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.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Stormy70 says:

    Actually, Anbar Province is a success story in Iraq, which needs more attention, since it should be commended. The troops are doing a wonderful job, and a visit from their Commander in Chief helps morale.

    Of course, the cynics will find fault with anything he does. And here comes James, right on time.

  2. […] James Joyner is likewise unimpresed: My guess is that the time when publicity stunts like this could have much […]

  3. Of course, that fact that these visits still have to be a secret underscores that the success in Anbar is far from complete.

  4. Did the President or his staff say they were there to bolster support for the war or is that an editorial comment? Maybe it was just a good opportunity to stop and meet some of the troops and build their morale. Why shouldn’t the commander in chief meet with his troops in the field if he gets the chance without being accused of politicizing the troops? And why shouldn’t adequate precautions be taken to protect the president in an ackowledged war zone? The cynicism is thick enough to cut with a knife.

  5. Andy says:

    The cynicism is thick enough to cut with a knife.

    Golly gee, I wonder why that is the case. Maybe, just maybe, it has something to do with the Bush administration’s politicization of everything to do with national security. How’s them terror alert levels doin’?

  6. […] remains open to any ideas, mostly the ones he already has.   This is not a photo op.  Not at […]

  7. […] an alternate view: Steven Taylor and James Joyner are unimpressed.  [Print This Post]  [permalink] [Trackback […]

  8. DaveD says:

    He’s the Commander-In-Chief. The trip seems quite appropriate. Although I have been very, very impressed with the opposition’s staunch willingness to avoid politicizing the presentation of their views on the Iraq war.

  9. fredw says:

    While I commend Bush going to the war zone, which is more than he did during Vietnam, I would be a bit more convinced that the surge is working if he could announce the trip like Ahmadinejad did.

  10. mike says:

    If this wasn’t about politics, then why all the coverage – why not make it like his trips to the VA hospitals when the cameras are rarely allowed in? Not politicization – dream on.

  11. Carroll Lam says:

    Those of you bashing the President for his non-assignment to Vietnam conveniently overlook the fact that he had over 500 hours of flying the air defense fighter F-102A, a high-performance, non-trivial-risk-to-fly jet fighter. While in that unit he _did_ volunteer of Vietnam duty but we weren’t using F-102A’s in Vietnam.

  12. RedWhiteBlue says:

    And where in his military records is the request for duty in Vietnam? Perhaps on the same page as the records of his last month of service?

  13. Derrick says:

    Hate to re-argue this point Carroll, but if Bush wanted to go to Vietnam he could have volunteered at any time. The National Guard was used by many (not all) to get out of Vietnam. And this doesn’t even account for the year where he didn’t even show up for duty.

  14. Derrick says:

    Also, the minute that Bush decided to fly all-Top Gun on to an aircraft carrier under the banner of “Mission Accomplished”, you lost every right to question people’s cynicism about him. If Bush was promoting a surge of Iraq then, instead of holding a $1million dollar PR event to make him look “tough” we might have already one this damn war.

  15. Carroll Lam says:

    Well, my memory failed me. President Bush didn’t have “over 500 hours” in the F-102A. It was only 335.

    The source for volunteering for “Palace Guard” duty seems to be the President himself – and we all know how reliable that can be. 😉

    http://www.warbirdforum.com/bushf102.htm

    Doncha just hate it when someone gets re-elected with the largest vote majority in 28 years after all that? 😎

  16. PJens says:

    It is great that our Commander-In-Chief can visit the troops in a war zone. My friends in the military say they respect Bush and are proud to serve our country under him. Call it what you want, this president shows up because he cares.

  17. Inhumans99 says:

    PJ, you said: “this president shows up because he cares.” And I say: bwah, ha, ha, snort, bwah, ha, ha, ha..chuckle, hoo boy, wow…thanks for the laugh of the day PJ, it does a body good.

  18. Tlaloc says:

    Doncha just hate it when someone gets re-elected with the largest vote majority in 28 years after all that? 😎

    Math illiteracy has grown critical, apparently. 2004 had the largest turn out for any US vote ever. Our population continues to grow and it was the highest percent turn out since the 60s (when our population was much smaller).

    While it is correct to say Bush had the “largest vote majority in 28 years” it is also incredibly dumb since the stat means nothing. The stats that do mean something (i.e. his margin in the popular vote, electoral votes, and his percent share of both) are not so good. In 2004 Bush won the popular vote by about 3 million votes, out of over 120 million cast. For comparison, Clinton won 1992 by almost twice that margin (6 million) out of about 105 million cast. In 1996 Clinton won by 8 million out of 95 million or so.

    Similarly in 2004 Bush won a margin of 35 more electoral votes than Kerry. Clinton in 1996 won a margin of 220. In 1992 he won a margin of 202.

    http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0781450.html

    Education in this matter is being provided to you free of charge. The next one costs you.

  19. Mrs G says:

    Food for thought:

    How many times did Roosevelt visit the front lines in WWII?
    Zero.
    How many times did Wilson visit troops in the trenches in the Ardennes?
    Zero.
    How many times did Johnson go to Vietnam?
    Zero.
    How many times did Clinton go to Bosnia?
    Zero, Nada, not once

    How many times has Bush visited the troops in Iraq?
    3

    If this wasn’t about politics, then why all the coverage – why not make it like his trips to the VA hospitals when the cameras are rarely allowed in? Not politicization – dream on.

    You’re blaming the President for the media hoopla after the fact. He took a small media pool with him. When word got out then the media frenzy began. Had he no media pool with him, I’m sure you’d accuse him of hiding something. Damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.

    announce the trip like Ahmadinejad?
    Now there’s a peacock.

  20. Tlaloc says:

    Food for thought:

    How many times did Roosevelt visit the front lines in WWII?
    Zero.
    How many times did Wilson visit troops in the trenches in the Ardennes?
    Zero.
    How many times did Johnson go to Vietnam?
    Zero.
    How many times did Clinton go to Bosnia?
    Zero, Nada, not once

    How many times has Bush visited the troops in Iraq?
    3

    Your food for thought leaves me hungry. What exactly was your point? In the first place you can’t really compare Roosevelt or Wilson since the travel times in those days were so much longer. Second you seem to be making a big deal about Clinton not going to Bosnia… a war that lasted a week and half, at least our part (slight exaggeration but not by much).

    Had he no media pool with him, I’m sure you’d accuse him of hiding something.

    Actually we wouldn’t have known about the trip. That’s kind of the point of not publicizing something…

    Damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.

    You break one little subcontinent and nobody trusts you anymore! It’s just so unfair.

  21. The Surge and Where Do We Go From Here…

    This doesn’t mean that everything is peachy – the Yazidi massacre of 500 Iraqis by al Qaeda shows that the terrorists can still inflict serious pain on the Iraqi people, but they can’t keep that kind of tempo going – not in the face of an ongoing mil…

  22. Andy says:

    How many times did Clinton go to Bosnia?
    Zero, Nada, not once

    You food for thought leaves me feeling like I was just served by a cook who can’t use google.

    Because, you should know if you tried, Clinton did indeed visit the troops in Bosnia.

    This revelation required using the search term “clinton visits soldiers in bosnia.” Pretty mind blowing!

  23. Michael says:

    How many times has Bush visited the troops in Iraq?
    3

    And how many of those 3 visits were during the war?

  24. Mr Kennedy says:

    How many times did Clinton volunteer to serve in Vietnam?

    None. The draft dodger ran to the UK to smoke dope.

  25. Andy says:

    How many times did Clinton volunteer to serve in Vietnam?

    None. The draft dodger ran to the UK to smoke dope.

    Well, at least he’s not a coward and a hypocrite, like Cheney and Gingrich.

  26. davod says:

    Andy:

    The Democrats politicised the war. I am surprised that a politically astute person such as yourself was not aware of this.

    Tlaloc: Did Clinton win the popular vote?

    The reason the popular vote was listed above is because the Democrat party aways use this figure, unless of course it doesn’t work for them.

  27. Grewgills says:

    The Democrats politicised the war. I am surprised that a politically astute person such as yourself was not aware of this.

    Our current administration politicized the war in Iraq from day one and has not let up since. Perhaps you missed this.

    Did Clinton win the popular vote?

    Popular vote totals
    1992:
    Clinton – 44,909,806
    Bush – 39,104,550
    Perot – 19,743,821
    Others – 665,746
    Advantage Clinton by 5,805,256

    1996:
    Clinton – 47,400,125
    Dole – 39,198,755
    Perot – 8,085,402
    Others – 1,591,118
    Advantage Clinton by 8,201,370

    2000:
    Bush – 49,819,600
    Gore – 50,156,783
    Nader – 2,883,105
    Others – 1,070,117
    Advantage Gore by 337,183 and electoral college shifts to Bush in no small part due to Nader.

    2004:
    Bush – 62,040,610
    Kerry – 59,028,111
    Others – 1,224,611
    Advantage Bush by 3,012,499

    The Clinton win in 1992 was not all that different from the Reagan victory in 1980. Clinton received 49.2% with Perot getting over 8% of the vote vs. Reagan’s 50.7% in 1980 with Anderson getting 6.6% of the vote.

    …the Democratic party aways use this figure, unless of course it doesn’t work for them.

    ditto every politician ever.

  28. Tracy says:

    PJens: And I know plenty of people in the military who serve because they swore an oath, but who think this president is not doing such a good job with the reasoning for or implementation of the war. They are proud to serve their country, and they do what they must and uphold their vows – I am proud of them for that. But they don’t believe that this war was executed well at all. My husband was one of them.

    I’ve had this argument with my father-in-law more times than I can count. Assuming that Bush’s intentions are good, good intentions are not enough when ruling a nation and running a war. You have to know what you’re doing as well.

  29. Andy says:

    The Democrats politicised the war. I am surprised that a politically astute person such as yourself was not aware of this.

    Thanks for the giggle, davod.

    What’s the current terror alert level, by the way? Haven’t heard much about that since the ’04 campaign, eh?