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How many more body bags, President Bush?

Gary Caruso | Friday, November 7, 2003

President Bush contends that the number of dead American soldiers hasno connection to how well the Iraqi campaign is progressing. Yet thenumber of killings in Iraq lies in the hands of the man who orderedAmerican soldiers into harm’s way. Regardless of the reasons given topersuade the American public or the world to support the U.S.invasion, our troops are on Iraqi soil. More reservists are scheduledto serve long terms in Iraq, and American soldiers will remain aswalking targets. It is so because they are there.It is also laughable to watch the president’s new public relationsblitz against the “bad news” coming from Iraq. Where is Fox News, thesame network the president proclaimed as his favorite news outlet?Could its “fair and balanced” reporting be dependent on televisionratings? Surely had Al Gore been president on Sept. 11, Fox wouldtoday be running a banner at the bottom of its screen screaming, “Day788 of bin Laden still at large” and “Day 191 since the presidentdeclared major hostilities ended in Iraq and Hussein still at large.”Not showing those banners each day should be good news for Bush. Ormaybe, even Fox cannot ignore the average 10 injuries per day andmore U.S. soldiers killed since their favorite viewer landed G.I.George style on an aircraft carrier than during the war.When the United States invaded Iraq, the White House sought “goodnews.” Bush never corrected false reports of Jessica Lynch’s capturebecause he wanted a hero. A 69-year-old Korean War Navy veteranwondered why her capture qualified her as a hero. He said, “Now AudieMurphy was a hero.”Did the White House correct U.S. reports that an Iraqi general andhis 3,000 troops surrendered early in the conflict? The British BBCreported that the general had turned himself in but nobody knew ifany of his 3,000 troops would surrender since many of his officerswere loyal to Saddam Hussein. The White House used the American mediafor false good news then but criticizes the media for true bad newsnow.At the war’s height, many anti-war protesters relied on foreignreporting. Conservative commentators scoffed at the notion of theforeign press being more truthful than the American press. Todaythose conservatives seem to have reversed themselves since theycomplain about the negative truth aired by American outlets.Some have chastised Democrats and President Clinton for their pastassertions that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.Others contend that Clinton could have done more against Osma binLaden. Clinton did believe that Hussein had weapons of massdestruction and did threaten to use military force against Iraq.Clinton also fired missiles at bin Laden’s training camps.Where Clinton differs from Bush is that Clinton knew how to engagethe international community. Yet Clinton could not adequately addressforeign terror threats while he lost more than a year defendinghimself against impeachment. At the time, Republicans were portrayinghis actions as diversions or “wagging the dog” stunts.Bush’s bullying of the United Nations and unilateral invasion with asmall coalition with few troops and little money for Iraq is Bush’sown undoing. The president’s actions cannot be undone by any publicrelations effort. To many foreign observers, Bush’s parsing of wordsto scare Americans to support an immediate invasion of Iraq was asmasterful as Clinton’s definition of “is.”Bush should have contended that it was his personal judgment for thetiming and urgency of the invasion. The American public would nothave doubted him as much as they are today for his assertions thatHussein would soon attack or give his weapons to terrorists. Bushalso molded a blurry connection between Sept. 11 and Hussein, forwhich he has since had to deny.One year from this week Americans will judge Bush at the ballot boxfor what he has done, not for what is said about him. Angry rhetoricspewed forth by today’s Democrats after years of believing in theexistence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction is not blatantlymisleading the nation. Nor do they reek of partisan politicalhypocrisy. Democrats are holding this president accountable for thebillions of dollars of foreign aid going to Iraq and to buy our smallcoalition. They are also holding this president accountable for thenumber of American soldiers dying in Iraq by asking when the bodybags will cease from Iraq.Democrats know the answer. When a new president enters the WhiteHouse in 2005 and engages the international community unlike Bushwill or can, only then will the United States be respected in theMiddle East. Only then will help be on the way for U.S. troops inIraq.

Gary Caruso served as a public and legislative affairs director inPresident Clinton’s administration. His column appears every otherFriday. He can be contacted at [email protected] views expressed in this column are those of the author and notnecessarily those of The Observer.