The Bush administration is adept at saying the obvious to hide the devious. This tactic reveals a deep disrespect for the intelligence of the American people. It assumes that Americans are gullible and, in their patriotic fervor, will believe anything their leaders tell them-no matter how false, criminal, or harmful to them and their children-if it is draped in the American flag or presented in the name of “God.” A glaring example is President Bush’s recent “surprise” visit to Baghad.
President Bush said “he had come ‘to look at [new Iraqi] Prime Minister [Nuri Kamal] al-Maliki in the eyes and determine whether or not he is as dedicated to a free Iraq as you are. . . . And I believe he is,'” he told US troops. Bush also had “‘a message to the Iraqi people: that when America gives a commitment, America will keep its commitment,’ he said to wild cheers from the 300 American soldiers and civilians gathered in the palace hall.” (The New York Times, June 14, 2006)
The palace hall is inside the Green Zone. A four square mile fortress in the heart of Baghdad. Surrounded by high massive concrete blast-proof walls, barbed wire, and military checkpoints. And defended by tanks and armored vehicles on the ground, 50 caliber machine guns above, and attack helicopters patrolling overhead.
The Iraqi people might have had difficulty hearing President Bush’s message to them about “America’s commitment” to “a free Iraq” even if he had wanted them to. They did not even know he was there until after he had left. So he could not have looked them “in the eyes” either-nor could have Prime Minister Maliki-to see if they were as “dedicated” to the kind of “free Iraq” as he and the “wildly cheering” American soldiers and civilians were. And he did not stay long enough to find out.
After six hours, President Bush was gone. Sneaking away under the same extraordinary secrecy and heavy security that brought him to Baghdad. Most “liberated” Iraqis, who live outside the Green Zone, missed his fleeting and fleeing presence. Many might have seen him as “cutting and running.” Many might have wanted to see him “dead or alive.”
The apparent purpose of President Bush’s secretive visit to Iraq was not to give a message to the Iraqi people, but to use them as a safe PR backdrop for the message he wanted to take home to the American people. Hours after Bush returned to Washington, he quickly called a press conference. A newspaper headline revealed to whom his Baghdad-delivered message was really intended: “AFTER IRAQ VISIT, AN UPBEAT BUSH URGES PATIENCE.” And a news story told the rest: The president “blasted Democrats who are proposing to pull US troops out of Iraq, saying it would undermine a mission making steady progress.” (The New York Times, June 15, 2006; The Boston Globe, June 15, 2006)
The apparent aim of President Bush’s visit to Iraq was not to win the hearts and minds-and consciences-of the Iraqi people but of American voters once again. The aim is to continue justifying the criminal invasion and occupation of Iraq, and thus keep Republicans in power come the midterm November elections. The aim it to make sure Republicans “stay the course.”
The “surprise” visits to Iraq of US political leaders, and allies, offer a unique opportunity to see just how criminal our government is acting in our name. Such “unannounced” visits show the glaring disconnect between the US-led occupation symbolized by the walled-in Green Zone and the reality of “a free Iraq” beyond it. The continuing “secretive” visits provide blatant examples of saying the obvious to hide the devious, and of the deep disrespect for and disregard of the patriotically-ensnared Americans who are paying the price. And the visits reveal the deviousness of those who are actually doing the “cutting and running.”
At Thanksgiving in 2003, President Bush made his first “surprise” visit with American troops in Iraq. He said the obvious to hide the devious in telling the “enthralled” troops:
We are proud of you. . . . by helping to build a peaceful and democratic Iraq in the heart of the Middle East, you are defending the American people from danger and we are grateful. . . . We did not charge hundreds of miles into the heart of Iraq, pay a bitter cost in casualties, defeat a brutal dictator and liberate 25 million people only to retreat before a band of thugs and assassins.” (The New York Times, Nov. 28, 2003)
“Liberate 25 million people.” Then why President Bush’s clandestine act of sneaking into and out of Iraq under cover of darkness? If Bush had showed his face and looked “liberated” Iraqis “in the eyes,” he probably would have been shot dead on sight.
“A band of thugs and assassins.” Does starting a horribly destructive, criminal war based on fear-mongering lies (Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction nor ties to 9/11, as President Bush and other administration officials knowingly and repeatedly claimed to justify their war of choice), violating Iraq’s national sovereignty, and killing well over 100,000 Iraqi civilians with “precision” and “smart” bombs from a great distance make one less a “thug”?
“[You are] helping to build a peaceful and democratic country in the heart of the Middle East . . . ” Saying the right, and then followed the wrong: Abu Ghraib. The apparent Haditha massacre. The reported rape and murder of a teenage girl and the killing of her mother and father and younger sister in Mahmoudiya. Iraqi security forces dominated by Shiite militias and death squads carrying out sectarian killing sprees, pushing Iraq closer to civil war. The escalating sectarian violence making people prisoners in their own homes or forced to flee and become refugees.
The wrong continues. Lack of US-promised electrical power, sanitary facilities and health clinics. Even President Bush feeling the heat: after returning from his recent “surprise” 6-hour visit to Iraq, he said of the 115 degree temperature, ” ‘The answer to electricity is, sooner the better. . . . I mean, it’s hot over there.'” (The New York Times, June 15, 2006)
Over there, more than 2500 US troops are now dead, and the toll climbing. And tens of thousands are returning home wounded in body, mind and spirit.
A New York Times story by Sabrina Tavernise goes behind the obvious to the devious: “While politics has fallen into place inside the fortified walls of the Green Zone,” she writes, “Iraqis outside have faced rising death tolls and even more brutal killings, which in recent weeks have included heads in banana boxes and executions of students.” She cautions, “It remains to be seen whether Iraq’s new government will be capable of restoring security, particularly in the capitol, where some areas are close to anarchy.” (June 15, 2006)
America’s criminal war and occupation are especially seen in the reports of US political leaders’ “surprise” and greatly protected visits to “a free Iraq.” Last Christmas Eve Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, “escorted by Apache helicopters to the US regional headquarters in Mosul . . . lent a hand serving troops a dinner of lobster tails and steak,” and told them “You folks have helped to liberate some 25 million people for whom hope was never there before.” (” ‘Freedom prevails,’ Rumsfeld tells U.S. troops,” Reuters, MSNBC, Dec. 24, 2005; The Boston Globe, Dec. 25, 2005) Rumsfeld left under the same heavy cover of secrecy and security as he entered.
“Amid great secrecy” Vice President Dick Cheney “paid a surprise,” well-publicized pre-Christmas and Chanukah visit to United States troops in Iraq, telling them, “The only way to lose this fight is to quit-and that is not an option. . . . These colors don’t run.” Evidently in Cheney’s case, they do hide: his reported “trip was arranged and carried out with an aim toward keeping the news from becoming public before he was on his way out of Iraq.” (The New York Times, Dec. 19, 2005) A far cry from his pre-war statement to NBC’s Tim Russet.: “I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators.” Like President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld would not have dared to show their faces in public.
The “surprise” visits to “a free Iraq” of other American politicians also speak volumes: about saying the obvious to hide the devious. About real “cutting and running”: from the reality of an immoral and criminal war and occupation.
“Surprise” visits to “a free Iraq.” What a contradiction! What a commentary! Yet American political leaders keep making such visits. Often accompanied by all the news that’s print to fit. With many Americans remaining oblivious to the contradiction between the rhetoric of political leaders and the reality on the ground.
Considerable media coverage accompanied “Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s . . . unannounced [italics added] visit to Baghdad April 26  to consult with Iraq’s newly chosen government officials.” Rice said the obvious: “We understand the concerns of the Iraqi people, indeed the impatience of the Iraqi people to deal with the security situation, to provide economic opportunities and to make certain that Iraq is on the right road to democracy and prosperity, and we pledge our partnership to do that.” (“Rice Visits Baghdad To Consult New Iraqi Leaders,” by David Shelby, USINFO.STATE.GOV)
Secretary “Rice’s trip,” reportedly, “was timed to coincide with a surprise [italics added] visit by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.” She “said it was important for both she and Rumsfeld to be in Iraq in order to coordinate political and military efforts in support of the new government” (Ibid)– with which they obviously met in the Green Zone.
Three weeks earlier, Secretary of State Rice and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw made “an unannounced visit” [italics added] to Baghdad, arriving “in the middle of an overnight thunderstorm.” (“Rice and Straw Visit Baghdad, Prod Negotiations,” by Jamie Tarabay, NPR, June 18, 2006). The contradiction pervading their “unannounced visit” to “a free Iraq” is seen in the coverage by Newsweek’s Michael Hirsh who wrote, “There’s nothing like roaring into Baghdad aboard a Rhino. A Rhino is a giant heavily-armored bus that can withstand IED’s (small ones), and it is now the favored means of keeping Western visitors from getting blown to bits by these homemade bombs on the dangerous road between Baghdad International Airport and the secure Green Zone at the city’s center.”
Michael Hirsh then refers to “the surreal feeling one gets in moving from the howling chaos outside the Green Zone into the theme-park-like confines within. You drive through several checkpoints,” he says, “leaving behind tracts of litter and rubble and the desperate, dark faces of ordinary Iraqis trying to earn a few dinars.” (“Real and Surreal,” April 6, 2006)
British Prime Minister Tony Blair made a “surprise visit” to Iraq, stated to be “the first world leader to visit Baghdad since the national unity government took office two days ago.” He “was flown into Baghdad by a Hercules military aircraft,” a news story said, “and then a Chinook military helicopter that flew low across the city executing evasive manoeuvres,” landing in the “heavily fortified green zone,” where he met with new Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki. (“Blair visits Iraq, backs new government,” Associated Press, MSNBC, May 22, 2006; “Blair visits Baghdad to sketch out timetable for withdrawal,” From Greg Hurst and Ned Parker in Baghdad and Michael Evans, TIMES ON LINE, May 23, 2006)
In the midst of reported “car bombs and drive-by shootings kill[ing] 17 people” that “trumpeted” his arrival, Prime Minister Blair said the obvious: “It has been longer and harder than any of us would have wanted it to be, but this is a new beginning and we want to see what you want to see, which is Iraq and the Iraqi people to be able to take charge of their own destiny and write the next chapter of Iraqi history themselves.” (Associated Press, Ibid)
The path to the White House seems to be by way of “surprise” visits to “a free Iraq.” Along with Senators Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Joseph Biden, there is President Bush’s brother, Governor Jeb Bush. He made headlines: “Gov. Bush stealthily [italics added] visits Iraq for Easter.” And the St. Petersburg Times headlines continue: “He makes the surprise [italics added] trip with three other governors, and shakes hands among Florida Army National Guards.”
The story begins, “Under top security, Gov. Jeb Bush is spending Easter in Iraq with troops from Florida. Wearing an armored vest and helmet while flying in a U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopter,” it states, “Bush visited seven military bases in Iraq and Kuwait.”
The St. Petersburg Times story reports Gov. Bush as saying the obvious: “The most impressive part of the trip is the great enthusiasm and morale of the troops. . . . These young men and women are pretty fired up.” Bush then reveals the extent of his own callousness and immorality: “We have a great state. But if people could just spend a day here, they wouldn’t complain about the things they complain about.” (By Steve Bousquet, April 16, 2006)
A final classic example of saying the obvious to hide the devious is Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s recent “surprise” visit to Iraq. The headline for his trip is suggestive: “Romney makes surprise stop in Baghdad: says visit to region wasn’t about politics.” The beginning of the story contains its own commentary: “Traveling under tight security [italics added], Governor Mitt Romney yesterday wrapped up an unannounced one day [italics added] trip to Iraq to visit troops from Massachusetts, and warned against a ‘cut and run’ pullout from the war-torn country.” (Frank Phillips, The Boston Globe, May 25, 2006)
It is not about “cutting and running,” but about redefining an international war crime as an issue of courage or cowardice. It is about “cutting and running” from the truth and world judgment of an immoral war based on lies.
It is about political and military leaders using patriotism to manipulate mothers and fathers into allowing their sons and daughters to be sacrificed on the altar of American imperialism and corporate greed. It is about a country in which the military is the only place many economically disadvantaged young persons can be all they can be.
It is about United Methodist and numerous other Christian leaders “cutting and running” from their own commitment to “object with boldness when governing powers offer solutions of war that conflict with the gospel message of self-emptying love.” (Statement of Conscience,” adopted by 95 United Methodist bishops in November 2005). It is about President Bush and Vice President Cheney professing to be United Methodists and Christians.
Instead of leading the country to national self-examination, it is about the Bush administration seizing the tragedy of 9/11 to justify manufacturing an endless war of terrorism to keep Republicans in power and advance US global domination. It is not about President Bush delivering “a message to the Iraqi people” that “America will keep its commitment,” but about playing politics with the lives of American troops and Iraqi people to make sure Republicans retain control of the the House and Senate in the November elections.
It is about saying the obvious to hide the devious. It is about “surprise” visits to “a free Iraq.” It is about “cutting and running” from the truth of a criminal war against the people of Iraq-and of America.
Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D. is a hospital chaplain. Both a Unitarian Universalist and a United Methodist minister, he has written research reports, essays and articles on racism, war, politics and religion. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.