A Chickenhawk Thanksgiving in Baghdad

Oh, what a Thanksgiving party it was.

George Walker Bush, President of the United States of America, flew into Baghdad International Airport under cover of darkness, accompanied only by his usual retinue of mainstream press syncophants, to spend two hours mouthing platitudes and getting his picture taken in the company of 600 hand-picked military personnel.

As the only well-fed people in newly "liberated" Iraq tucked into their turkey and dressing, Bush treated the assemblage to a soundbite-friendly speech rich in flag-waving rhetoric and practical vagaries. Speaking in short, broad generalities, Bush told the soldiers, "You are defeating the terrorists here in Iraq so we don't have to face them in our own country," and "You are defending the American people from danger and we are grateful."

It is doubtful that Bush is perceptive enough to note the ironies implicit in both his presence and his pronouncements, though surely Karl Rove and his fellow cogs in the White House spin machine got a chuckle out of every nuance. While speaking for purposes of ostensibly expressing gratitude -- isn't that what the holiday is all about in the first place? -- Bush's words served instead both to perpetuate illusions and to inculcate fear. The President's repetitive mantra of "terror," "danger," freedom" and the like -- the familiar buzzwords guaranteed to fulment unreasoning emotions in the hearts of all good Fox-viewing Americans -- seemingly found its origins on Madison Avenue rather than Pennsylvania Avenue.

Deftly baiting-and-switching the public's attention away from the 60 personnel slain over the course of the preceding month or the spiraling costs of a mission he had declared "accomplished" mere months before, Bush's underlying message to America seemed to be that the boogeyman was at the door, that danger still stalked the stars and stripes, and that only continued neo-colonialism could protect our TVs, toasters and steel-belted radials from sinister terrorists.

It was a propaganda coup of the first order, replete with adoring camera angles and wildly cheering multitudes, all conducted under a shroud of Stalinist press secrecy. Indeed, the administration and its media admirers seem to regard its very deceit of the public and the press a point of pride. Lost in the torrent of excited blither from small-screen news anchors and pundits was a fairly basic question: Why was the chief executive of the United States, an ostensibly democratic nation, skulking into Baghdad when we'd been told he was in Crawford, Texas? Why were we lied to?

"For security," of course. Sure, the mortars drop on Baghdad International with unerring frequency, and even George W. would rather not be blown to bits. Understandable enough. Of course, some of us might wonder how it came to be that an American President might have the unmitigated gall to embark on such a reckless, expensive, and tactically meaningless expedition for purposes of a blatant photo-op. An answer to such a question, if asked, would surely be slow in coming. Given the administration's success in framing public discourse (remember "you're either with us or against us" and Ari Fleischer's admonition to "watch what you say") serious questioning of any gesture, however meaningless, that purports to "support our troops" is pretty unlikely in the fawning U.S. media. Overseas, however, the reaction was less muted: "The Turkey Has Landed" was the sneering headline in London's Independent.

The very nature of Thanksgiving is called into question by Bush's latest exercise in media-friendly self-aggrandizement. Who should be giving thanks to whom, and for what? Bush doesn't seem to have a firm handle on the answer. It seems worth noting that rather than junketing his cocoon over to an airplane hanger in Baghdad in order to mix up feel-good with fear along with a side of dressing, he could have spent his time and energy visiting the families of the soldiers who have died. Or, he could have stopped in at any given VA hospital, where he might have a word or two with the young men and women who had given arms, legs, eyes, ears, or other valuable body parts in service to Bush and Halliburton.

Just as the Thanksgiving holiday itself was the unintentionally ironic creation of a group of colonialists whose descendents proceeded to virtually wipe out an entire indigenous population, Thanksgiving in Baghdad 2004 served as an unblinking and unthinking exercise in reactionary gall, undertaken by a president seemingly incapable of comprehending the real meaning of his actions. Thanks to his strategists and the whipped-cur behavior of his unquestioning news channel minions, we can expect to see at least a brief spike in Bush's popularity polls and some nice video snippets in next year's election ads.

But important, if unasked, questions linger about a president who foregoes both taste and honesty in his advancement of his agenda--questions of integrity, character and ethics. They might be aptly summed up in a riposte posed to another Republican nearly five decades ago, Senator Joseph McCarthy, during his final days on Capitol Hill: "Finally, sir, have you no shame?"

David B. Livingstone is a Michigan-based writer, commentator, and activist. He can be reached at david@orwellmedia.com.

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