Hey, Stop By the Store On Your Way, Okay?

Andrei Marks · September 4, 2007

From the 2007-09-04 print of the Beijing Paper (新京报)in the International News–Headlines section on page A23. From the Xinhua Press, article (three parts) by Zhang Le.

In this week’s episode…President Bush Stops By Iraq Before Making His Way to Australia! Bush Now Understands the Situation! Brits Say Bye-Bye Basra!

I find it difficult to believe that any political leaders who “visit a war zone” come away with a better understanding of the situation. They’re not really surprise visits where they get into all the nitty-gritty, they’re just trips made with armed escorts to cordoned off areas in heavily secured places. Followed and/or preceded by meetings with military commanders and officials that are no different from those in Washington, in which they rehash information that would be no different than what they would get back at home (well, that last point might come under contention). It doesn’t bother me that he’s doing this because it’s requisite for good PR. What bothers me is that it’s PR because people actually believe that it would be this visit that made him rethink policy or that he “had a better idea of the situation” because he visited.


Bush “Very Periodically” Makes Surprise Visits to Iraq”

- Next week’s report on Iraq presents a problem to Congress, they will have to decide the next stage of the Iraqi strategy.

On August 3, U.S. President Bush made an unannounced visit to Iraq. This visit comes a week before the much heralded Iraq report is released. So outside commentators tie this visit to the September 15 report.

- Inspecting the “Model” Province of Anbar

On the 3rd the American media reported that Bush had secretly left Washington in Air Force 1 on the evening of the 2nd, and after an 11 hour flight reached Iraq’s Al Anbar Governate on the 3rd.

Bush is made this surprise visit before continuing on to attend the Australian held Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation’s leaders’ unofficial meeting. This visit was held under high secrecy for security reasons, and Bush planned to spend less than 24 hours in Iraq before flying on to Australia.

The White House said that Bush reached the Al-Asad Air Force Base in Anbar province, which lies west of Baghdad. He was accompanied by Secretary of State Rice, National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, and the Head of the Department of Defense Robert Gates. Gates actually reached Iraq shortly before Bush, and met with American Embassy personnel to make arrangements for the President’s visit.

The American media believes that Bush is visiting to carry out an “on the ground estimate” of the Iraqi situation. Bush will look at Anbar province as a model for the new progress made in Iraq, especially in terms of security. Because control of public safety has already been completely given to Iraqi security forces, Bush has come here to do on the spot observation and get a sense of the political situation.

- The Iraq Report Will Stir Up a Big Debate

This is Bush’s third visit to Iraq since he became President, and all three of them have been surprise visits. November 27, 2003 and June 13, 2006 were the dates of the two previous times, and not long after the second the U.S. military killed Al-Qaeda head Zarqawi in an airstrike.

Outside observers have taken notice that on August 31, three days before this visit to Iraq, he met with high-level Pentagon officials, who expressed worry about the soldiers stationed in Iraq and their dependents. The Joint Chiefs of Staff members and other high ranking military officers exhaustively explored the Iraq problem. After the meeting Bush said, “Currently the risk level in Iraq is very high, and as for our security, the situation also looks grim.”

And next week, Petraeus, the highest U.S. commanding officer in Iraq, and Clark, the U.S. Ambassador in Iraq, will hand over an Iraq report to Congress, elaborating recent changes in Iraq’s domestic situation and the successes and failures of the U.S. military policy in Iraq. The American media predicts that this report will decide the next phase of the government’s policy towards Iraq, and it will inevitably set off intense debates between the two parties.

(Picture accompanies article, the caption reads: “On the 3rd, in Iraq Bush meets with American soldiers at the Al-Asad Air Force Base in Anbar province.”)


Under the section heading “Related News”:

The British Military Pulls Out of Basra in the Dark of Night

- The responsibility for security will be handed over to Iraqi authorities.

On the evening of the 2nd, local time, the British military began to pull out of the Basra Palace Base in Basra, Iraq’s second larget city, for the British Air Force Base outside the city.

With the extraction finished on the 3rd, it signified the conclusion of the British military’s presence in Basra since 2003, when the Saddam regime was toppled. The move is part of England’s plan to hand over security responsibilities to local authorities in Iraq.

Previously, the British military had a total of 500 men stationed in the Basra Palace Base, which was hit daily with at least 60 rocket and mortar attacks. Supply troops under armed escort went so far as to call it the “nighttime suicide run”.

After leaving Basra they joined the 5500 strong British force stationed at the Air Force Base outside the city. According to the British military, the pull out from Basra Palace does not signify that the British are leaving Iraq, rather, as the battlefield situation allows, they will remain in Iraq in a “guardian” role, and will also continue training the Iraqi military and police.

Basra province is the last place the English military has soldiers stationed in Iraq. It stands at a key junction in U.S. military supply lines, is an important Iraqi oil city, and is also one of the areas with violent religious conflicts.

(Image accompanies section, the caption reads: “The British military lowers the flag at Basra. The pull out signifies the end of the British presence in Basra since 2003.”)


Under the section heading “News Analysis”:

The Iraq Visit Is Thick With the Flavor of Public Relations

- People’s University Professor Shi Yinhong analyzes Bush’s Surprise Visit

People’s University specialist on American problems, Professor Shi Yinhong, believes that Bush’s visit clearly has a “public relations” flavor to it. This is a response to recent pressure, and it is very probable that after this visit, there will be a few amendments to the Iraq strategy, which prior to this had been supported all along. But substantially this move is unlikely to make any breakthroughs.

Shi Yinhong said that Bush’s surprise visit to Iraq has two main objectives. The first is to respond to pressure in America. The Democrats oppose his Iraq strategy, especially his decision to not only not withdraw any troops but to actually increase the number of troops, and they want a clear explanation. Bush will use this visit to make it known that he is taking Iraq seriously, thereby hopefully appeasing his opponents.

The second objective is to do “on the ground observations”, and acquire some first hand information about the actual situation in Iraq. It is probable that they will provide a resource for future alterations to the Iraq strategy, and he will also get an inkling of the severity of religious conflict in Anbar province. This is the visit’s most essential significance. But even if Bush does change his Iraq st rategy, it will be very difficult to make any substantial breakthroughs.

Translator’s notes:
- It should be September 3rd, but they printed an 8 instead of a 9. Where’s the copy editor???
- Did you know advisor can be spelled adviser or advisor? If they’d have done that with doctor I could wouldn’t have been eliminated from that spelling bee in third grade! Boo.
- I think the corresponding English idiom for the title of the “News Analysis” would be ‘Stinks of Public Relations’.
- I don’t know how to translate that “specialist on American problems” without it sounding weird, but that’s what it says.

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