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September 24, 2004
Bush Visits Outbound Guard Soldiers

Dana Milbank writes with uncharacteristic objectivity about a surprise visit by George Bush to outbound National Guard troops during a refueling stop in Bangor yesterday:

President Bush, after a campaign appearance in Bangor, held his plane on the tarmac when he heard an MD-11 carrying 292 Army reservists and National Guard members was about to refuel here. For the troops, grimly heading toward an 18-to-24-month assignment in Iraq, it was a welcome lift. For Bush, who has been accusing his Democratic presidential opponent, Sen. John F. Kerry, of demoralizing the troops in Iraq by criticizing the war effort, it was a chance to demonstrate his devotion to the troops.

"May God bless you all," the commander in chief said over the plane's public address system. "May God keep you safe." As he worked his way up and down the plane's aisles, posing for photographs, signing autographs and shaking hands, the happily surprised troops called out to him.

"That's my president, hooah!" shouted Sgt. Wanda Dabbs, 22, a member of the 230th Area Support Group, a Guard unit from Tennessee. Others seconded her cheer.

Bush gets a great response whenever he visits troops, and so some might have called this one a gimme for the President. However, Dana Milbank correctly notes that this photo op carries the risk of some negatives, with the increased violence in the Sunni Triangle:

Bush's impromptu visit with the departing soldiers came with some risk. It could remind the American public that more and more reservists and Guard members are being removed from their workplaces and sent on dangerous assignments in an increasingly bloody Iraq.

But the president's aides saw an opportunity to underscore the point Bush had made at his campaign rally here, in front of an airport hangar and an enormous American flag suspended by two cranes.

"You cannot lead the war on terror if you wilt when times are tough," Bush said of Kerry. "What kind of message does it send our troops, who are risking their lives and who see firsthand the mission is hard but know the mission is critical to our success?"

The truly easy photo op would be to shake hands with troops on their return, welcoming them home. Either way, no one can doubt the genuine affection that Bush has for the men and women serving under his command, and their response to him in these surprise visits (like Thanksgiving in Baghdad) demonstrates the morale boost he gives.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 24, 2004 5:56 AM

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