The embedded corporate media is still crowing over the details of George W. Bush's Thanksgiving flight to Baghdad. The Shrub spinmeisters have branded it a "home run."
But the global image of the smirking Texan carrying that turkey on a tray will now join the "greatest hits" album headlined by Bush's "Mission Accomplished" shot on the USS Lincoln, since which more than 100 US soldiers have died.
The Fox media annointed to accompany Bush to Baghdad were barred from any uncontrolled interviews with American soldiers.
Historically, Bush was merely replaying Lyndon Johnson's tragic 1966 visit to Vietnam's Cam Ranh Bay, after which tens of thousands of American and Vietnamese soldiers and civilians died in nine years of ghastly slaughter.
Johnson swooped into the huge US base with top secrecy and security. The saturation photo op was meant to boost Johnson's plummeting polls. Having won in 1964 as a peace candidate, LBJ's 1965 decision to escalate the war in Vietnam remains a catastrophic pivot point in US history.
At about two and a half hours, Johnson's stay at Cam Ranh Bay matched Bush's in Baghdad. LBJ visited none of Vietnam outside the base. The photo op gave him a fleeting lift amidst a relentless decline toward nervous collapse. Elected by one of the widest margins in US history, he shocked the world by declining to run for re-election, abandoning office in failure and disgrace.
Bush's re-run to Baghdad coincided with the death of yet another US soldier. More than sixty Americans were killed in November, the war's bloodiest month since Bush declared "Mission Accomplished." Overall more than 430 Americans have died in Iraq, with more than 2400 US wounded and thousands more Iraqis dead or maimed.
Like LBJ, Bush kept to military turf, and told the media he was prepared to abort the mission and flee toward home at any time. While there were no uncontrolled exchanges with US soldiers, Bush did meet briefly under top security with hand-picked Iraqis meant to serve in the American-engineered government to which Bush says he'll cede power next June, in the lead-up to the fall 2004 US elections.
But the extreme secrecy and nervous nature of the media stunt underscored that Iraqis are not "dancing in the streets" over the US occupation, as the Administration had originally promised when they were selling the American public on this war. Even members of the Governing Council weren't told of Bush's visit until they were brought to him. ''We cannot consider Bush's arrival at Baghdad International Airport yesterday as a visit to Iraq,'' said Mahmoud Othman, a US-appointed member of Governing Council. ''He did not meet with ordinary Iraqis. Bush was only trying to boost the morale of his troops.''
A series of lethal anti-occupation attacks quickly followed, including a large ambush whose body count is in dispute. US military officials now concede the Iraqi attacks are becoming better coordinated and more deadly.
Bush's Turkey Trot may have been aimed in part at upstaging New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who arrived in Baghdad the next day. Clinton and Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed visited Afghanistan before coming to Baghdad. ''I wanted to come to Iraq to let the troops know about the great job they're doing,'' said the former First Lady.
Clinton voted for the Congressional resolution used by the Administration to attack Iraq. She now says she is "a big believer that we ought to internationalize this" and bring in the United Nations. But that "will take a big change in our administration's thinking" and "I don't see that it's forthcoming."
Reed voted against the war's authorization. He says his November visit---he also came in June---re-confirmed his opposition. United Nations weapons inspectors should have been given more time to disarm Iraq, he says. Reed still questions the alleged links between Saddam Hussein and the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York.
An independent delegation of relatives and friends of US soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan is scheduled to visit Baghdad soon. They plan to speak to grassroots Iraqis and to interview American soldiers unsupervised by US officials or embedded Foxoids.
Could this prompt another desperate, deadly Bush media distraction? Lyndon Johnson also used his Cam Ranh Bay visit to push reports of American deaths and domestic anti-war demonstrations off the front pages.
But given what followed, he---and our troops---should have stayed home. Shrub, take note.
Harvey Wasserman is author of HARVEY WASSERMAN'S HISTORY OF THE U.S. and co-author (with Bob Fitrakis) of GEORGE W. BUSH VERSUS THE SUPERPOWER OF PEACE (www.freepress.org).