Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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68,000 Invisible Americans–or 21 Million?

by Elliott Abrams
January 21, 2013


There are now about 68,000 American troops in Afghanistan. Last year, more than 300 were killed and many more injured.

Yet they did not earn a mention in President Obama’s Second Inaugural Address.

He did say that “Our brave men and women in uniform, tempered by the flames of battle, are unmatched in skill and courage.” But when it came to listing those to whom a debt must be paid or “our journey is not complete”–the poor, women, non-whites, gays, the elderly, immigrants, children–our military forces and indeed America’s veterans were absent.

There are about 21 million veterans. I suppose it is rare to mention them in inaugural addresses, but this year the president was giving us his to-do list, and even mentioned “our forbears” at “Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.” He did a lot better last time, four years ago, when he spoke of “some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom….For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sanh.”

Perhaps he and the speechwriters thought this base had already been covered, last time. But as he was listing the debts we all now owe, to leave unmentioned those who are risking their lives overseas today and who did so yesterday was wrong. More broadly it seems to me the president’s lists are a mistake: Is the two century long struggle of black Americans for freedom from slavery, that worst of American sins, and for true equality–a struggle whose bloody history and whose progress was symbolized today by the inaugural prayer from Myrlie Evers-Williams and then the swearing-in of President Obama–really comparable to the fight of women for equal rights and for the vote, or the gay rights battle?

Whatever one’s views on that score, the list of those to whom debts are owed by the American people before “our journey is complete” must surely include today’s military–and yesterday’s.

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