2003-12-03 / This Week's Attitude

This Week’s

By Neil S. Friedman
This Week’s Attitude By Neil S. Friedman


Bush’s Iraqi Visit More Than Turkey & Trimmings

It was essentially a run of the mill Thanksgiving weekend, unless you were overcome by a heavy dose of L-Tryptophan, an ingredient in turkey and wine, which tends to induce sudden catnaps. If you paid attention to current events you were aware it was highlighted by reports of hectic holiday shopping and startling news about a clandestine presidential visit to Iraq. The two, seemingly unrelated, occurrences could, nevertheless, affect next year’s presidential election.

Appropriately sated by the previous day’s multi-course meals, last Friday consumers nationwide headed for malls and shopping areas in droves. Despite the crowds, when all was bought and sold, retail sales fell short of expectations, which doesn’t bode well for the slowly recovering economy.

A day earlier, and half a world away, President Bush engaged in a secret, yet sincere, effort to validate his unyielding support for the war, which, by next summer, could develop into a palpable political liability. The visit immediately boosted troop morale and has, for the moment, improved his sagging popularity.

Shortly after the televised Macy’s parade from midtown Manhattan finished, as most Americans prepared to sit down for Thanksgiving dinner, breaking news revealed the president was landing in Baghdad. The news undoubtedly prompted some interesting conversation between portions of turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce. No sooner had he arrived in the Middle Eastern hot spot, than poignant images of a smiling President Bush, carrying a plump roasted turkey, surprising hundreds of troops gathered in an airplane hangar for a Thanksgiving meal, were transmitted worldwide.

At least the flawlessly executed Thanksgiving exploit was a more effective and uplifting achievement than his hokey Top Gun stunt last spring when, after "landing" a jet on an aircraft carrier off the coast of California, Bush declared "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq. In the ensuing days and weeks it was obvious the statement was as premature as a 32-week birth. The only thing accomplished to date in Iraq has been to force dictator Saddam Hussein into hiding, from where he’s almost certainly directing the ongoing aggression.

The Iraqi excursion, the first ever for a U.S. president but not the first for a Commander-in-Chief in wartime, was an extraordinary gesture, but reading between the lines, it was clearly more than just turkey and trimmings. It may also be construed as the president’s first foray in his 2004 reelection bid.

Critics of the president’s Iraq strategy had little choice than to praise him for the daring visit, but were restrained about condemning it for what it truly was — a political maneuver that won’t change the perilous circumstances for American troops.

The hasty reports of "heavy" consumer shopping sprees and Bush’s secret trip to Iraq are precise examples of spinning events. They demonstrate how information disseminated to the public is subject to embellishment or even positioning events to suit an agenda.

When the final figures were tallied on Monday, weekend sales, at best, were mixed. There was substantially more browsing than buying. Merchants expect — and hope — holiday shopping sales increase in the coming weeks, but they’re also aware that wary consumers may not be prepared to empty their wallets, despite confident economic reports.

Within days after his brief feast with troops, which was long enough to accumulate plenty of poignant photo opportunities, including presidential tears, Bush was on the stump in New Jersey raising money for next year’s elections. With a campaign chest already topping $200 million, the only thing preventing George W. Bush from getting reelected will be the status of the war in Iraq and the nation’s economy. In any event, if need be, they could always devise another Thanksgiving-like surprise.

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