[This is the print version of story http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/s999853.htm]

US President George W Bush holds a Thanksgiving turkey for US troops

US President George W Bush holds a Thanksgiving turkey for US troops stationed at Baghdad International Airport. Under unprecedented secrecy, the President was flown without public knowledge from Waco, Texas, to Washington DC where he changed planes for Iraq. He spent two and a half hours on the ground in Iraq to salute US troops on the US Thanksgiving Holiday. (AFP)

Bush's Iraq visit a pre-election PR stunt: analysis

"Electoral raid on Baghdad" read the caustic headline in the left-wing Paris daily Liberation which summed up European newspaper editorial reaction to President George W Bush's Thanksgiving Day visit to US troops in Iraq.

The brief visit, arranged in top secrecy, occurred too late for most papers to give it full coverage, and almost all ran the same wire agency photo of Mr Bush, clad in a grey army bomber jacket, carrying a large tray of roast turkey, potatoes and grapes through a crowd of smiling soldiers.

Those which did comment were mostly sceptical of Mr Bush's motives, with the US presidential election now less than 12 months away.

"The turkey has landed," ran the front-page headline in the London daily Independent.

"George Bush becomes the first US president to visit Iraq in order to provide the television pictures required by his re-election campaign," it said, noting that Hillary Rodham Clinton, "his undeclared Democratic opponent," was on her way to Baghdad from Afghanistan.

Liberation noted that more than 430 US soldiers had been killed in Iraq, 184 of them since Bush declared an official end to the war on May 1, and quoted a Gallup opinion poll this month showing that 54 percent of Americans disapproved of the way the post-war situation was being handled.

"Bush knows that Iraq could become the Achilles heel of his campaign," it said.

The conservative London Times also did not run an editorial but its front-page report called the visit "one of the most audacious publicity coups in White House history."

Europe's leading business daily, the London-based Financial Times, used the visit to repeat its call for general elections in Iraq, rather than the US government's "top-down strategy built around favoured exiles and a timetable synchronised with President Bush's re-election campaign".

The daily Berliner Zeitung said the visit had two other aims.

"Bush wanted to raise the groggy morale of his troops and at the same time to show Iraqis his determination," it wrote.

In Madrid, the centre-right daily El Mundo said the visit was "a publicity stunt which will not solve the problem of Iraq."

The daily Vanguardia, published in Spain's second city Barcelona, said Bush was trying to put a positive gloss on an increasingly difficult situation.

It noted darkly that "George W Bush does not attend the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq, but has dinner in Baghdad with those who dream of coming home alive."

The right-wing La Razon said "Caesar Bush" was exploiting Hollywood machinery to the full to send a message loud and clear to those who doubted the wisdom of his military policies.

In Rome, the daily La Republica described the visit as "a brillant stage-managed event and a courageous act".

But it said it was also "obviously an electoral blitz, a Hollywood-style stunt of the kind we will see again and again throughout the campaign."

As the Arabic media saw the secrecy of Bush's visit as a sign of weakness amid spiralling violence in Iraq, newspapers in Israel said the stunt was bound to help the US president's ratings in opinion polls that had been falling alarmingly.

"Bush's popularity will undoubtedly go up in opinion polls this week, but on the condition that his army does not face another painful strike," said the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot.

"It is like playing the last $100 dollar bill at the casino," said Maariv in an editorial, adding that "only one thing can ensure victory for Bush at the November 2004 polls: Saddam Hussein dead or chained up."

Iran's Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi said the secrecy of the visit, during which the only Iraqis whom Bush encountered were four members of the US-installed Governing Council, showed that Washington was afraid of the Iraqis.

"The US president's sudden visit to Iraq was a sign of the US fear of the Iraqi people," said Mr Kharazi, whose country opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq.

"Bush 'infiltrated' Baghdad for two hours," scoffed the front-page headline of the London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat.

In Beirut, Al-Mustaqbal newspaper, owned by Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, announced that "Bush's secret visit to Baghdad opens presidential election season."

A front-page editorial in Lebanon's leading An-Nahar newspaper compared Bush to Roman emperor Julius Caesar, but said the US president could not repeat the phrase: "I came, I saw, I conquered."

The editorial was headlined: "I came, I saw nothing, but I will conquer."

Many newspapers in the Middle East, especially in the Gulf, carried no commentary on the visit which took place as Muslims in the region were still celebrating the Eid al-Fitr holidays which follow the holy month of Ramadan.

-- AFP

© 2003 Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Copyright information: http://abc.net.au/common/copyrigh.htm
Privacy information: http://abc.net.au/privacy.htm