Bush Makes Surprise Iraq Visit
President Bush made a surprise visit to Iraq this morning.
President Bush made a surprise visit to Iraq on Monday, using the war zone as a backdrop to argue his case that the buildup of U.S. troops is helping stabilizing the nation. The president secretly flew 11 hours to Iraq as a showdown nears with Congress over whether his decision in January to order 30,000 more U.S. troops to Iraq is working. He landed at an air base in Anbar province west of Baghdad.
Bush stopped in Iraq ahead of his visit to Australia for an economic summit with Asia-Pacific leaders. The trip was a closely held secret for obvious security reasons, although speculation about the trip arose late last month when first lady Laura Bush said she was staying home to tend to a pinched nerve in her neck.
The president, who also went to Iraq at Thanksgiving 2003 and in June 2006, was scheduled to leave for Australia on Monday, but Air Force One took off from Andrews Air Force Base Sunday evening instead. He was joined by his top advisers, including National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was traveling there separately. The mission to shore up support for the war was shared with only a small circle of White House staffers and members of the media, who were told that if news of his trip leaked early, it would be scrapped.
My guess is that the time when publicity stunts like this could have much impact on the debate has long past. When the president went for that Thanksgiving visit in 2003, it was greeted with euphoria, generating a substantial amount of good buzz. At this point, though, it may just come across as desperate.
It also serves as another example of presidents using the troops, especially those deployed to war, as political props. It’s a time honored tradition, going back to at least Harry Truman, but one that raises questions of politicization of the military.