Bush's fake photo op with U.S. soldiers

The Bush administration scripted what was supposed to be a live video conference with soldiers in Iraq via satellite.

Published October 14, 2005 3:00PM (EDT)

In Washington yesterday, President Bush spoke with U.S. soldiers via satellite in a video conference billed as a "conversation with U.S. troops." Unfortunately, it turned out to be nothing more than a scripted photo op designed to shore up support for the conflict in Iraq and that country's upcoming constitutional referendum.

According to a report in the Associated Press, deputy assistant defense secretary Allison Barber rehearsed the soldiers beforehand on what Bush was going to discuss with them when he arrived.

Barber told the troops that "the president was interested in three topics: the overall security situation in Iraq, security preparations for the weekend vote and efforts to train Iraqi troops." The AP report also included some of the exchanges between the deputy secretary and the soldiers:

"OK, so let's just walk through this," Barber said. "Captain Kennedy, you answer the first question and you hand the mike to whom?"

"Captain Smith," Kennedy said.

"Captain. Smith? You take the mike and you hand it to whom?" she asked.

"Captain Kennedy," the soldier replied.

"If the question comes up about partnering -- how often do we train with the Iraqi military -- who does he go to?" Barber asked.

"That's going to go to Captain Pratt," one of the soldiers said.

"And then if we're going to talk a little bit about the folks in Tikrit -- the hometown -- and how they're handling the political process, who are we going to give that to?" she asked.

Bush later thanked the soldiers for their service, saying that America was behind them and declaring, "So long as I'm the president, we're never going to back down, we're never going to give in, we'll never accept anything less than total victory."

Total victory, huh? What exactly does that mean? Veteran White House reporter Helen Thomas grilled press secretary Scott McClellan on the issue, after McClellan had previously denied that there was any stagecraft involved, and the press secretary lashed out at Thomas, saying that she didn't support the "war on terror."

As always when the chips are down for this president, the bombast goes up. And considering recent reports depicting a "jittery" White House mired in scandal, it shouldn't be surprising that Rove and company would try again to sell Bush to the American public as a competent "war leader." The trouble is, it has worked before. Will it work again?

By J.J. Helland

J.J. Helland is Salon's editorial fellow in New York.

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