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Next stop, elections

If entertainment value alone was the deciding factor, we should re-elect George W. Bush as President. Honestly, what could be more entertaining than watching his top-secret trip to Baghdad, just the latest of his escapades?

Last weekend he gave me a very entertaining Thanksgiving afternoon. Ironically, I had just taken a break from watching West Wing on DVD when the story broke: “Bush pays a surprise visit to Baghdad,” BBC World reported.

At first I thought it would have to be former President Bush, or possibly Jeb (what is he doing there? And even more importantly, what would we have to pay them to keep him there?). But no, it indeed turned out to be the President of the United States. The leader of the free world had slipped out of his ranch in Crawford, Texas, in an unmarked car to visit troops in Baghdad and nobody had caught on until it was “wheels up” for Air Force One and he was on his way back.

Mike Allen, writing for the Washington Post, posted his personal notes online shortly after the trip he took as member of the press corps on board Air Force One and quite a read they were.

In his notes, he describes how White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett (Note to West Wing fans: No relation with President Jed Bartlet) smiled mischievously and told him, “I have news. The president is going to Baghdad.” One moment, Allen was camping out in front of the presidential ranch, the next he was whisked away on a top-secret undertaking that up to that point, only the inner circle of White House staff members such as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice had known about.

On board, he, along with other reporters, two photographers and a camera team from Fox News (coincidence that they were picked?), were told to remove the batteries from their cell phones in order to avoid being tracked. According to Allen, “several of the photographers still thought it was an elaborate practical joke” until they were actually on board Air Force One and were told that if news about the trip was leaked, Air Force One would turn around.

And all this effort just so George could casually stroll in front of a crowd and announce “I was just looking for a warm meal somewhere.” Cool entrance, but will it make up for lack of clear policy for post-war Iraq?

This is hardly the first time the real life West Wing pulled out all the stops to produce a memorable event around an appearance of the president. The now infamous appearance on board the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1 announcing the end of “major combat operations” is the most memorable, but there are a number of others. In a speech that was broadcast on live television, the audience saw the Statue of Liberty in the background. What they did not know was that the White House had specifically hired barges, mounted massive light fixtures on them and placed them strategically around Liberty Island in order for the statue to be seen in a perfect light on TVs nationwide.

And even the appearance he made at MacDill Air Force Base on March 26 was perfectly executed. I was there and I can tell you that seeing Air Force One land just outside the hanger you’re in and the president walking down a gangway has a certain dramatic effect, even if you don’t like what the man has to say.

If Bush’s visit was simply to boost soldiers’ morale and safety was such an issue, why would the White House round up around a dozen reporters? There’s not an election next year by any chance?

It seems though that entertainment only goes so far. After the initial headline frenzy quieted down, newspapers quickly found the real story again. “U.S. Soldier Killed Day After Bush Visit” read most front-page headlines the next day.

Back to the drawing board, George.

Sebastian Meyer is a junior majoring in environmental sciences and is an Oracle Opinion Editor.