Citizen Obama Visits Troops on Christmas

Obama lingered a few minutes at each table in the mess hall at Marine Corps Base Hawaii to chat with Marines and sailors and their families. (Tim Sloan / AFP/Getty Images)

Barack Obama visited Marine Corps Base Hawaii on Christmas, chatting it up with the young warriors on the holiday in an informal visit.   It was a nice gesture and he deserves kudos for making it.

One small issue, however:  Obama is, so far as I understand it, a mere private citizen as a matter of law.  He has resigned from the Senate and, despite having fashioned a seal for himself, there’s really no such thing as the “Office of the President-elect.”

So . . . how is he able to waltz onto a secure military facility on a casual drop-by basis?  Does being “president-elect” come with some official privileges about which I’m unaware?   Or is this just a courtesy being extended informally to the future commander-in-chief?

(Again, my curiousity here is a technical one.  As a matter of common sense, it’s obvious that he should be welcome on Marine bases.)

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Mithras says:

    So . . . how is he able to waltz onto a secure military facility on a casual drop-by basis?

    Good question. He also has been getting daily briefings from the CIA. Maybe we need a Congressional inquiry into this breach of security. After all, he might abscond to his real native country (wherever that is) before inauguration day.

  2. James Joyner says:

    He also has been getting daily briefings from the CIA.

    But he’s legally entitled to that and has been at least since being the Democratic nominee. And, of course, we want incoming presidents up to speed so they can make informed decisions on Day 1.

  3. DC Loser says:

    Slow news day, huh?

  4. John Cole says:

    Actually, you know, I am kind of curious as to how all of this works.

    What is he entitled to, briefing wise? What is he not? Are the briefings he is receiving and all president-elects get legal, or does no one care?

  5. tom p says:

    So . . . how is he able to waltz onto a secure military facility on a casual drop-by basis?

    Not sure how you define a “secure military facility”, but I can tell you that anyone who wants to can waltz in to Fort Leonard Wood, anytime they want (they look at your driver’s license, nothing else). While I am sure there are areas that civilians can’t go, I have yet to find one in all the years I have been working there.

  6. caj says:

    I think it’s great that PE Obama went to see the troops over Christmas and why shouldn’t he, he will be their new commander in chief come next Jan.
    All these negative folks get on my nerves, the man is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t and they just give the man a break.
    No matter how you feel about it come Jan we are going to have a new President and it can’t come a moment too soon.

  7. James Joyner says:

    Not sure how you define a “secure military facility”, but I can tell you that anyone who wants to can waltz in to Fort Leonard Wood, anytime they want (they look at your driver’s license, nothing else). While I am sure there are areas that civilians can’t go, I have yet to find one in all the years I have been working there.

    Interesting. That’s how it was at Fort McClellan, previous home to the MP and Chemical schools, too, back in the day. In the National Capitol Region, however, all the posts are controlled access, even those such as Fort Belvoir and Fort McNair that seem to house innocuous TRADOC functions. Ditto Carlisle Barracks, PA, home of the Army War College. I just presumed that all the posts were making it hard to get in in the post-9/11 environment.

  8. As a practical matter, considering he travels with a virtual army of Secret Service protection, I doubt any drop-in is casual, although they probably kept it quiet for security reasons – Obama’s, not necessarily the base.

    But I’m also curious, now that you (and John) mention it, about how the security clearances work generally in terms of briefings.

  9. Leisureguy says:

    I think that Barack Obama’s visit—and the permission for it—was a matter of courtesy and common sense, two attributes that seem to be in short supply in some circles.

  10. JKB says:

    I read where right after the election the President had authorized detailed briefings for Obama. Just as he had authorized briefings for both McCain and Obama during the campaign.

    The President is the top classifying authority for all information and as such can authorize the release to anyone he chooses. As a matter of course, he follows established procedures for classified material but in the end, the classifying authority is the person who determines need to know and authorizes the release of the information. Security clearances are simply one method for the classifying authority to determine the risk of releasing the information to the person but are not barrier to it (for the classifying authority). Clearances and other procedures are policies that classifying authorities use to permit the release of information they have classified by those lower in the food chain.

  11. tom p says:

    Interesting. That’s how it was at Fort McClellan, previous home to the MP and Chemical schools, too, back in the day. In the National Capitol Region, however, all the posts are controlled access, even those such as Fort Belvoir and Fort McNair that seem to house innocuous TRADOC functions. Ditto Carlisle Barracks, PA, home of the Army War College. I just presumed that all the posts were making it hard to get in in the post-9/11 environment.

    It has actually gotten easier. I don’t get it, either. Had a buddy of mine tell me things I do not want to repeat recently…

    I really should raise complaints with my congress people.

  12. SFC SKI says:

    Obama’s staffer probably called the public affairs officer to arrange entry to the base; that’s SOP.

    Personally, I think it’s better that he went in on an informal basis, otherwise those Marines would probably have been setting up some dog’n’pony show instead of enjoying their meal.

    I’m sure that all the uniformed personnel were courteous and professional, in any case. If not, we’d have heard about it on Page 1, and the Op-eds would be about the military rift with Obama, just like Clinton, etc, etc.

  13. Bithead says:

    Well, whatever else he is, he’s still a senator.

    Still… Wasn’t it just a short time ago we heard the left complaining loudly about these kind of visits from President Bush to the troops? Grandstanding we were told. Well, about that; Since they’re releasing pictures of the event, it is relatively easy to figure out why Obama actually went through with this particular event, as opposed to canceling it at the last minute as he did with an event at Walter Reed.

    Forgive me, but it doesn’t seem to me to be a massive sacrifice on his part to be visiting the troops on Christmas that are lucky enough to be stationed in Hawaii. Given his history, I can only conclude this is at best a half hearted effort with the troops with the larger concern being his image with the voters.

  14. Bithead,

    Actually, Obama resigned his Senate seat in late November, as James noted in the post.

  15. Mark Jaquith says:

    despite having fashioned a seal for himself, there’s really no such thing as the “Office of the President-elect.”

    As President-elect, he is afforded certain things, because of the Presidential Transition Act of 1963 and 2000.

    Some of the perks are office space and an office staff, paid by the government. He doesn’t really have a position in the government, but he does have some sort of government recognition that he soon will have a position in the government. And he has a title recognized in law.

    So technically, I think it flies. I still think it’s pretentious, but that’s not news about Obama.

  16. Al Bee says:

    The *@MESSIAH*@

  17. One guesses it is just a logical courtesy. His position as PE is a rather unique one, even if it isn’t a government office, per se. Beyond that, one would think that practically any celebrity who wanted to visit the troops during the holiday season for a morale boost would be allowed to do so. If, say, Bono, Oprah or Tom Hanks stopped ny and said they wanted to visit soldiers, one would think that they would be allowed to do so.

  18. Alex Knapp says:

    Wasn’t it just a short time ago we heard the left complaining loudly about these kind of visits from President Bush to the troops?

    No.