Obama Gets Afghanistan Advice From Mothers of Fallen Soldiers

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The commander-in-chief hugged a grieving mother, telling her to be proud of her fallen son, a Marine killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.

Lisa Xiarhos also had a message for President Barack Obama: “Be strong and get the job done,” she recalls telling him. “Don’t back down. Send more troops. Support the ones that are there and do whatever you can.”...

... In some cases, parents have urged him to provide the troops with better equipment or more resources. Others are more reticent and shy from political discussion.

“I think he gets insight,” said Flavin, a former Navy intelligence officer who served in Iraq, Afghanistan and Bosnia. “Some people offer advice, and he listens and he takes on-board the experience.”

None of the encounters has turned confrontational, aides say, and no relatives have asked the president to end the war in Afghanistan.

Still, public support for the Afghan fighting is waning, with 37 percent of Americans saying it was a mistake to send troops to Afghanistan, according to a Gallup poll released in September. In January 2002, only 6 percent thought the war was a mistake.

Former President George W. Bush met with “hundreds of families and hundreds of the wounded,” from Iraq and Afghanistan, said Scott McClellan, Bush’s former press secretary.

‘Emotionally Drained’

Some relatives urged him to stop the Iraq war. Some “looked the president in the eye and said, ‘You make sure you finish the job,’” McClellan said. The meetings left Bush “emotionally drained” and “certainly had some effect” on his decisions, McClellan said.

Since at least the Civil War, when Abraham Lincoln visited field hospitals surrounding Washington, presidents have sought face-to-face meetings with the soldiers they ordered into combat, said Henry William Brands, a history professor at the University of Texas at Austin. At veterans’ hospitals during World War II, Franklin Roosevelt, partially paralyzed by polio, had a natural bond with those disabled by war, though it didn’t alter Roosevelt’s policies, Brands said.

There’s little indication that Lyndon Johnson’s hospital visits influenced his conduct of the Vietnam War, said Brands, who was part of a group of historians who dined with Obama earlier this year.

“Generally, the visits simply confirm presidents’ determination to finish the job the wounded soldiers have started,” he said...

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