PRESIDENT'S SURPRISE VISIT TO IRAQ DELIGHTS U.S. TROOPS
by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
THANKSGIVING DAY -- Renewing a tradition as old as Valley Forge, the nation's Commander-in-Chief went to dinner with his soldiers at the battlefront today to celebrate the most American of holidays, the traditional feast of Thanksgiving..
"I bring a message on behalf of America, We thank you for your service ... and America stands solidly behind you," President George W. Bush told 600 troops who thought they were going to meet Iraq Administrator L. Paul Bremer III and Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of coalition forces in Iraq, in a hangar dubbed the Bob Hope Dining Facility at the airport.
Recalling the dramatic pre-election vow of President Dwight D. Eisenhower that "I will go to Korea," Bush went the World War II Allied Supreme Commander one step better - he went, and let the world know later.
"We did not charge hundreds of miles into Iraq, pay a bitter cost of casualties, defeat a ruthless dictator and liberate 25 million people only to retreat before a band of thugs and assassins," Bush said.
Praising his troops, the President vowed that American would not retreat from Iraq until the country is under democratic rule.
"We will stay until the job is done," he promised, even as calls for the United States to internationalize or abandon its offensive in Iraq have mounted around the world.
Meanwhile, terrorist attacks described as "imminent" were foiled by arrests in London and Saudi Arabia today.
Where just five days ago a rebel missile had struck an outgoing cargo plane, the President just after dark into an airport in a city where American helicopters are sometimes lost to shoulder-fired rockets and a country where attacks on U.S. and U.N. soldiers, personnel and facilities occur as often as 50 times a day. The President was on the ground in Iraq for 2 hours and 32 minuites, and left shortly after 8 p.m., or noon EST.
Democrats were quick to note that the President upstaged a visit tomorrow by U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), but he also surprised some of his Secret Service detail guarding his Crawford, Tex., ranch and even his wife, Laura - not to mention rebels loyal to ousted dictator Saddam Hussein, who may be the most surprised of all.
Bush was the first American president ever to visit Iraq.
Members of the press accompanying the President were told that Air Force One would turn around in mid-air if news of the visit leaked out. The White House did not announce the visit until the plane left Baghdad Airport. Air Force One landed without landing lights and without using its customry call letters under cover of darkness, when attacks are less frequent and the shoulder-mounted rockets used by rebels are less effective.
The visit remained Top Secret until Sanchez introduced Bremer, who began to read a Thanksgiving Day message to the troops. "Is there anybody back there who's more senior than us?" Bremer asked, and on cue the President strode from behind a curtain to a joyful roar from the delighted soldiers.
"Thank you all. I was just looking for a warm meal. Thanks for inviting me to dinner," the President said over cheers and prolonged applause from members of the U.S. Army's 1st Armored Division and the 82nd Airborne.
Instead, the President took a huge tray heaped with a whole turkey and sides of stuffing, sweet potatoes and corn to the delighted soldiers.
"Your are defending America from danger, and we are grateful," the President said.