Thursday, November 27, 2003

What, No Fund-Raising?

From NY Times:

Bush Makes Surprise Thanksgiving Visit to Iraq

WASHINGTON, Nov. 27 – In a stunning mission conducted under enormous secrecy, President Bush flew into Baghdad today aboard Air Force One to have dinner with United States officials and a group of astonished American troops.

His trip – the first ever to Iraq by an American president – had been kept a matter of absolute secrecy by the White House, which had said that he would be spending the Thanksgiving weekend at his ranch outside Crawford, Tex.

Even his wife, Laura, and his parents, the former President George Bush and his wife, Barbara, were not told in advance, officials said later.

The trip was an extraordinary gesture, with scant precedent, and was seen as an effort by Mr. Bush to show the importance he attaches to the embattled United States-led effort to pacify and democratize Iraq.

The presidential historian Douglas Brinkley, appearing on CNN, called it “a perfectly executed plan” that would be “one of the major moments in his biography.” It would have provided “an incredible thrill” for the American.

Mr. Bush sneaked out of Crawford on Wednesday in an unmarked car, then flew to Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, where a few advisers and a small number of reporters sworn to secrecy joined him. They then flew on to Baghdad International Airport, arriving around dusk.

He spent 2 hours 32 minutes in the country, dining with the chief United States administrator there, L. Paul Bremer III, and sharing Thanksgiving wishes with about 600 troops at an airport hangar. Mr. Bush actually helped serve dinner to the troops, who had been told they would be dining with Mr. Bremer and with Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of coalition forces in Iraq.

He also met with four members of the Iraqi Governing Council.

The trip must have raised enormous concerns for the president’s security team. A DHL cargo plane using the same airport Saturday was struck in the wing by a shoulder-fired missile, forcing it to make an emergency landing. Such missiles, reliant on visual contact with their targets, are considered ineffective after dark, however.

“It’s not real risky,” retired Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd said on CNN. “At night, the risk is minimal.”

The trip, nonetheless, was clearly not without peril, taking the president into a country where coalition forces have been the targets of dozens of attacks a day. More than 60 American troops were killed in hostilities there this month, many of them in helicopter crashes.

Officials said afterward that if word of the trip had emerged – even while Air Force One was in the air approaching Baghdad – it would have been canceled.

News of the trip came out around noon, Washington time, or 8 p.m. in Baghdad, as Americans prepared to gather around Thanksgiving tables, assuming that their president was doing the same in Texas.

White House officials had given no hint that anything else was happening.

“The president will be spending Thanksgiving at his ranch here in Crawford, Texas,” a White House spokesman, Claire Buchan, said Wednesday. “He’ll be joined by family and friends, including his mother and father, former President Bush and Mrs. Bush.”

She even announced the menu, starting with “free-range turkey” and ending with “Prairie Chapel pecan pie made with pecans from the president’s ranch.” The only hint that a different reality might later emerge came when Ms. Buchan added, “If there are updates, additionally, to what he does on Thanksgiving, we’ll try and keep you posted.”

Sounds to me like it was more about the codpiece than the troops.