There was explosive, euphoric reaction here. These soldiers, men and women, are extraordinarily homesick, so any familiar face from home would have been welcome. And, of course, the president's their commander in chief. So all the more so.
I spoke with more than a few soldiers about all of this, and they said they were especially touched because he came to show how he really felt about us.
Another soldier said that it was very important for the president to come and share the hazards of the war zone with these soldiers.
Still, off the record -- that is, not for attribution -- other soldiers with whom I spoke still had their doubts about being here. One soldier, even after the president was here, and he spoke highly of the president's visit, went on to say, "All I care about now is getting out of here alive."
Another soldier, praising the president, also said he thinks the troops have been here too long. He thinks they should go home.
And another soldier, again praising the president's courage and his commitment to being here, said the danger now is worse than it was several months ago when he came.
Again, very important statement made by the president about his commitment. It was a bold and intrepid visit by the president. Having said that, very doubtful it's going to change a very bad situation on the ground here.
O'BRIEN: And even as the president was flying in, that bad situation continued. More mortars flying and more explosions to report?
RODGERS: That's true. I was here in this very same camera position when you were rolling tape of the president's visit. Now, he had been airborne for several minutes after that, but having said that, I could hear explosions behind me. Down here, in central Baghdad, it's not been a particularly loud night. There are many nights when there are many more explosions, shellings, mortars and so forth. But again, tonight, I can hear the AK-47, you know, automatic rifle fire in the background. That's a daily event here.
I think Walter Rodgers is on crack when he calls this bold and intrepid. But the soldiers were happy to see a familiar face on a holiday they would much rather be at home for. The Washington Post questions the secrecy and political nature of the trip.
Although journalists routinely keep secret details of military operations, as they did during the war in Iraq, it is highly unusual for them not to reveal a major presidential trip overseas.
Former White House spokesman Joe Lockhart, who worked for President Bill Clinton, said: "There's no way to do this kind of trip if it's broadcast in advance, for security reasons. My problem with this is not that he misled the press. This is a president who has been unwilling to provide his presence to the families who have suffered but thinks nothing of flying to Baghdad to use the troops there as a prop."
Kathryn Kross, CNN's Washington bureau chief, said a two-person crew from her network was dismissed from the White House pool Wednesday, with the understanding that no further news would be made. "We're all for the president boosting the troops however the White House feels is appropriate," she said. "But apparently the White House put together its own group of people to accompany the president on this trip, and we're real interested to learn their reasons for doing that."
The surprise visit produced upbeat, sometimes gushing coverage on the cable networks, which kept rerunning video of Bush with a turkey platter and his pep talk to the troops. "This is a show of power. . . . This has significance in terms of showing the power of the presidency," Fox anchor David Asman said.
While some families were less than happy about the whole thing.
Bush's visit also surprised Tami Kruzel of Sartell, whose husband, Randy, is with the 142nd Engineer Combat Battalion north of Baghdad. "I think it's wonderful that he did that," she said. "I think the troops needed to know that he's supporting them."
But her feelings toward the president are mixed: "At times I believe in what he's doing, at times I don't. I'm just disappointed that the soldiers are there" so long.
Kruzel said she is not happy with the recent news that her husband's return home has been pushed back from April to June. She and her three children have not seen him since March, and his phone calls are too short and frequently marred by poor connections.
There is, however, good news. Her husband called Wednesday and confirmed that he will be home for a 15-day leave in January. "I needed that," she said.
David Swing watched Bush's visit from his home in Watertown. His son, Nathan, a Marine, was in the Persian Gulf but returned to the United States in June. "I watched it for about 30 seconds and turned the football game back on," he said. "I guess I'm surprised by it."
Swing said, though, that "my blood is starting to boil a little more every day" over the continuing deaths of American troops in Iraq. "Every day my opinion of him gets a little lower," he said. "I don't see an end to this."
The fact that people are already debating whether this is a stunt or not and cheery pictures of Iraqis looting an ambushed convoy undercuts his message. With the intense security and crying family members, this may not turn out to be the political home run Rove imagined it would be.
posted by Steve @ 11:08:00 PM