Circular Logic from the Old Gray Lady

June 14th, 2006 12:12 AM

Support the war in Iraq without having been there and you're a "chickenhawk," but travel to Baghdad and it's a political stunt. Such is the logic of the New York Times editorial page, which still hasn't gotten over President Bush's visit to the USS Abraham Lincoln in 2003.

Three years after declaring from the deck of an aircraft carrier that America had accomplished its mission in Iraq, President Bush flew to Baghdad yesterday to make much of two modest pieces of encouraging news — the belated confirmation of the last three members of the Iraqi cabinet and the death of Iraq's top terrorist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

By now, Americans surely know the difference between a presidential publicity stunt and a true turning point in this ever-lengthening war. If they had any question about which one this was, Karl Rove provided some guidance in New Hampshire, where he delivered the campaign talking points to the Republican faithful: the Democrats could never have summoned the will to kill Mr. Zarqawi. For an administration that is supposed to be rallying a nation at war, it was a revealingly nasty, partisan and divisive moment.

It is no secret that whenever President Bush acts, well presidential, the Times squirms uncomfortably. The latest Baghdad house call, much like the Thanksgiving visit in 2003 and the flight deck speech, has (yawn) garned the usual kneejerk negative reaction from the Old Gray Lady and company.

These visits are designed to inspire the troops first and satisfy political ends second, a bit of trivia that the Times should keep in mind.