Who can blame poor President Bush? Look at his terrible dilemma.
There are those who say the chief executive should have come out of his Texas ranch house and articulated and assuaged the sorrow and outrage and anxiety the nation was feeling on Sunday after the deadliest day in Iraq in seven months. An attack on a Chinook helicopter had killed 15 American soldiers, 13 men and 2 women, and wounded 21.
There are those who say Mr. Bush should have emulated Rudy Giuliani’s empathetic leadership after 9/11, or Dad’s in the first gulf war, and attended some of the funerals of the 379 Americans killed in Iraq. Or one. Maybe the one for Specialist Darryl Dent, the 21-year-old National Guard officer from Washington who died outside Baghdad in late August when a bomb struck his truck while he was delivering mail to troops. His funeral was held at a Baptist church three miles from the White House.
But let’s look at it from the president’s point of view: if he grieves more publicly or concretely, if he addresses every instance of bad news, like the hideous spectre of Iraqis’ celebrating the downing of the Chinook, he will simply remind people of what’s going on in Iraq.
So it’s understandable why, going into his re-election campaign, Mr. Bush wouldn’t want to underscore that young Americans keep getting whacked over there, and we don’t know who is doing it or how to stop it.
The White House is cleverly trying to distance Mr. Bush from the messy problem of flesh-and-blood soldiers with real names dying nearly every day, while linking him to the heroic task of fighting global terror.
It’s better to keep it vague, to talk about the “important cause” and the “brave defenders” of liberty.
If he gets more explicit, or allows the flag-draped coffins of fallen heroes to be photographed coming home, it will just remind people that the administration said this would be easy, and it’s teeth-grindingly hard. And that the administration vowed to get Osama and Saddam and W.M.D., and hasn’t. And that the Bush team that hyped the presence of Al Qaeda in Iraq has now created an Al Qaeda presence in Iraq. And that there was no decent plan for the occupation or for financing one, no plan for rotating or supporting troops stretched too thin to guard ammunition caches or police a fractious society, and no plan for getting out.
As the White House points out, Mr. Bush cannot fairly pick and choose which memorial services to go to, or which deaths to speak of.
“If a helicopter were hit an hour later, after he came out and spoke, should he come out again?” Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director, told The Times’ Elisabeth Bumiller, explaining Mr. Bush’s silence after the Chinook crash. The public, he added, “wants the commander in chief to have proper perspective, and keep his eye on the big picture and the ball.”
The ball for fall is fund-raising. President Bush has been going full throttle since summer, spending several days a week flying around the country, hitting up rich Republicans for $2,000 checks. He has raised $90 million so far out of the $175 million he plans to spend on a primary campaign in which he has no opponent.
At fund-raisers, Mr. Bush prefers to talk about the uptick in the economy, not the downtick in Iraq. On Monday, arriving for a fund-raiser in Birmingham, he was upbeat, not sombre. As Mike Allen of The Washington Post reported in his pool report, “The president, who gave his usual salute as he stepped off Marine One, appeared to start the day in a fabulous mood. . . . An Alabama reporter who was under the wing shouted, `How long will U.S. troops be in Iraq?’ The president gave him an unappreciative look.”
Raising $1.8 million at lunch, he stuck to the line that “we are aggressively striking the terrorists in Iraq, defeating them there so we will not have to face them in our own country.” He didn’t want to depress the donors by mentioning the big news story, the loss of 15 American soldiers, or sour the mood by conceding the obvious, that the swelling horde of terrorists fighting us there will not prevent terrorists from coming after us here. Maybe we should all be like President Bush and not read the papers so we don’t get worn down either.
Perhaps the solution to Mr. Bush’s quandary is to coordinate his schedule so he can go to cities where he can attend both fund-raisers and funerals.
The law of averages suggests it shouldn’t be hard.
Article courtesy of New York Times