Bush Does Fort Bragg

Bush's "major policy address" on Iraq may have taken place in Fort Bragg's Ritz-Epps Sports Complex, but it had little to do with the 700 soldiers assembled there. They were just the backdrop, stage props for a speech aimed squarely at the TV-watching masses and their growing doubts about the Iraq war.

Even the backdrop wasn't real: as the Fayetteville Observer reports: "All of the scenery behind the podium -- including the large Fort Bragg sign with the Army seal directly behind the president -- was provided by a contractor hired by the White House, a Fort Bragg official said."

All of which raises a question: why is it that when 4,000 peace protesters demonstrated at Fort Bragg last March, their acts were reviled as treasonous and insulting to the troops -- but when a political leader shamelessly exploits soldiers in a fabricated photo-op to further their political ambitions, that's ok?

By all accounts, the soldiers didn't play along, and seemed aware that the time for empty cheerleading (remember "Mission Accomplished?") had long passed. The Observer notes that the soldiers "remained reverently silent" during almost all of the 30-minute speech.

(And even the one burst of applause was forced: according to AmericaBlog, "ABC's Terry Moran just reported that the only time Bush got applause was in the middle of his speech when a White House advance team member started clapping all on their own in order to cajole the soldiers into clapping, which they dutifully did.")

Also absent was any reference to the surrounding Fayetteville community. "The city was nonexistant in the live telecast," observes local reporter Michael Futch. "The post itself rated little more than a mention as the venue for the talk."

Given that a recent poll found 44% of Fayetteville residents think the Iraq war "wasn't worth it" -- a staggering figure in a town where 70% of the community has military ties -- maybe Bush thought it was best to leave them out of the picture.

A few other Fort Bragg Photo-Op odds and ends:

  • Bush flew in N.C. Reps Robin Hayes and Mike McIntyre to accompany him during the address. Air Force One, however, apparently forgot to pick up fellow GOP Representative Walter Jones.

  • 14,700 Fort Bragg troops are currently deployed -- including 9,300 in Iraq and 1,550 in Afghanistan.

  • NPR's coverage of the event was refreshing -- a dispatch from WUNC's Rusty Jacobs for NPR national focused on growing opposition to the war in North Carolina, and the 50-some demonstrators who assembled to protest Bush.

  • Not so good: the dreaded Nedra Pickler of the Associated Press, whose dispatch on Bush's use of 9/11 imagery is a typically convoluted mess. By the second paragraph, the piece is already sliding into total disarray: "Democrats in particular criticized Bush for again raising the Sept. 11 attacks as a justification for the protracted fight in Iraq after the president proclaimed anew that he plans to keep U.S. forces there as long as necessary to ensure peace." And those two points have what to do with each other?