Bush's romantic notions about serving on the front lines.
If further proof were needed that President Bush resides in a dream world, he settled the issue on Thursday definitively.
Speaking by videoconference with U.S. military and civilian personnel in Afghanistan about the challenges posed by war, corruption, and the poppy trade, the president unleashed this comment:
I must say, I'm a little envious. If I were slightly younger and not employed here, I think it would be a fantastic experience to be on the front lines of helping this young democracy succeed. It must be exciting for you … in some ways romantic, in some ways, you know, confronting danger. You're really making history, and thanks.
Go ahead, dear reader, pour yourself a stiff one before trudging on.
Someone with such a jaunty vision of war—concocted from who knows what brew of Rudyard Kipling, John Wayne, and sheer fantasy—has no business leading young men and women into real-life battle, no business serving as the armed forces' commander in chief.
It only compounds the insult to reflect that Bush, when he was younger and not employed anywhere, passed up his chance for a romantic fling with danger in the jungles of Southeast Asia.
Many U.S. soldiers, Marines, and aid workers in Afghanistan (and Iraq) are proud of the work they're doing. They volunteered for duty. They accept the hardships and tolerate the sacrifices to a degree that's truly awesome to behold. But I suspect very few of these men and women see themselves as indulging in enviable adventures from The Green Berets or Gunga Din.
According to Reuters reporter Tabassum Zakaria, who was permitted to observe the exchange between Washington and Kabul, Bush sat at the head of a conference table in the White House, where he was flanked by Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and others. Neither of them had ever experienced combat, either. (Gates served in the Air Force, at a Minuteman ICBM base.) But one hopes, for their sake, that their jaws dropped at least a little.
The president and all other combat fantasists would do well to read Elizabeth Rubin's chilling dispatch in the Feb. 24 New York Times Magazine, chronicling the not-at-all fantastic experiences of a Battle Company from the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Afghanistan's desolate Korengal Outpost.
If that doesn't sober him up, there is a cure for his wistful envy. He won't be employed in the White House for much longer. He is 62, too old, alas, to join the military. But a spot could probably be found for him on an A.I.D. mission, a Provisional Reconstruction Team, or, perhaps through his vice president, some contractor's expedition. He put our soldiers over there, and, as we all know, there aren't enough of them. If he pines for a taste, let him have one.
Fred Kaplan is Slate's "War Stories" columnist and author of the book, The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter.
Photograph of President Bush by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images.