Bush's Battlefield Envy

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, September 17, 2007; 2:18 PM

President Bush wishes that he could be alongside the troops in Iraq -- except that he's too old.

At least that's what he reportedly told a blogger embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq. In the first session of its kind, Bush spent almost an hour on Friday talking with 10 so-called "milbloggers," including two who participated by video conference from a military base outside Baghdad.

" N.Z. Bear," one of the eight guests sitting around a table with Bush at the White House, reported: "Responding to one of the bloggers in Iraq he expressed envy that they could be there, and said he'd like to be there but 'One, I'm too old to be out there, and two, they would notice me.'"

Maybe Bush was just making idle chit-chat. But this would not be the first time the president has appeared unaware of the hardships his war has caused hundreds of thousands of American troops -- while expressing a misguided sense of bravado.

He certainly hasn't ever put himself in harm's way. The president who avoided serving in Vietnam as a young man has made only three visits to Iraq since declaring that major combat operations were over more than four years ago. All three of the visits were unannounced and featured extensive security.

Bush's total time in country? Less than 15 hours.

Bush's first trip was a two-and-a-half-hour visit to the Baghdad airport on Thanksgiving 2003, where he teared up at the sight of the soldiers and was famously photographed posing with a prop turkey.

In June 2006, Bush spent five hours visiting Iraqi political leaders in Baghdad, although he didn't let the prime minister know he was coming.

During his most recent trip, two weeks ago, Bush was on the ground for seven hours, never leaving the confines of a military base known as Camp Cupcake, a heavily fortified American outpost for 10,000 troops with a 13-mile perimeter.

At the same time, the White House has depicted Bush as being on the front lines. In a June 14 briefing, Hearst columnist Helen Thomas asked press secretary Tony Snow if there were "any members of the Bush family or this administration in this war?"

Snow's response: "Yes, the President. The President is in the war every day."

Thomas said she meant "on the front lines."

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