December 2, 2003

December 2, 2003 | Commentary on Middle East

More Than a Visit: W's Turkey-Day Jaunt Also a Message To Iraqis & World

"The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and notwithstanding go out to meet it."- Thucydides

December 1, 2003 -- NO question, President Bush's derring-do visit to Iraq last week was a major public relations coup for the White House and a great morale boost for the troops. But the visit was really a lot more than that. Above all else, it was a policy power play.

Bush's gutsy Thanksgiving engagement in the Iraqi sands sent a strategic message for all the world to hear: The United States is going to see this one through, and my presence here today is proof.

* For the troops, it was a special thanks from the Commander in Chief and the American people for their selfless sacrifices and bravery a long way from home, especially on one of America's most treasured holidays.

The president knows that it is critically important that the troops in the field know that what they do day-to-day is appreciated by those back home - and they have not been forgotten. (Thankfully, this is something we, as a country, learned well from our painful experience in Vietnam.)

* For the Iraqis, it was a message of commitment to finishing the job that has been started. True, the president did not walk the streets of Baghdad and glad-hand a lot of regular Iraqis, but his (first) visit will have lifted the spirits of those who are glad that Saddam Hussein, the man who murdered more Muslims than anyone on the face of the planet, is gone from power.

It also must have reassured the Iraqis who wonder if America, after a tough month, is going to tire of this Herculean effort and - in current parlance - cut and run. The presidential layover should allay those fears and encourage regular Iraqis to work with the coalition to rebuild a free country.

And it showed the Iraqi Governing Council and religious leaders, such as Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, that the president is "hands on" when it comes to Iraq - and that cooperation with the Coalition Provisional Authority is in their and Iraq's best interest. The leader of the free world stands behind Paul Bremer: Pay attention.

* To the insurgents, foreign fighters and terrorists, the fly-in said: America is pledged to your demise and I've come here to speak to my charges to make sure it happens.

It also told the thugs and assassins that the world's most powerful man can come and go from their turf without their knowledge. They are not invincible and their time will come - sooner rather than later.

* For the rulers of Iraq's neighbors, such as Iran and Syria, the presidential pop-in meant that America has its eye on both countries and that their terrorist transgressions and weapons-of-mass-destruction desires have not gone unnoticed. To the millions of Syrian and Iranian youth longing for liberty, Bush's sojourn highlighted that freedom and democracy can be theirs - just watch us build it before your eyes in Iraq.

* And to the international community, the stopover reinforced that the United States will see this through whether you are with us or not - at this we will not fail.

Failure would be a dishonor to all those - American, Iraqi, British, Spanish, Italian, Polish, Japanese and others - who have made the ultimate sacrifice to make Iraq free and plant the seeds for changing the repressive politics of the Middle East for the better.

Attacks on U.S. forces are down (from 40 to 30 a day) - and arrests and weapons seizures are up - since U.S. troops engaged in a stronger show of force. But the weekend attacks on the Spanish patrol and the unarmed Japanese diplomats demonstrates that there may still be tough days ahead.

The president's lead-from-the-front visit was clearly a lot more than a photo op as some have suggested. True, it was symbolic - but some symbols, like the American flag, have powerful, hopeful, enduring meanings.

Peter Brookes is a senior fellow for National Security Affairs at the Heritage Foundation. E-mail: peterbrookes@heritage.org

About the Author

Peter Brookes Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

First appeared in the New York Post.