Baghdad George

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I guess it was inevitable. Someone has compared President George Bush to "Baghdad Bob," the inadvertently comical Iraqi information minister who kept insisting Iraq was winning the war even as American tanks gathered outside his office.

This came after the president’s latest press conference, when he said attacks were increasing in Iraq because the occupation was so successful. In other words, the situation is worse because the situation is better. The more successful we are, the more Americans and Iraqis will die from bombs and ambushes. It was Bill Press, the other half of the TV show with Pat Buchanan, who came up with that wisecrack.

The president’s handlers are wise to keep him away from news conferences. He doesn’t handle them well. At this one, you could see from his facial expression that he was not happy to be there. He was, as most politicians are, defensive and evasive. He absolutely refuses to acknowledge that the people attacking Americans in Iraq are anyone but Saddam loyalists and foreign terrorists. Actually, most of them are probably just Iraqis who resent foreign occupation and the bad behavior of some American troops.

If he read newspapers, which he told a TV interviewer that he doesn’t, he would know that. Even one of the American officers in Iraq recently slipped up and, in an interview with a journalist, referred to the guerrillas as "freedom fighters." There is scant evidence of any sizable number of foreign terrorists, at least none that secretive American officials have been willing to make public. One guy shot the other day by Iraqis had a Syrian passport, but that doesn’t mean he was necessarily a Syrian. People in the terrorist business usually have several passports.

And, of course, the president made no mention whatsoever of weapons of mass destruction. During the marketing campaign for the war, he hardly opened his mouth without talking about weapons of mass destruction. He refuses to acknowledge that he made a mistake when he said major combat was over last May. That’s what irritates me most about politicians. They’re human. They can make mistakes. Why not say so?

What’s wrong with saying: "Yes, at that time, I thought major combat was over. I knew there would be some resistance, but it’s been more deadly and lasted longer than I anticipated." Nobody would hold that against him. But, no, he’s perfect. It reminds me of that old joke that says, "We Southerners may not always be right, but, by God, we ain’t never wrong." At any rate, now the guerrillas have killed more Americans than the Iraqi army did during that major combat.

He keeps repeating that canard that "terrorists hate freedom." Nonsense. There is no terrorist in the world who is a terrorist because he hates freedom. By far, the majority of terrorists are fighting for freedom of some group that doesn’t have it. In the case of Iraq, it is freedom from American occupation; with the Irish Republican Army, it was freedom from British rule; with the Palestinians, freedom from Israeli occupation; and so forth. It is absurd to suppose that a human being sitting around suddenly stands up and says: "You know, I hate freedom. I think I’ll go blow myself up."

What one wants in a president, besides basic honesty, are intelligence and sound judgment. One wants someone who is well-read in history and geography and has experience so that he can properly assess situations and make wise decisions.

Sadly, I think that’s where the president fails, despite his good intentions. To admit that he relies on his staff to tell him what’s going on in the world is to admit that he puts himself in the position of being manipulated by his staff. No good leader would rely on his staff without developing his own independent sources of information, lest he find himself being manipulated into following the staff’s agenda instead of his own.

He was certainly told that Iraqis would be dancing in the streets welcoming us, but the only dancing was done by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz when rockets went off in the floor beneath his hotel room and he leaped out of bed and frantically put his clothes on to get out of there.

Charley Reese has been a journalist for 49 years, reporting on everything from sports to politics. From 1969—71, he worked as a campaign staffer for gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional races in several states. He was an editor, assistant to the publisher, and columnist for the Orlando Sentinel from 1971 to 2001. He now writes a syndicated column three times a week for King Features, which is carried on LewRockwell.com. Reese served two years active duty in the U.S. Army as a tank gunner.

© 2003 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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