Bush’s Best: Lights, Camera, Swagger

El Vaquero Staff Writer

The biggest director in Hollywood could not have come up with a better setting. It was perfect: a captive audience of 5,000 sailors and Marines on the deck of the mighty aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and a victory under his belt.

As “Hail to the Chief” blared in the background, President Bush strode jauntily to the microphone, his jaw set, his gait steady and the look of the cocksure city slicker who just pulled the wool over the eyes of some unsuspecting farmer.

Very early in his speech, Bush said, “In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.” He then launched into a blow-by-blow description of the war, saying at one point that the U.S. had trained firepower on Iraq, the likes of which “the world had not seen before.”

Despite his red power tie, his light blue designer shirt and his custom-tailored, dark blue suit with an American flag pin in his left lapel, I could not help but think of Billy Joe, a bully I met while attending public school in the South.

Billy Joe, whose biceps were much bigger than his brain, would beat a smaller boy down to the ground and then smirk as he described the fight to all of those who had not witnessed it.

Paraphrasing the Republican president after whom the aircraft carrier was named and who signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which supposedly freed the slaves, Bush spoke of freeing the Iraqi people.

Grandiloquently, he talked about a government “by and for Iraqi people.”

He added, “The liberation of Iraq is a crucial advance in the war against terrorism. Our coalition will stay until our work is done. Then we will leave, and we will leave behind a free Iraq.”

It was obvious that his speechwriters had labored over the speech for hours. It was just as obvious that Bush had read the speech more than once. The tall, tough-talking Texan did not miss a beat, even when he stumbled over the word “nuclear,” calling it “nuke-yoo-ler.”

However, the president undoubtedly touched tender hearts when he referred to Saddam Hussein’s “building palaces for himself instead of hospitals and schools.” But the tenderness injected into that statement by some of the best speechwriters the nation has to offer rang hollow when juxtaposed next to the casualty count.

Too many American military men had died. Too many Iraqi women, children and other civilians died needlessly when “smart” bombs rained down on them far from the battlegrounds of the war.

The president’s speech was interrupted, so to speak, at least half a dozen times. After each of his dramatic pauses, the enlisted personnel applauded.

Then, as if to forewarn his listeners that there may be more American lives lost, Bush said, “We do not know the final date of victory.” He added, “We have difficult work to do in Iraq.”

Turning to the “good men and women” who gave their lives in a war that was protested by hundreds of thousands, both in America and overseas, the commander-in-chief said, “There is no homecoming for these families. Yet we pray in God’s time, their reunion will come.”

The president closed his remarks with “May God continue to bless America.” He knew that his place in history had been cemented.

That’s a wrap.