Max Boot: Bush's Secret Trip to Baghdad Reminds Me of FDR's Trips to Meet





Max Boot, writing in the Wall Street Journal (subscribers only) (Dec. 1, 2003):

The most compelling evidence of the success of President Bush's trip to Iraq was the reaction of the opposition. No, not the Iraqi opposition -- or "resistance," as the French have taken to calling it. I mean the American opposition: the Democrats and the news media....

Why, the gall of the White House in claiming that the president was at his ranch all the while he was winging his way to Baghdad. The New York Times Washington bureau chief seemed particularly indignant, though perhaps his pique was understandable given that a Washington Post reporter was invited on the trip but his correspondent was not. Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, in other words a self-appointed guardian of journalistic virtue, harrumphed, "That's just not kosher."

Kosher or not, there is, in fact, a long and glorious tradition of just such deceptions in wartime (and, yes, we're at war now). Franklin Roosevelt was a master of the art. When he slipped away to meet Winston Churchill on a battleship off Newfoundland in 1941, he left the presidential yacht, the Potomac, conspicuously floating around Cape Cod with one crew member decked out with a pince-nez and cigarette holder to resemble the president. Two years later, the president took a train north from the White House, seemingly headed for his home at Hyde Park. In the dead of night, he turned around in Baltimore and headed south for Miami. From there, he flew by Pan-Am Clipper flying boat and an army transport plane, with multiple stops in between, to the Casablanca summit.

George W. Bush seems to have been infected with the Roosevelt spirit. And a good thing, too. Cynics may claim that the visit to Iraq was only "theater" without any real strategic significance, but this misses the point entirely: As FDR realized, a large part of modern warfare must be waged in the public arena. The battle over symbols and images can be as important as the battle for any hill or town. This is particularly the case in a guerrilla war where there are few conventional measures of success and the "center of gravity" -- to use Clausewitz's term -- lies in public opinion, American and Iraqi.


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