Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Bush likes staged media events with the Military

From his May 2003 "Mission Accomplished" speech aboard an aircraft carrier, to a Thanksgiving dinner in Baghdad, to Tuesday night's speech surrounded by troops, President Bush has had no shortage of telegenic moments on Iraq — amid a nearly unrelenting string of bad news from the region.
His approval ratings at the lowest of his presidency, Bush sought to rally lagging public support for the war with a prime-time address at Fort Bragg, N.C.

The visit offered Bush one of his favorite backdrops: an audience of American troops.

The preference for friendly audiences is well established, demonstrated by Bush's repeated appearances before invitation-only "town hall" audiences to promote his Social Security plan. It's a pattern he followed in his 2004 re-election campaign.

Few audiences are as predictably friendly as military ones, duty bound to show respect for their commander in chief, often bursting into whoops.
Already this year, Bush has visited Fort Hood, Texas, twice; has spoken to U.S. troops returning from Iraq at Wiesbaden Air Base in Germany; has stood with armed forces members in a Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery; and has delivered the commencement address to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.
In appearing often with U.S. troops, Bush "can show genuine respect for the men and women who provide the first line of defense," said Wayne Fields, director of American culture studies at Washington University in St. Louis and a specialist on presidential rhetoric.

"It also provides something he can borrow," said Fields, enabling Bush to identify himself with the military's patriotism and sacrifice.

There are also the images of the war that the administration prefers not to emphasize: fallen Americans and Iraqis amid black smoke, fire and bombing rubble. The flag-draped coffins coming to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Bush's private sessions on military bases with the families of the fallen, his visits to the wounded in military hospitals.

The conflict has cost the lives of more than 1,740 U.S. troops since the war began in March 2003.
North Carolina has been hard hit.

In the one year since the U.S.-led coalition returned official sovereignty to Iraq, some 100 North Carolina-based troops have died in the war, second only to 180 from California, according to an Associated Press analysis.
About 52,000 members of the military are stationed at Bragg and adjacent Pope Air Force Base, and some 14,700 are fighting in Iraq. North Carolina also has sent thousands of Marines from Camp Lejeune and air crews from two Air Force bases.

Bush sought to clarify the stakes after other U.S. officials painted mixed pictures — from Vice President Dick Cheney's claim that the insurgency was in its "last throes" to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's suggestion that the conflict could last another 12 years.
Bush also sought to shore up military morale and reassure conservatives jittery about the continued loss of life and rising price tag.

Some images of Bush with the troops have backfired.
When a flight-suit-clad Bush landed on the deck of the homeward-bound aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and proclaimed the end to major combat on May 1, 2003 — under a giant "Mission Accomplished" banner — it seemed at first like a perfect Kodak moment, even to Bush detractors.
Never mind that the carrier had to be turned in a half-circle to keep the California shoreline out of the picture.
But when violence increased instead of ebbing, the "Mission Accomplished" episode became an object of ridicule to many.

That Thanksgiving, Bush made an unannounced trip to Baghdad to dine with U.S. troops.
An image of a beaming Bush, wearing an Army workout jacket and holding a platter containing a large golden-brown turkey and stuffing, was widely distributed. It turned out, however, that the turkey was a prop and not for consumption. The soldiers were fed from cafeteria steam-table trays.
As the Iraq conflict has dragged on, critics have accused the administration of not being forthcoming on the challenges that remain, and putting too much emphasis on a public-relations campaign.
"There has been a tendency to talk down to the American people in slogans and to fail to present convincing plans," said Anthony Cordesman, an Iraq specialist with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
As to Bush surrounding himself with troops, "I think the real problem is he's trying to capitalize on our men and women in uniform," Cordesman said.

Not so, said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. "This is the commander in chief talking to the American people during a time of war," he said. "And it's important for the American people to hear from the commander in chief, particularly at important moments like this in Iraq."

from the article Newsview: Troops a Favorite Bush Audience, in the SFGate


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