CHICO, CA., Sept. 13, 2003. White House aides today staged another significant photo opportunity involving the USS Abraham Lincoln, in order to declare that "major combat in Iraq has resumed."
President Bush had previously mentioned the policy shift in a little-noticed August 14 interview, but officials felt that the recent increase in coalition casualties called for a potent visual metaphor. Accordingly, the president was airlifted off the deck of the mighty aircraft carrier and delivered by helicopter to the northern California campus of Chico State University.
In order to underscore the policy reversal, Mr. Bush was dressed in the uniform of a drunken fratboy: baggy trousers, backwards baseball cap, and a sweatshirt bearing Greek letters. The campus has long been noted as one of the main "party schools" of the West, and the president endeared himself to the beer-swilling crowd by announcing that "it’s wonderful to be here in the great state of Chico."
"I don’t have to change my mind too often, but when I do, it’s a doozy," he went on to explain. "I think it’s obvious to anyone who’s paying attention that we’re in a combative situation in Iraq. Maybe it’s not exactly major, but it wouldn’t be fair to the kids that are over there killing and being shot at if we called it minor combat. I understand a lot of them are minors, and that would just be rubbing it in."
A senior White House official, on condition of anonymity, said that the photo-op was the first step in a planned "candor offensive," designed to shore up the president’s battered reputation as a "straight shooter." Mr. Bush has taken considerable heat for a series of questionable statements, including the assertion that Iraq intended to buy uranium from Niger, that Saddam Hussein had refused to allow weapons inspections, that canvas-covered trailers were weapons of mass destruction, and that Arnold Schwarzenegger might make a good governor.
The aide acknowledged that the strategy was not without risk, but maintained that it would be a net plus, politically, for the president to be seen saying things that were obviously true. Still, veteran reporters were shocked when Mr. Bush told the students, ‘Let’s just call it medium combat. What the hell do I know about combat? I never saw any of it." Nevertheless, the crowd seemed enthused by the president’s plain speaking, and so he continued.
"The problem is, we’ve had more kids popped since we shot the campaign commercial on that big boat than before. When I told the Iraqians to bring it on, I was thinking more of a turkey shoot situation, like in my daddy’s war. Up to that point, we were losing about one troop a day; one point zero five, I believe. Now I think most of us could live with that unless you’re the kid getting popped. But that goes without saying. Anyway, since they brought it on, our combat deaths are up almost thirty percent."
At this point the crowd grew a bit restive, as if unsure of when to applaud. "I had my people do the math," said the president, "and now we’re losing one point three three kids a day*, and that’s not working for me. So here’s what I figure: if the body count was lower when we were in combat, well, then, we’re in combat again!"
The president then set his jaw determinedly, and assumed a pinched expression on his face. "And I can tell you this: we’re going to win this one all over again!" A sustained ovation greeted this comment, and Mr. Bush then departed the stage and changed clothes in order to receive funds from local dignitaries.
* Actual death rates from the "Iraq II: Coalition Deaths" website: from Top Gun photo-op to "bring ’em on:" 62 days/65 deaths; from "bring ’em on" to August 28: 57 days/76 deaths.
MARK ZEPEZAUER is an author and cartoonist based in Tucson, Arizona. His most recent book is Boomerang! How Our Covert Wars Have Created Enemies Across The Middle East And Brought Terror To America, from Common Courage Press. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org