This past Thanksgiving, our troops overseas, many of whom are on extended tours of duty, were treated to visits by two very prominent guests. But although they knew one of them was coming, the appearance of the other was a complete surprised.
Of course, these trips are those of President George W. Bush’s journey to Baghdad and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Afghanistan and Iraqi tours along with Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island. The visits were smash successes, raising the morale of soldiers bogged down in two wars of attrition that see new guerilla attacks and new precedents almost by the day. By all accounts, the soldiers were overjoyed to see Bush step off that plane and onto Mesopotamian soil.
That is why it is so hard to say that Clinton was right in coming to Afghanistan but that Bush’s visit reeks of opportunism and even contempt for the troops.
In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, the Senator’s visit was publicly announced and confirmed by her press office. Troops stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq knew their visitor was coming. After all, foreign junkets by prominent American politicians are usually hard to keep under wraps.
That was all before the Thanksgiving news of Bush in Baghdad spread like wildfire over the radio and television.
Secrecy and stealth are to be assumed during times of war, especially in a country like Iraq where missile attacks and armed guerillas take the place of battles and battalions, but the circumstances behind Bush’s visit rest on alarming precedents.
First is the literally slapdash nature of the visit: American officials in Iraq not notified until 5 hours in advance of the President’s visit, press in Iraq not even notified of Bush’s presence, even to the point of American air traffic controllers at Baghdad International Airport not knowing who was in that unlit jet in the dead of night.
While President Bush credits the surprise visit to Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card, Jr., the fact remains that the trip carries all the hallmarks of Bush uber-strategist Karl Rove. Rove was the man responsible for the staged aircraft carrier landing that wasted so many tax dollars and the despicable tarring of Senator Paul Wellstone after his demise, and here he is pulling American heartstrings for the sake of drowning out coverage of Clinton in the media.
Because it wouldn’t do for a Senator, the wife of a popular ex-President, who may even have aspirations for the Oval Office herself, to visit troops in war zones overseas while Bush celebrates Thanksgiving here. It would be a virtual black eye in the 2004 election at a time when the economy and the attacks in Iraq each day make more Americans look towards the likes of Wesley Clark, Howard Dean and even Richard Gephardt. By making that hasty last minute trip to Iraq, Bush did nothing more than make a cynical photo-op for the election: One that makes the soldiers look like nothing more than props and that only serves the President, not the country.
Our soldiers overseas deserve better than that.