WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama made another pilgrimage to a key policy outpost Wednesday, crossing the Potomac River for the first time since his inauguration to visit the Pentagon, where he met the Joint Chiefs of Staff on their own turf.
The meeting in the secure conference room known as the “Tank” exceeded its allotted 90 minutes because “we kind of lost track of time,” Obama said. “My first message was to say thank you,” he told reporters in brief comments after the session.
“And in addition,” Obama continued, “it’s to say that you – all of you who are serving in the United States armed forces are going to have my full support. And one of my duties as president is going to be to make sure that you have what you need to accomplish your missions.” He said there are “difficult decisions” ahead on Iraq and Afghanistan.
Obama said they had discussed his concern about the strains on military families and “making sure that the health of our force is always in our sights.”
He said they talked about threats, “both short-term and long-term” and “some of the broader global risks that may arise” in addition to the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts.
Going around the table, each service chief had a chance to address the president about his concerns. One Pentagon official described it as more of a “global strategic discussion” about all areas of the world without a lengthy focus on Iraq and Afghanistan.
The meeting fulfilled a campaign pledge to sit down with the chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen to listen to their concerns and proposals on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the health and size of the armed forces, procurement and other issues. After a visit last week to the State Department and Tuesday’s journey to Capitol Hill, the Pentagon trip was designed to symbolize presidential openness and outreach.
As he did during his State Department visit, Obama, accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden, indirectly criticized the administration of President George W. Bush.
“We have for a long time put enormous pressure on our military to carry out a whole set of missions, sometimes not with the sort of strategic support and the use of all aspects of American power, to make sure that they’re not carrying the full load,” he said. “And that’s something that I spoke with the chiefs about and that I intend to – to change as president of the United States.”
Obama has pledged to increase the size of both the Army and the Marines, and to expand the work of U.S. diplomats and civilian officials overseas.