Bush wisely moves to seize political advantage in Iraq

  • Austin Bay / Nationally syndicated columnist
  • Wednesday, June 14, 2006 9:00pm
  • Opinion

Seizing the political opportunity created by the death of terror kingpin Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, President Bush flew to Baghdad on Tuesday.

Bush’s trip surprised Iraqis, coalition troops and the international community. It even surprised members of his staff.

Surprise has a tactical and operational virtue – it enhances the president’s security during a visit to a war zone. Surprise also provides drama, in this case media drama building on the drama of Zarqawi’s demise.

This is smart, strategic politics from an administration that has all too often failed to use the power of the presidency’s bully pulpit.

When he met with new Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Bush said he wanted to “look him in the eye.” But “eye to eye” with an American president brings the eyes and ears of a global media entourage. The Bush administration knows its successful counter-terror strike has created a political and media opportunity to spotlight Iraq’s emerging political successes.

Bush entered Baghdad intending to boost Iraq’s new democratic government and personally encourage Maliki. In his remarks following his meeting, the word “cabinet” thumped like the commanding beat of a bass drum. “The decisions you and your cabinet make will be determinate as to whether or not a country succeeds that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself. I’m impressed by the cabinet that you’ve assembled. You’ve assembled people from all parts of your country, representing the different religions, and the different histories and traditions. And yet the cabinet here represents the entire Iraqi people, and I appreciate your commitment to representing the people of Iraq.”

Last week, Maliki completed his cabinet when he appointed a new minister of defense, minister of interior and minister of national security.

Bush also restated the U.S. grand strategy of countering terror and tyranny with liberty.

“Iraq is a part of the war on terror,” Bush said. “Iraq is a central front on that war, and when Iraq succeeds in having a government of and by and for the people of Iraq, you will have dealt a serious blow to those who have a vision of darkness, who don’t believe in liberty, who are willing to kill the innocent in order to achieve a political objective.”

Bush directly addressed Maliki, but the remarks are also aimed at domestic and international critics of U.S. policy.

In a brief address to U.S. and coalition troops, Bush emphasized this moment’s historic challenge and potential import. “These are historic times,” the president said. “The mission that you’re accomplishing here in Iraq will go down in the history books as an incredibly important moment in the history of freedom and peace – an incredibly important moment of doing our duty to secure our homeland.” He also thanked coalition troops for giving the Iraqi people “a chance to go to the polls … three different times.”

Bush’s speeches in Baghdad echoed his May 27 speech to the 2006 graduating class at West Point. That speech indicated Bush intends to build a multi-administration policy framework to fight a long war of ideological and political attrition against Islamo-fascism. To do that, the new Iraqi government must survive and thrive.

Prime Minister Maliki understands that. In fact, Maliki has also seized the media moment. On Thursday, Maliki published an essay in The Washington Post where he said Iraq would build on the “momentum gained from the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in order to defeat terrorism and sectarianism and to deliver on the Iraqi people’s hope of a united, stable and prosperous democracy … “

Maliki noted the key role of Iraq’s judiciary in “relentlessly pursuing the murderers and kidnappers who have blighted Iraqi society.” The ongoing trial of Saddam Hussein has tested Iraq’s nascent democratic judiciary, but it has also served as a point of pride among Iraqis.

In his essay, Maliki admonished Iraq’s neighbors to “not interfere in its internal matters” – a not-so-veiled warning to Iran and Syria. Maliki’s comment isn’t nationalist polemics. Many Iraqis believe Syria and Iran have prolonged the insurgent violence by providing havens, financing, armed support and intelligence.

Bush’s critics will dismiss Baghdad as a stunt. They’re wrong – it’s a long overdue stroke of political and media brilliance.

Austin Bay is a nationally syndicated columnist. He can be contacted by visiting www.austinbay.net.

Talk to us

More in Opinion

Editorial cartoons for Thursday, June 8

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Phlebotomist Heather Evans preps JaNeen Aagaard a donation at Bloodworks NW Friday afternoon in Everett at July 3o, 2021.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Editorial: Get back in (or start) your habit of giving blood

The pandemic’s effects and fewer younger donors too often leave blood supplies dangerously low.

Comment: After LIV-PGA merger, Saudis are just getting started

The money from their wealth fund may prove irresistible to other sports organizations in the U.S.

Comment: Feuding Russian forces point to problems for Putin

Infighting among Russia units, mercenaries and irregulars raises doubts amid Ukraine’s counteroffensive.

Comment: We should worry more about AI’s creators than AI itself

Their warnings of an ‘extinction threat’ are part marketing tool and part effort to avoid scrutiny.

Comment: Expect battles as Oklahoma lowers church-state wall

State funding of a Catholic school may require the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on the establishment clause.

Editorial cartoons for Wednesday, June 7

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Lummi Tribal members Ellie Kinley, left, and Raynell Morris, president and vice president of the non-profit Sacred Lands Conservancy known as Sacred Sea, lead a prayer for the repatriation of southern resident orca Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut — who has lived and performed at the Miami Seaquarium for over 50 years — to her home waters of the Salish Sea at a gathering Sunday, March 20, 2022, at the sacred site of Cherry Point in Whatcom County, Wash.

The Bellingham Herald
Editorial: What it will require to bring Tokitae home

Bringing home the last captive orca requires expanded efforts to restore the killer whales’ habitat.

A map of the I-5/SR 529 Interchange project on Tuesday, May 23, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Editorial: Set your muscle memory for work zone speed cameras

Starting next summer, not slowing down in highway work zones can result in a $500 fine.

Most Read