December 17, 2003
The spinmeisters at the White House get especially crafty around the holidays. Taking advantage of slow news periods (Congress away, lull in Mid-East violence, Arnold laying low), you can count on them to deck the halls with faux news filled with not-so-subliminal themes and political auto-suggestions.
After doing a wonderful job hijacking a group of reporters to cover a stage managed “George Bush Thanksgiving Special In Iraq” (“Top that, Bob Hope!” “Take that, Hilary!”), they got a yule tide bonus this weekend when Saddam Hussein fell into their laps still early in the weekend (unless that was staged managed too).
By sitting on the story for 16 hours, the White House was able to completely control the story, the images and the timing. More impressively, because the announcement came just after the press deadline for most major newspapers, the administration guaranteed itself a huge splash for two full days, the first day on TV, the next in print.
Of course, the capture of Saddam has spurred a tremendous amount of speculation about whether it really helps or hurts the administration in the middle- and longer run. Although this the logical place to take speculation, it actually departs from the way this administration functions.
In Bush World, there is no “longer term.” As an organization that acts almost entirely on impulse, with various sub-constituencies pursuing contrary agendas, the “reason for being” of Bush and Company is primarily to spin the best narrative around the latest calamity. In the case of the Saddam capture, the issue for Bush is not what this implies for some greater strategy. It’s about milking the story for as long as possible, as well as using it to demonstrate that (once again) we’re winning and somebody else is losing.
So, if your looking for what the capture of Saddam Hussein meant most to the President, it’s this: Christmas arrived early in Washington.