Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

15 September 2007

Killed for a Photo Op

If anyone needs further proof of the boundless stupidity and abysmal judgment of George W. Bush and his political commissars, yesterday’s tragic assassination provided it. Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, our chief Sunni ally in our fight with Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), was blown away by a roadside bomb.

That tragedy came less than two weeks after Bush’s highly publicized, six-hour visit to our tightly secured air base in Anbar. During that trip, a smiling, joking Bush shook hands with Sattar while a few out-of-uniform Iraqis looked on.

A film clip widely aired on TV during Bush’s recent PR push showed the scene. Sattar was dressed in the flowing white robes that are his culture’s formal attire. He looked uncomfortable, perhaps frightened. He and one of the Iraqi onlookers, probably an aide of Sattar’s, shook hands with Bush. Sattar never smiled, and the aide barely managed a forced smile as he shook hands. We can infer from their expressions and body language that their appearance in the photo op was not their idea, but a command performance in support of the Bush’s PR campaign.

Was that photo op a direct cause of Sattar’s assassination? We many never know for sure, but the chances are better than even.

Sattar came to our side in part because AQI had killed his father and two brothers for refusing to go along with their murderous, extremist plans. He was a marked man. Like bin Laden and Saddam after our invasion, he had to keep a low profile and stay hidden to survive. What better way to risk his neck than to use him for a Bush photo op? What better way to let the entire world—including all the Sunnis still angry with us or sitting on the fence—know that he’s working closely with us and see what he looks like? Sattar may have been a marked man beforehand, but that photo op drove up both his “target value” to AQI and his operational visibility by an order of magnitude. No doubt Sattar and the other Iraqi looked uncomfortable because they knew that the photo op was Sattar’s death warrant.

That disastrous photo op is a metaphor for Bush’s handling of the entire war. For him, it’s all about him and all about politics. The need for effective strategy and tactics, often including stealth and a low profile, never enters his pea brain. All that matters is his own popularity and proving to daddy that he’s “makin’ a difference.”

Bush’s inappropriate, jocular, frat-boy demeanor during the meeting with Sattar showed what novelist E.L. Doctorow called his “moral vacancy.” He seemed to have no clue of the seriousness of the situation or the risk that his political ploy posed for people putting their own and their families’ lives on the line for us. He is a moral moron.

Two days ago I posted a piece suggesting that, with General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, we now have outstanding operational leadership of our effort in Iraq for the first time in the nearly seven years since Bush began plotting this disastrous misadventure. After watching an extended interview last night with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, I would add his name to the list of anomalously competent people in the Bush Administration.

So for the first time in nearly seven years, Bush has a highly competent team focused on saving him and us from the consequences of his repeated disastrous blunders.

Bush’s legacy, and perhaps our collective future, depend upon that team. The best thing that Bush himself can do for the next sixteen months is to stand aside, stand down Rove’s remaining political commissars, let the new team run the war, and keep a low profile. Lest he get bored being a figurehead, Bush can do what he does best: commune with Jesus and pray that his new team’s competence will save him from his own stupidity.

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