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By PAUL C. CAMPOS
Of all the phony political images that have bombarded us in the five years since al Qaeda terrorists struck the United States, the phoniest of all remains the sight of George W. Bush donning a fighter pilot’s uniform and landing on the deck of an aircraft carrier to proclaim "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq.
The point of that little stunt was to send the visual message that Bush was the strong leader that America needed to triumph in a war against our enemies. As a piece of propaganda, it was fabulously successful. If the goal of propaganda is to make black seem white, then the fact the Bush administration still emphasizes this message is a tribute to the administration’s ongoing triumph in its propagandistic war against reality.
That, however, is the only war this president is actually winning. With a little more than two years remaining in his presidency, Bush is on course to end up as the worst commander in chief in the 217-year history of his office.
One way to appreciate just what a colossal failure he has been is to imagine for a moment that he wasn’t a straight-talking, brush-clearing, football-loving fellow from the hardscrabble West Texas countryside, but was instead someone whose outward appearance didn’t lend itself so readily to projecting a superficial image of strength.
Imagine, if you will, how George W. Bush’s performance as commander in chief would be perceived if he happened to be a woman. To help this thought experiment along, let’s give him a woman’s name. Don’t think of him as "George," think of him as "Hillary."
Now imagine if Hillary had been president on Sept. 11, 2001. Suppose that, five years later, the man responsible for that attack was not only still alive and free, but was thumbing his nose at the United States via tape recordings that mocked America’s military power and national resolve. Would such a woman seem like a strong leader?
Imagine if Hillary was in the process of losing not one, but two, wars against miserable Third World countries whose combined armed forces didn’t equal a 50th of America’s military might. Would she still seem like an able commander in chief? How would Americans react to her repeated assertions that, despite her catastrophic record as a military leader, we could trust her to keep America safe?
Imagine if this woman had allowed a surrounded Osama bin Laden to escape because, instead of sending American troops to either kill or capture a man who has murdered thousands of Americans, she trusted foreign mercenaries to do the job instead.
Imagine if she refused to fire the inept buffoon who was her secretary of defense despite repeated complaints from across the political spectrum _ and even from her own generals _ that he had utterly bungled both the wars her administration was in the process of losing. Would that decision project an image of strength?
It is indeed a miracle of propaganda that President Bush can claim he has been anything but a spectacular failure as commander in chief, and not elicit hoots of derision from everyone who isn’t actually paid by the administration to utter politically convenient lies.
If he were a Democrat or a woman (or, God forbid, both), he could have never gotten away with any of this. After five years of his "strong leadership," Iraq is a chaotic mess, three-quarters of Afghanistan is back in the hands of the Taliban and Osama bin Laden is alive, free and planning more terrorist attacks. With strength like this, who needs weakness?
Yet our lapdog media keep obediently delivering the message that black is white. Perhaps the president should land on another aircraft carrier, and call it "Mission Accomplished Again."
(Paul C. Campos is a law professor at the University of Colorado and can be reached at Paul.Campos(at)Colorado.edu.)