You can almost imagine Chris Matthews wracking his brain as the minutes counted down to Hardball hitting the air this evening. He couldn't permit Pres. Bush's surprise trip to Iraq to stand as an unalloyed triumph. Was Matthews bouncing possible lines off his producers and assistants?
In any case, Chris gave it his best Holy Cross try. Opening the show, he mused:
"The bravado of visiting Baghdad helps Bush, but does it hurt Iraq's new Prime Minister to have the American president look like a boss on an inspection tour?"
Matthews ran the same line up the flagpole when when NBC's Richard Engel came on. Reporting live from Baghdad, Engel at first weakly saluted but - to his credit - ultimately offered a different take.
Matthews: "Does this make it look like the big boss is coming to check out on the lieutenant?"
"It looked like that one stage. Maliki wasn't told till five minutes before the visit that he would be meeting President Bush. He was left standing alone in one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces for about two or three minutes, waiting for Bush to arrive. Bush was being treated like a rock star throughout this visit, meeting with troops in this former palace. He spoke to the troops, was signing autographs, there was band music playing. So, to a degree it did make him look like a small player who was meeting a much larger world figure, that is effectively the case.
"But in the eyes of the Iraqis, this could help Maliki. The Iraqis really want a normal government, they want a state that is recognized internationally, that is strong, that has powerful allies and that is capable of carrying out this security plan. That is what Iraqis are going to be more focused on, what can happen on the streets, and if President Bush's visit can help Maliki and give him the kind support that he needs to bring stability here and get the power running, then power to him."
Finkelstein lives in the liberal haven of Ithaca, NY, where he hosts the award-winning public-access TV show 'Right Angle.' Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org