LAS VEGAS — It has been an interesting “homecoming” from our most recent Fox News “embed” with U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan. The flights we took, from Kabul to Dubai and onward to Dulles International Airport, were full of Americans — service members heading home on leave, a gaggle of U.S. government officials, more than a dozen civilian contractors, several private-sector engineers and technicians, and a group of executives seeking “investment opportunities” in Afghanistan. None of those with whom I spoke on these flights expressed any angst about “lack of progress” or “fear of failure” in this war.
Three days later, I was again at Dulles Airport heading for my departure gate, when a U.S. Air Force officer assigned to Creech Air Force Base, Nev., approached me in the crowded concourse. After introducing himself, he described how he had been the command pilot for an MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft supporting a special operations mission our Fox News team had accompanied in Afghanistan.
When I asked him how he knew we were on that particular operation, he said, “The JTAC (joint tactical air controller) was right beside you with his ROVER (which stands for remotely operated video enhanced receiver, a device that allows an on-scene air support controller to see the images being acquired by a remotely piloted aircraft’s cameras overhead) when the Hellfire missile hit. The JTAC told me you were there over our (satellite) link.”
We chatted for a few moments about the extraordinary technology that allowed him to deliver a 20-pound warhead precisely on target from half a world away — but paused when the crowd around us suddenly broke into cheers. Throughout the terminal, passengers and airline personnel were looking at ceiling-mounted televisions in the waiting areas. On the screens, a Chilean miner, trapped 2,200 feet underground for 69 days, was emerging from the Phoenix, a NASA-designed, Chilean-built rescue capsule suspended over a narrow shaft drilled with the help of American engineers, some of whom flew to Chile from Afghanistan.
Throughout the concourse, people applauded as the miner, one of 33 men once presumed dead, embraced his tearful wife, thanked his rescuers and accepted the congratulations of Sebastian Pinera, his country’s president. It was an extraordinary moment — being among hundreds of strangers, saluting a triumph of tenacity, technology and skill over what was nearly a terrible tragedy.
Pinera staked his entire political future on the high-risk endeavor he called Operacion Esperanza, or Operation Hope. He was effusive in describing the lengthy rescue effort as “the miracle at San Jose mine,” spoke unabashedly of the faith of the trapped men and their families, called the rescuers and the rescued “heroes,” and overtly thanked God for answering their prayers.
Minutes later, the impromptu airport celebration ended as quickly as it started. By the time the Air Force pilot and I reached our boarding gate, the televisions in the terminal had cut away to a commercial. When programming resumed, it was for a news update. The Reaper pilot nodded toward the nearest TV and said: “It would be nice if he could give us accolades like we just saw for what we’re doing in Afghanistan. But I guess that won’t happen unless someone puts it in his teleprompter.”
On the screen was a recap of America’s commander in chief making a political speech at George Washington University. According to the caption beneath his image, President Barack Obama was talking about “Moving America Forward.” Few in the airport were paying attention.
The contrast between the two heads of state, Pinera and Obama, was palpable — and should serve as a lesson for the surviving members of the O-Team. If Obama wants to preserve his presidency, he needs to take a page from the Pinera playbook.
Chile’s president was fully invested in the success of rescuing the trapped miners. Unlike Obama during the offshore oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Pinera was very much a hands-on manager during the two-month, meticulously planned rescue operation, consistently under-promising and over-delivering. He was humble enough to reach out to others for technical help. The 13-ton drilling equipment that cut the rescue shaft through solid rock was delivered in 48 hours from Pennsylvania. And after Luis Urzua — the last miner to be rescued from “that dark hole in the earth” — came out, Pinera unabashedly led his countrymen in an emotional, spontaneous rendition of their national anthem.
Obama could garner considerable advantage by associating himself with some of his own very bright, brave countrymen: those serving in Afghanistan. American courage, faith and perseverance abound in the shadows of the Hindu Kush. And like the rescue in the Chilean desert, it is a great success story. But claiming this triumph will require that our president overcome his severe case of victory-deficit disorder.
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