November 20, 2005
Why Bush Wraps Himself in Olive Drab
When President Bush wanted to make a speech on the war in Iraq
in May, he went to the Naval Academy. When he wanted to make a
speech on the war in Iraq in August, he went before members of
the Idaho National Guard and their families. When he wanted to
make a speech on the war in Iraq in November, he went to Elmendorf
Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska.
Cheney also likes a gathering that knows how to salute. When he
emerges from his bunker to castigate critics of the war, it's
usually at a safe remove from those critics. Last month, it was
at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia. In June, it was at the Air
Nixon was feeling beleaguered by Vietnam and Watergate, he had
a standard response: take a trip to a foreign country and bask
in his reputation as a global statesman. That's a less plausible
option for Bush, who in many countries is about as welcome as
avian flu. But he's found that when he needs a relatively receptive
audience, the people below him in the chain of command will suffice.
the image of himself as a tough, resolute commander in chief --
the same pose he struck on the USS Lincoln in his ill-fated "mission
accomplished" speech in May 2003. That comes in handy when
you're being criticized on the war by a Democratic hawk like Rep.
John Murtha, D-Pa., and you want to try to portray him as a weak-kneed
surrender monkey, despite his Marine Corps combat service in Vietnam.
president's strong preference for military events is really a
sign of weakness, not strength. It indicates an administration
that is steadily sinking among the public at large and is desperate
enough to grab onto uniformed personnel to stay afloat.
hard to see why the president and vice president choose such venues.
Going before civilians is an increasingly worrisome venture, now
that public opinion has turned against the war and the administration.
Most Americans rate Bush as less trustworthy than Bill Clinton,
which is like losing a beauty pageant to an armadillo.
president addressed a Chamber of Commerce meeting in Norfolk,
Va. -- not exactly an outpost of liberalism -- he was reminded
of the virtues of military discipline. He had to contend with
protesters outside holding "Impeach Bush" signs, as
well as a heckler who shouted "War is terror!" in the
middle of his speech. Things like that don't happen at Fort Hood.
stresses obedience to authority, which means that lieutenants
and corporals are not likely to dis their commander in chief,
unless they want to commit career suicide. They can be relied
on to comport themselves in a respectful manner, regardless of
their personal opinions.
that, but their personal opinions are more likely to be favorable
than unfavorable. In recent years, officers and enlisted personnel
alike have gotten to be largely conservative and Republican. Support
for the war apparently remains high among the troops.
entirely blame a politician for preferring to soak up the admiration
of his fans rather than brave the scrutiny of skeptics. But there
are other, less defensible motives at work as well. One is the
eagerness of Bush and Cheney -- both of whom found ways to avoid
active-duty service when their generation was at war -- to cloak
themselves in military valor.
is the attempt to imply that anyone who questions the war is hostile
to the troops who are fighting it. As Northwestern University
military sociologist Charles Moskos points out, "The anti-war
movement in the Vietnam era was often anti-soldier. But that's
not true now."
however, would like us to believe that supporting the troops means
supporting the war. In his Veterans Day speech, Bush insisted,
"As our troops fight a ruthless enemy determined to destroy
our way of life, they deserve to know that their elected leaders
who voted to send them to war continue to stand behind them."
In this view, Americans have a choice: supporting his Iraq policy
and our soldiers, or siding with Michael Moore and the terrorists.
manipulation of images worked before, when the president managed
to implicate Saddam Hussein in the 9/11 attacks without ever explicitly
making that false connection. And it may work again. It's the
first and last resort for an administration whose greatest enemy
is honest debate.
2005 Creators Syndicate