Day trip to Baghdad

November 30, 2003

"IT WAS AN EMOTIONAL moment to walk in that room; the energy level was beyond belief. I've been in front of some excited crowds before, but this ... the place truly erupted and I could see the, first, look of amazement, and then look of appreciation on the kids' faces."

By his own account, that moment of connection put to rest any last doubts of the commander in chief that his lightning-fast trip halfway around the world to visit U.S. troops in Baghdad on Thanksgiving was the right thing to do.

What a morale booster!

And the troops might even have gotten a lift out of it, too. But not nearly enough to stick taxpayers for the enormous tab of this transparently political stunt.

Mr. Bush isn't the first president to tap into the regard Americans have for soldiers spending holidays in war zones on their behalf.

President Clinton celebrated Thanksgiving with troops in Kosovo, Mr. Bush's father ate his 1991 Thanksgiving meal at a military encampment on the endless sands of Saudi Arabia.

LBJ made a pre-Christmas stop at a U.S. naval base in Vietnam.

Nor was President Bush the only U.S. politician using military personnel as props over this holiday period.

New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton shared leftovers in the Baghdad mess tent Friday after a Thanksgiving spent with Americans on duty in Afghanistan -- a blast back into the news for that neglected front.

But neither precedent nor partnership in the pursuit of positive pictures gets either one of them off the hook. Both have more than ample campaign funds to cover at least some of the costs.

Ad makers in the Bush campaign probably should wait a while, though, before they take film from the Baghdad drop-by to replace that discredited "Mission Accomplished" footage from the aircraft carrier.

Secretly skulking into the Iraqi capital under cover of darkness may not quite project the image of leadership, courage and respect for young Americans in harm's way that Bush backers intended.

And the deception -- misleading the press, the public, even his own bodyguards -- that allowed a U.S. president to go MIA doesn't say much for Mr. Bush's already challenged credibility.

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