Published for The Wall Street Journal, September 10, 2012

When the first of the Twin Towers came crashing down that terrible September morning in 2001, I was stepping on a Hudson River ferry bound for downtown Manhattan.

Five years later, I spent the anniversary in the White House helping President George W. Bush with his remarks for his prime-time address to the nation.

In the run-up to this Sept. 11, my family attended a party for a hometown Marine who will soon deploy to Afghanistan. He’s the brother of one of my daughter’s grade-school classmates, a recent Annapolis grad and perhaps best described as the kind of man you’d want leading your son if he were being sent into harm’s way. As we approach this November’s election, it is this Marine who occupies my thoughts.

At West Point in December 2009, Barack Obama summarized what a president owes men like this one. “As your commander in chief,” he told those cadets, “I owe you a mission that is clearly defined, and worthy of your service.” While Iraq had been a distraction, he said, in Afghanistan “the security of the United States and the safety of the American people were at stake.”

Since that speech, others have noted President Obama’s reluctance to speak of “victory” in association with Afghanistan. A search of the White House website confirms it is not because he’s unfamiliar with the word: The president happily talks about victory for health reform, for women, for stem-cell research, for the economy, for same-sex marriage, for working families, for trade.

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