No holiday for Obama with busy Memorial Day weekend

President Barack Obama walks across the South Lawn after returning to the White House, May 26, 2014.
President Barack Obama walks across the South Lawn after returning to the White House, May 26, 2014.

Call him the globetrotter-in-chief.

President Obama traveled nearly 14,000 miles over the course of 32 hours to make a surprise visit to Afghanistan for a Memorial Day weekend rally with American troops.

The commander-in-chief secretly slipped out of Washington D.C. on Saturday and after the approximately 13-hour flight, the president spent approximately four hours on the ground at Bagram Air Field, delivering about 20 minutes worth of remarks to troops.

Obama arrived back in the Capitol around 7 a.m. on Monday morning, but his weekend events honoring troops, both past and present, were not over upon his return.

The president hosted a White House breakfast for veteran groups and then laid a wreath and delivered remarks at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider in Arlington National Cemetery. Obama was accompanied by his wife, Michelle, Vice President Joe Biden, and his spouse, Jill.

During his remarks at the Arlington National Cemetery, Obama took note of his trip to Afghanistan and said the U.S. is now at a “pivotal moment.” He added to applause from the crowd: “Our troops are coming home. By the end of the year, our war in Afghanistan will finally come to an end.”

Obama said he was honored to commemorate Memorial Day and pay his respects to those soldiers who made the “ultimate sacrifice.”

“Our hearts ache in their absence. But our hearts are also full, full in knowing that their legacy shines bright in the people they love the most,” said Obama. 

The trip to Afghanistan was not without its glitches. The White House mistakenly blew the cover of a CIA official in the war-torn country after providing the press with a list of senior U.S. officials involved in the president’s trip.

The surprise trip to Afghanistan and the events in Washington D.C. honoring vets comes as the Obama Administration faces increasing criticism at home and abroad. 

Back in the U.S., Obama has come under fire in the wake of the Veterans Affairs scandal and outrage over delays in life-saving care. Obama referred to the alleged falsification of records to cover up long waits at VA medical facilities during remarks at Arlington National Cemetery. He insisted: “As we have been reminded in recent days, we must do more to keep faith with our veterans and their families” and ensure veterans “get the care and benefits they deserve.” 

And the president's response to a number of foreign policy crises – from the chemical attacks in Syria to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annexation of the Crimea region in Ukraine – has also come under fierce criticism, with many Republicans arguing the president has acted with passivity.

Foreign policy is an issue he’s expected to address on Wednesday while delivering the commencement speech at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Obama is expected to defend America’s response to the crises that have gripped his administration and lay out a broader vision for U.S. foreign policy that relies on multilateral diplomacy versus military intervention.