Another failed photo-op

President George W. Bush jetted off in the dark of night for a clandestine visit to Iraq – a grandstanding photo-op by a coward who refused to fight in war when his country called.

I’ve always found Bush’s swaggering "war-time president" persona the height of political hypocrisy.  This is, after all, the same George W. Bush who hid out in the Texas Air National Guard to avoid going to Vietnam and who later became the "Commander in Chief" who sends members of the National Guard and Reserve to their deaths in his lies-based invasion of Iraq.

MSNBC correctly labeled Bush’s trip to Iraq the "mission not-quite accomplished photo op," a clever play on his disastrous "mission accomplished" debacle on board an aircraft carrier three years ago when he prematurely claimed the Iraq war a victory.

Back then a gullible electorate and complaint press played into Bush’s hands and his poll numbers took a jump. Not now: Too many lies, too many setbacks, too much evidence that Iraq is a quagmire from which there may be no escape. Bush can’t jump start his polls with a publicity stunt. He’s been to that well too often.

But the President is desperate and the Republican Party is so afraid of losing control of the House in November that political strategists are willing to try anything to, even if it means putting the President of the United States into just the kind of war he tried so hard to evade as a young man.

Video from the photo-op showed Bush’s press flak Tony Snow clad in a flak-jacket, looking very much like he was ready to toss his cookies as the Presidential party rode a lurching helicopter from the Baghdad airport to the "green zone" of the city.

Was it worth it? Probably not. Press reports have been less than glowing and public reaction on the radio talk shows show a lot of skepticism to the Prez’s latest publicity stunt.

Notes The New York Times in an editorial today:

To increase the drama of Mr. Bush’s visit to Iraq, (Iraq Prime Minister) Maliki announced a large military and police operation around Baghdad, involving tens of thousands of troops, to secure roads, stage raids, seize weapons and enforce a curfew. That may look good on paper, but so did the "Mission Accomplished" banner. There are already 75,000 American and Iraqi troops deployed around Baghdad, and very few of those Iraqis can actually carry out such a mission reliably and effectively.

Beyond that, we have been repeatedly told that the already overstretched American forces will be pulled back from the cities and maybe from Iraq itself later this year. How are Americans supposed to square Mr. Maliki’s grandiose announcement with Mr. Bush’s message that the United States is preparing to reduce its military role?

Meanwhile, millions of Iraqis go without electricity at least part of the day, thousands of families have had to flee their homes, and Iraqi women have seen their rights to an independent life and livelihood significantly diminished.

After too many photo-ops aimed at giving Mr. Bush and his fellow Republicans a short-term lift in the domestic opinion polls at election time, Americans hunger more than ever for a realistic game plan for Iraq and some real progress.

Even the normally cheerleading USA Today wasn’t impressed:

Yet the circumstances of the trip itself illustrated that reality is not so simple. Amid extraordinary security, Bush dropped in on Maliki like an uninvited dinner guest and didn’t even tell most White House aides ahead of time. Security remains so dicey that Bush was in and out of Baghdad in hours. An insurgency and sectarian violence rage. Deadly bombings produce daily tragedies. The government, supposedly one of national unity, is weak.

The intriguing question is what purpose Bush hoped to achieve. The cynical view would be that the trip was a stunt designed to create an illusion of victory as a prelude for troop withdrawals timed to the congressional elections. The president is under pressure from some in his party to do just that, and it would be a pitiful end to a misguided war.

Professional military planners at the Pentagon tell me the war is lost and they cannot see a way it can be won. In the end, they say, America will have to withdraw in disgrace – just like we did in Vietnam.

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