by Austin Bay
June 13, 2006
Seizing the political opportunity created by the death of terrorkingpin Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, President George W. Bush flew to Baghdad onTuesday.
Bush's trip surprised Iraqis, coalition troops and theinternational community. It even surprised members of his staff.
Surprise has a tactical and operational virtue -- it enhancesthe president's security during a visit to a war zone. Surprise alsoprovides drama, in this case media drama building on the drama of Zarqawi'sdemise.
This is smart, strategic politics from an administration thathas 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, Bushsaid he wanted to "look him in the eye." But "eye to eye" with an Americanpresident brings the eyes and ears of a global media entourage. The Bushadministration knows its successful counter-terror strike has created apolitical and media opportunity to spotlight Iraq's emerging politicalsuccesses.
Bush entered Baghdad intending to boost Iraq's new democraticgovernment and personally encourage Maliki. In his remarks following hismeeting, the word "cabinet" thumped like the commanding beat of a bass drum."The decisions you and your cabinet make will be determinate as to whetheror not a country succeeds that can govern itself, sustain itself and defenditself. I'm impressed by the cabinet that you've assembled. You've assembledpeople from all parts of your country, representing the different religions,and the different histories and traditions. And yet the cabinet hererepresents the entire Iraqi people, and I appreciate your commitment torepresenting the people of Iraq."
Last week, Maliki completed his cabinet when he appointed a newminister of defense, minister of interior and minister of national security.
Bush also restated the U.S. grand strategy of countering terrorand tyranny with liberty.
"Iraq is a part of the war on terror," Bush said. "Iraq is acentral front on that war, and when Iraq succeeds in having a government ofand by and for the people of Iraq, you will have dealt a serious blow tothose who have a vision of darkness, who don't believe in liberty, who arewilling to kill the innocent in order to achieve a political objective."
Bush directly addressed Maliki, but the remarks are also aimedat domestic and international critics of U.S. policy.
In a brief address to U.S. and coalition troops, Bush emphasizedthis moment's historic challenge and potential import. "These are historictimes," the president said. "The mission that you're accomplishing here inIraq will go down in the history books as an incredibly important moment inthe history of freedom and peace -- an incredibly important moment of doingour duty to secure our homeland." He also thanked coalition troops forgiving the Iraqi people "a chance to go to the polls ... three differenttimes."
Bush's speeches in Baghdad echoed his May 27 speech to the 2006graduating class at West Point. That speech indicated Bush intends to builda multi-administration policy framework to fight a long war of ideologicaland political attrition against Islamo-fascism. To do that, the new Iraqigovernment must survive and thrive.
Prime Minister Maliki understands that. In fact, Maliki has alsoseized the media moment. On Thursday, June 8, Maliki published an essay inThe Washington Post where he said Iraq would build on the "momentum gainedfrom the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in order to defeat terrorism andsectarianism and to deliver on the Iraqi people's hope of a united, stableand prosperous democracy ..."
Maliki noted the key role of Iraq's judiciary in "relentlesslypursuing the murderers and kidnappers who have blighted Iraqi society." Theongoing trial of Saddam Hussein has tested Iraq's nascent democraticjudiciary, but it has also served as a point of pride among Iraqis.
In his essay, Maliki admonished Iraq's neighbors to "notinterfere in its internal matters" -- a not-so-veiled warning to Iran andSyria. Maliki's comment isn't nationalist polemics. Many Iraqis believeSyria 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.