Bush's Suprise Visit to Baghdad
by Austin Bay
June 13, 2006
Seizing the political opportunity created by the death of terror
kingpin Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, President George W. Bush flew to Baghdad on
Bush's trip surprised Iraqis, coalition troops and the
international community. It even surprised members of his staff.
Surprise has a tactical and operational virtue -- it enhances
the president's security during a visit to a war zone. Surprise also
provides drama, in this case media drama building on the drama of Zarqawi's
This is smart, strategic politics from an administration that
has all too often failed to use the power of the presidency's bully pulpit.
When he met with new Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Bush
said he wanted to "look him in the eye." But "eye to eye" with an American
president brings the eyes and ears of a global media entourage. The Bush
administration knows its successful counter-terror strike has created a
political and media opportunity to spotlight Iraq's emerging political
Bush entered Baghdad intending to boost Iraq's new democratic
government and personally encourage Maliki. In his remarks following his
meeting, the word "cabinet" thumped like the commanding beat of a bass drum.
"The decisions you and your cabinet make will be determinate as to whether
or not a country succeeds that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend
itself. I'm impressed by the cabinet that you've assembled. You've assembled
people from all parts of your country, representing the different religions,
and the different histories and traditions. And yet the cabinet here
represents the entire Iraqi people, and I appreciate your commitment to
representing the people of Iraq."
Last week, Maliki completed his cabinet when he appointed a new
minister of defense, minister of interior and minister of national security.
Bush also restated the U.S. grand strategy of countering terror
and tyranny with liberty.
"Iraq is a part of the war on terror," Bush said. "Iraq is a
central front on that war, and when Iraq succeeds in having a government of
and by and for the people of Iraq, you will have dealt a serious blow to
those who have a vision of darkness, who don't believe in liberty, who are
willing to kill the innocent in order to achieve a political objective."
Bush directly addressed Maliki, but the remarks are also aimed
at domestic and international critics of U.S. policy.
In a brief address to U.S. and coalition troops, Bush emphasized
this moment's historic challenge and potential import. "These are historic
times," the president said. "The mission that you're accomplishing here in
Iraq will go down in the history books as an incredibly important moment in
the history of freedom and peace -- an incredibly important moment of doing
our duty to secure our homeland." He also thanked coalition troops for
giving the Iraqi people "a chance to go to the polls ... three different
Bush's speeches in Baghdad echoed his May 27 speech to the 2006
graduating class at West Point. That speech indicated Bush intends to build
a multi-administration policy framework to fight a long war of ideological
and political attrition against Islamo-fascism. To do that, the new Iraqi
government must survive and thrive.
Prime Minister Maliki understands that. In fact, Maliki has also
seized the media moment. On Thursday, June 8, Maliki published an essay in
The Washington Post where he said Iraq would build on the "momentum gained
from the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in order to defeat terrorism and
sectarianism and to deliver on the Iraqi people's hope of a united, stable
and prosperous democracy ..."
Maliki noted the key role of Iraq's judiciary in "relentlessly
pursuing the murderers and kidnappers who have blighted Iraqi society." The
ongoing trial of Saddam Hussein has tested Iraq's nascent democratic
judiciary, but it has also served as a point of pride among Iraqis.
In his essay, Maliki admonished Iraq's neighbors to "not
interfere in its internal matters" -- a not-so-veiled warning to Iran and
Syria. Maliki's comment isn't nationalist polemics. Many Iraqis believe
Syria and Iran have prolonged the insurgent violence by providing havens,
financing, armed support and intelligence.
Bush's critics will dismiss Baghdad as a stunt. They're wrong --
it's a long overdue stroke of political and media brilliance.
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