Obama Campaign Cancels Visit to U.S. Service Members in Germany

By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 26, 2008

PARIS, July 25 -- Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama scrubbed a visit to see wounded U.S. servicemen and -women in Germany because of concerns raised by the Pentagon that the stop at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center could be seen as a political event, according to Obama's campaign.

Although the senator from Illinois visited troops in Afghanistan and Iraq on the first part of his overseas trip, those stops were part of an official congressional delegation and, therefore, deemed apolitical. The European tour, which included a speech in Berlin Thursday evening before 200,000, is funded by the campaign and as such is not official government business.

"Senator Obama had hoped to and had every intention of visiting our troops to express his appreciation and gratitude for their service to our country," retired Air Force Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, an Obama adviser, said in a statement. "We learned from the Pentagon [Wednesday] night that the visit would be viewed instead as a campaign event. Senator Obama did not want to have a trip to see our wounded warriors perceived as a campaign event . . . and decided instead not to go."

The Pentagon said on Friday that it did not prevent an Obama visit.

"Nobody denied Senator Obama the opportunity to visit our wounded being cared for at Landstuhl. Obviously, as a sitting senator, he has an interest in that and can certainly visit in an official capacity," said Bryan Whitman, a spokesman for the Pentagon, who added that there are "restrictions on what you can do as a candidate for political office, that stems from trying to maintain political neutrality and not have the military involved in politics."

"The senator's staff was informed of the limits on what the military can do with respect to a political campaign and how we could support a senator's visit to Landstuhl and, quite frankly, I expected them to have the visit," Whitman said.

When Obama arrived in Germany on Thursday, a printed schedule said he would fly to the military hospital Friday. Asked at the time about the schedule, an Obama adviser said it was incorrect, that the stop had been considered but ultimately rejected.

Senior adviser Robert Gibbs said in a statement, "The senator decided out of respect for these servicemen and women that it would be inappropriate to make a stop to visit troops at a U.S. military facility as part of a trip funded by the campaign."

The campaign of Obama's GOP rival, Sen. John McCain, was quick to criticize the decision. "Barack Obama is wrong," McCain spokesman Brian Rogers said. "It is never 'inappropriate' to visit our men and women in the military."

Staff writer Ann Scott Tyson in Washington contributed to this report.

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