President Bush snuck in and out of Iraq under cover of night on Thanksgiving to have his picture taken with a turkey and some soldiers. If anything else was accomplished by the quick round-trip, the White House did not divulge it.
Cable television news, in case you missed it, went completely gaga. Interviewees gushed about the president’s "sacrifice." Even his Democratic would-be opponents saluted the "daring move" and the "great politics" of it all.
Yet, as my friend Jeffrey St. Clair observed after carving an exemplary turkey of his own, if the president really wanted to make a daring move he could have gone to stand in the main square in Tikrit at high noon and told the Iraqis to "Bring it on!"
Air Force One traveled in complete darkness, with no lights visible onboard or off. By coincidence, tonight while driving home from dinner I passed one or two SUVs also running without lights. I blinked my headlamps to call the error to their attention, for safety’s sake, but neither driver responded. Perhaps they too were on secret missions.
One can only reflect that before Bush invaded Baghdad he had never seen it, and that now, having both invaded it and visited it, he still has not seen it. He was there to be seen, not to see, to read a stiff, carefully scripted speech and say nothing spontaneous till he got off the podium and into the chit-chat. As far as we know, he met with no Iraqis beyond a few members of his U.S.-picked "governing council." Air Force One had wheels up before either harm or new information could penetrate his security.
If Saddam Hussein has met with any supporters in Iraq lately, it was surely under much the same scenario: arriving under cover of night, emerging from behind a curtain, etc etc.
The same soldiers who were allowed to tell the hand-picked media how much they appreciated the president’s gesture have been forbidden for months now to tell reporters how they really feel about being in Iraq. It is perfectly all right for them to praise the commander-in-chief but not to criticize him.
Did anyone in the White House media pool ask the assembled soldiers how they felt about Richard Perle’s recent admission that the president’s invasion of Iraq was illegal? Probably not, but you would like to think that at least one of them did SOME reporting on the long trip, as opposed to merely eating cranberry sauce and providing "coverage."
His descent into Baghdad, like a thief in the night, served to remind the world that, war zones aside, George W. Bush cannot travel openly anywhere, so deeply are the man and his policies loathed. He dared to enter the Baghdad Airport in secrecy, unannounced, but he dared not address the House of Commons on his recent trip to Great Britain for fear of being hooted out of England. Rare indeed are his truly public appearances, other than before a hand-picked audience of guaranteed reliable supporters, anywhere in the United States, or anywhere on earth, really.
It is far more than a question of security. In these days of snipers and suicide bombers no one expects him to "work the rope." But the president’s security arrangements serve quite as much to shield him from hostile opinion as from hostile fire. By his own admission, he does not even read the news.
Were he to appear at any large public event, at any imaginable location, he would risk confronting not only a sea of opposition but an opportunity to appreciate what the late Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu (the Great Conducator) may have felt at his final outdoor appearance in Bucharest.
Bush has now landed on an aircraft carrier in a jump suit and flown all the way to Iraq to stage photo-ops. This is Evel Knievel politics, a dangerous game of "top this!" Extrapolating the trend, to what "bold and daring" lengths can he be expected to go, should next year’s election odds get really tight? Shoot himself across the Potomac out of a cannon? Parachute into Kabul? Perhaps he might wish to join Tony Blair in a glass box suspended over the Thames, in the style of magician David Blaine.
DAVID VEST writes the Rebel Angel column for CounterPunch. He and his band, The Willing Victims, just released a scorching new CD, Way Down Here.
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