerable background noise to the effect that Defense Secretary Robert Gates might continue on, or, failing that, other figures identified with the traditional Republican foreign-policy establishment would be asked to lend their talents to the new Democratic administration. This, too, we regard as a good sign. During this latest Bush administration, the tradition of bipartisanship in foreign affairs had become a concept more honored in the breach than in the observance.
But a word or two of commendation is in order for the outgoing president, as well. George W. Bush's graciousness toward the president-elect, his clear willingness to accommodate an orderly transition, and his equally obvious effort to downplay differences of opinion all call to mind an old saw that, provisionally (we keep our fingers crossed), deserves to be applied again: So far at least, nothing has distinguished the current president's tenure as much as the manner of his leaving it.
And, for that matter, the defeated presidential candidate, John McCain, deserves the nation's thanks for his generous remarks regarding his successful rival on election night. This was a time when the gallant old warrior was confronted with a new wound — the final defeat of his hopes for national leadership.
The Limbaughs and Coulters have already indicated they intend to hector on in the face of a clear need for national unity, and the recent scotching of a wild assassination plot by two skinheads right here in Tennessee is evidence that a dark side still exists in national affairs. But all in all, we seem to be entering a new era in our national history with something resembling confidence that we can overcome the time's dramatic problems — economic, military, and otherwise. All in all, we feel like saluting.