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Central Casting in Iraq

Karl Rove may have left the White House, but they have lost little of his magic when it comes to staging a photo-op. I can’t help but gawk at the combination of pandering and denial in this one:


Have you ever seen a better bunch of kids? Happy, wholesome, good-looking, fresh-faced, smiling–they look like they’ve had a great time at a neighborhood charity clean-up. And what a line-up: from the right, we see a black female, Hispanic male, white male, Bush, indeterminate female. The rows in the back do much the same. They could have stepped right out of a Disney movie. The raised hands from the back confirm what we already know, which is that this photo is posed and taken on cue, but that cynical fact is swamped by their good-natured, exuberant innocence.

It looks as though there is a cluster of white men around Bush, covering his back, perhaps, but I wouldn’t make too much of that. More important is that the group forms a triangle pointed toward the vanishing point of the picture, with Bush smack in the center. The photo is all about him, with everyone else there as a prop. He stands at the center of a miniature society of egalitarian citizen-soldiers who are there primarily to frame him. And who is that man in black at the center? He looks like the beloved uncle or model civic volunteer: gentle and ever-helpful but also wise, the perfect scout leader being recognized for his many years of service.

And not for the first time. Bush has been setting records for his use of military personal as props. And the troops are stand-ins for those he was using before 9/11:


This image is from November 28, 2000, when the election was still on the line. Note the same mix of ethnicities and genders, the same happy faces, the same innocence, the same focus on the man in the middle.

I’m tempted to follow with an image of a maimed soldier, but that shouldn’t be necessary. The point is that we already can see the stagecraft, and we know how much is being denied. Whether propping up a stolen election or a failed invasion, Bush knows where to turn.

Photographs by Jason Reed/Reuters and Jeff Mitchell/Reuters. The first accompanied this story in the New York Times.

Update: Occasionally our posts cover the same images as those posted by Michael Shaw at his excellent blog, BAGnewsNotes. These may be on the same day or, in this case, a day apart due to the writing schedule on one side or the other. (Sometimes, as is the case this week, John or I write several posts in a row that then can be put up each day before we run off to meetings and the other demands of our day jobs.) So, if you want to read Michael’s take on the same photograph, go here. Michael was one of the inspirations for this blog, and it is gratifying when we see things alike while learning from each other’s point of view.



Central Casting in Iraq


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