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BUSH CRITICIZED FOR STEALTH TRIP TO IRAQ

FORECASTS & TRENDS E-LETTER
By Gary D. Halbert
December 2, 2003

IN THIS ISSUE:

1.  Dem Wannabes & Hillary Criticize Bush Over Iraq. 

2.  Security Details Of Bush’s Surprise Trip To Iraq.

3.  Critics Claim Trip To Iraq Was Just A “Photo-Op.”

4.  Hillary Shoots Her Mouth Off To Troops In Iraq.

Introduction

While most Americans praised President Bush for his daring surprise visit to the troops in Iraq on Thanksgiving, there were those who criticized him.  In particular, several of the Democratic presidential wannabes, and who else but Hillary Clinton, who made discouraging remarks to our troops on her trip to Iraq the day after Bush left.  Also, several of the media outlets that were not invited on the stealth trip to Iraq weren’t particularly happy about it either.  We’ll talk about all this later on.

When I first heard the news that Bush was in Iraq early Friday morning, I must say I was very surprised and immediately concerned about his safety.  But only moments later, Fox News assured its viewers, including me, that Bush was already safely out of Iraq and on his way back to Texas.  Still, I wondered, why Bush would put himself into such a dangerous situation.  I wondered, what did the Secret Service and his senior staff have to say about this?  And, most of all, whose idea was this anyway?

The details of the President’s trip to Baghdad are fascinating, to me anyway, but received relatively little coverage in the media.  This week, we will look into some of those details, largely as reported by Washington Post writer Mike Allen, who was one of the few reporters to accompany President Bush on this surprise trip to visit the troops on Thanksgiving

Reportedly, It Was Bush’s Idea To Go

Allen noted that the 13 reporters who accompanied the President to Iraq on short notice were told that the plan to go to Baghdad on Thanksgiving was Bush’s idea some 5-6 weeks ago.  Elsewhere, it has been reported that there was a great deal of opposition to the idea within the White House and among the various security agencies.  For obvious security reasons, the trip had to be a surprise.

Allen wrote that he and the other reporters on the plane were told that while the trip had been in the making for several weeks, that President Bush, himself, made the final decision to go on Wednesday morning.  Allen wrote that while the First Lady knew about the trip, Bush’s parents did not know he was going, and that his daughters were told only a few hours before he left.  He also noted that Bush left his Crawford ranch in an unmarked car with no motorcade for the airport in Waco.  Allen also wrote that while in the air, the reporters were told that if news of Bush’s trip was somehow leaked in Baghdad, the trip would be called off and they would return home. 

President Bush and his entourage actually left Waco secretly on Wednesday at 8:25 p.m. (EST) on Air Force One, and stopped at Andrews Air Force Base to pick up additional staff and reporters and to change planes.

Allen said that several of the reporters onboard Air Force One, when it left Waco, believed this was just some kind of joke.  They were not even sure, Allen remarked, that President Bush was even onboard, as no one had actually seen him.  There was no way, they thought, that President Bush and the reporters onboard were about to fly into Baghdad. 

Only when they landed at Andrews Air Force Base, and were switched on to the larger, international Air Force One, did they realize that they were really headed for Baghdad.  In the giant hangar at Andrews, they actually saw Bush boarding the other Air Force One.  Allen wrote that Bush called out to the journalists and gestured that they dare not make any cell phone calls as to where they were going.

Allen wrote that only when they boarded the larger Air Force One, where they met several other journalists who were already onboard, did they learn that this was no joke, and that they were really headed for Baghdad. 

Once in flight, Allen said that one reporter leaned across the isle and whispered to him, “The President is AWOL, and we’re with him.  This is the ultimate road trip!”

Getting In & Out Of Danger

According to Allen, Air Force One landed at Baghdad International Airport at 9:32 a.m. (EST), or 5:32 p.m. local time, in Baghdad on Thursday.  Before they landed in Baghdad, the press corps was advised that all of the plane’s windows would be shuttered (closed) before entering Iraqi airspace.   Allen writes of the instructions they received from the Communications Director before landing:

"It is absolutely critical, when we land, that you do not open your windows. Particularly as we land and when we're on the ground, we want no light emanating from the plane. We will not be pulling up to a terminal. We will be stopping at the end of the runway. It's just [as] important that we move quickly...
Asked whether plane was flying under [an]other code than Air Force One: 'I'm not going to be able to go into all the security measures that are being taken and how we are flying. But it's safe to say that is correct, that people on the ground do not know that this is Air Force One that's landing.'"

Allen noted that the reporters, the Bush staff, security – and presumably the President – all donned bulletproof vests before Air Force One landed.   He also noted that Air Force One approached the airport without the usual landing lights on or even the lights on the wingtips.

Once on the ground, Allen wrote, the President was immediately whisked away in a white Land Rover in a 12-vehicle motorcade which went the short (5-minute) distance to the Bob Hope Dining Facility where some 600 or so troops were gathered for a Thanksgiving dinner. 

The troops were expecting only Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez, commander of US forces in Iraq, and Paul Bremer, the chief civilian administrator in Iraq, to address them.  They did not know Bush was there.  General Sanchez said, “God bless you for all of your sacrifices,” and hurriedly introduced Ambassador Bremer. Bremer said he had Thanksgiving greetings from the President. But then Bremer, hamming it up, looked toward stage left and said, “Let’s see if we’ve got anyone more senior here.”   Here is how Allen described it:

“Then the President came out and the room erupted even before he reached the stage, with soldiers standing on chairs, standing on tables to bark, hoot, yell and ‘Hoo-ah!’ their approval… The President then plunged into the crowd to meet with the soldiers. He served food and worked the entire length of the long building. The President seemed to be into the serving thing… The President was wearing [a] blue shirt, dark slacks and a PT (Physical Training) jacket bearing the patch of the First Armored Division (Old Ironsides)…  A huge cheer was heard from inside as the President left and the vehicles rolled at 10:58 a.m. Eastern.”

Bush gave a moving speech to the soldiers, including the following statement of reassurance: “We did not charge hundreds of miles into the heart of Iraq, pay a bitter cost in casualties, defeat a brutal dictator and liberate 25 million people only to retreat before a band of thugs and assassins.”

Bush then rode in a short motorcade to an office building where he met with four Iraq Governing Council members, including Mr. Chalabi, according to a senior coalition official. Then he went downstairs to meet with Gen. Sanchez and Brig. Gen. Marty Dempsey, commander of the First Armored Division.

Following that meeting, the President was taken directly back to Air Force One, and they departed Baghdad shortly after 8:00 p.m. Iraq time.  The President was on the ground in Baghdad for just over 2½ hours. Apparently, the trip went off without a single hitch.

Should He Have Done It?

Once the news of Bush’s visit to Baghdad was known, he was roundly criticized in the Middle East press, as well as in Europe and other places.  The common complaint was that Bush used this secret visit to Iraq purely and simply as a “photo-op” to kick-off his re-election campaign.   Some even called him a coward for sneaking into Baghdad under the cover of darkness and staying only apprx. 2½ hours.  

As for the “photo-op” question, I have one simple observation: It’s one thing to land on an aircraft carrier with one of the Navy’s top pilots at the stick; but it’s entirely another thing to fly Air Force One into Baghdad to visit the troops in person.  In my view, Bush put his life in danger to make this trip.

This was not about a photo-op, in my opinion.  We should also not forget that the aircraft carrier landing largely backfired on Bush in the weeks afterward.  So why do another even more daring and dangerous stunt?  I don’t think this was driven by politics.  From what we have read, Bush very much wanted to visit the troops on Thanksgiving, despite the dangers and objections from security and some of his high-ranking staff.

Not being a security expert, I don’t know whether President Bush should have gone to Iraq or not.  From what I have read, he simply wanted to thank our troops in Iraq in person during the holiday, despite the dangers.

Wannabes Just Had To Criticize

Several of the Democratic presidential hopefuls were quick to criticize Bush’s stealth visit to the troops, but did not do so directly, perhaps with the exception of Howard Dean.  Dean’s spokesman said last Friday, “It's nice that he made it over there today, but this visit won’t change the fact that those brave men and women should never have been fighting in Iraq in the first place.”

[Somehow, I doubt many of our brave soldiers sitting in that room with their Commander In Chief on Thanksgiving were wishing Howard Dean was with them instead, telling them they’re fighting for nothing!]

John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who served in Viet Nam, followed closely behind, saying, “When Thanksgiving is over, I hope the President will take the time to correct his failed policy in Iraq that has placed our soldiers in a shooting gallery.” Kerry, let’s not forget, voted for the war in Iraq, and with this kind of repeated double-speak, it’s little wonder his campaign is in such a quagmire.

Joe Lieberman’s spokesman said, “In fairness, visiting with the troops is exactly what a Commander In Chief should do. That said, we hope that he’s also reassuring them that the administration will eventually have a plan to win the peace and bring our troops home soon.”

[I can’t help but ask, why can’t these Dem Wannabes wise-up and figure out that, once in a while, it might be best to come out and back President Bush when it comes to supporting our Troops?  No wonder they are doing so badly!

Hillary Shoots Mouth Off To Troops In Iraq

Did you hear that Hillary Clinton also visited our troops in Iraq over the holiday?  And in Afghanistan?  She did, although her trip did not receive a great deal of coverage at the time (but it is now).  Hillary was upstaged by the President.  She was said to be livid when she learned that Bush had beaten her to Iraq the day before.  Maybe that’s why she shot her mouth off to our troops on the front line.

While Hillary reportedly praised the troops for their bravery and hard work, she apparently couldn’t help herself from being negative about the war in Iraq, even to the point of suggesting we might not win the war.  Hillary was quoted as saying:

“Americans are wholeheartedly proud of what you are doing, but there are many questions at home about the [Bush] administration’s policies…   We have to exert all of our efforts militarily, but the outcome is not assured...  The Pentagon tried to make do with as few troops as possible, as light a footprint as they could get away with.  Now we’re playing catch-up... Unfortunately, I don't think they fully appreciated the conditions we would encounter.”

Thank you, Hillary!  Just what our brave men and women in combat wanted to hear!

[There is a NewsMax.com story in the links below which alleges that US commanders in Bagram had a hard time convincing soldiers to sit with Hillary during dinner on her visit to Iraq.  Since NewsMax has a history of criticizing Hillary, I’ll let you draw your own conclusions on this story.   See SPECIAL ARTICLES below.]

As soon as Hillary returned to the US, she continued to criticize Bush regarding Iraq.  Apparently, Ms. Clinton has become a military expert.  She reportedly said:

“We do not have the right mix of troops to get the job done… We need more MPs, we need more intelligence, we need more civil affairs, we need a bigger presence [in Iraq]… Clearly, what we are doing now is not an effective strategy.  We need to get the U.N. back in as quickly as possible to internationalize this.”

This leads one to wonder WHY Hillary was visiting troops in Iraq and Afghanistan in the first place.  Not that it’s particularly unusual for US Senators to visit our troops in battle.  But Hillary has been NO advocate of the military in her adult career. 

I have suggested on more than one occasion in the last year that Hillary has NOT absolutely ruled out a presidential run in 2004.  I know, the media says she will wait for 2008, but I have not bought it, at least not for sure. I wonder if her latest trip to Iraq/Afghanistan is just another foreign policy mission to build her credibility.  We’ll see, but don’t be surprised if she yet puts her hat in the ring.

And let me not fail to repeat that Hillary could still be the vice presidential running-mate of whoever is ultimately the Democratic nominee, though maybe not until the Dems’ convention next year.  In an earlier E-Letter, I suggested that she might hook up with Gen. Wesley Clark, but boy has his flame gone out.  But she could still be the running-mate of whoever gets the Dem nomination.  Stranger things have happened.  Don’t rule it out.

Conclusions

I don’t know if President Bush took undue and ill-advised risks regarding his stealth trip to visit our troops in Iraq.  Maybe he did.  Probably he did.  But it appears it was his idea.  I salute him for that, as did our troops, even though I have criticized him on several other issues (as in last week’s E-Letter).

Not to mince words, Hillary’s comments to our troops were PATHETIC .   Every American should know what she said to our brave troops, and she should be roundly criticized accordingly.

Finally, while I am not a member of any political party, it seems to me that the Democratic Wannabes are continually shooting themselves in the foot by criticizing Bush over the war in Iraq.  Americans support our troops, no matter what the mission.  So do I!

Season’s greetings,

Gary D. Halbert

SPECIAL ARTICLES

The media spins Bush’s trip to Iraq.

Bush only went to upstage Hillary.  Yeah, right!

NewsMax says troops didn’t want to eat with Hillary.

Dick Morris criticizes Hillary for remarks in Iraq.


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Forecasts & Trends E-Letter is published by Halbert Wealth Management, Inc. Gary D. Halbert is the president and CEO of Halbert Wealth Management, Inc. and is the editor of this publication. Information contained herein is taken from sources believed to be reliable but cannot be guaranteed as to its accuracy. Opinions and recommendations herein generally reflect the judgement of Gary D. Halbert (or another named author) and may change at any time without written notice. Market opinions contained herein are intended as general observations and are not intended as specific investment advice. Readers are urged to check with their investment counselors before making any investment decisions. This electronic newsletter does not constitute an offer of sale of any securities. Gary D. Halbert, Halbert Wealth Management, Inc., and its affiliated companies, its officers, directors and/or employees may or may not have investments in markets or programs mentioned herein. Past results are not necessarily indicative of future results. Reprinting for family or friends is allowed with proper credit. However, republishing (written or electronically) in its entirety or through the use of extensive quotes is prohibited without prior written consent.

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