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By Bill Gallagher

DETROIT -- The photograph is on my desk, a daily reminder of his madness. It's President George W. Bush in his flight suit strutting on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Lincoln. We are marking the third anniversary of MAD: Mission Accomplished Day.

Like millions around the world, I watched it on live TV. It was a sight to behold and remember. Our "wartime president," the commander in chief, puffing like a bantam rooster and beaming like a kid on Christmas morning as he swaggered his way across the deck.

Surely, as Bush himself thought, God chose this great man for this great moment. The forces of righteousness had defeated an evil regime, bringing liberty, freedom, peace and democracy to a long-oppressed people. We could defuse the horrible weapons the desert devils had hidden and plotted to use against us. That, of course, was why we went to war.

"The tyrant has fallen and Iraq is free," Bush proclaimed on that beautiful day. Photographer's Mate 3rd Class Tyler J. Clements shot the glossy photo I have. The Citizens United for the Bush Agenda sent it to me with permission from the U.S. Navy.

My zip code and longtime subscription to the "National Review" (kindly provided by my father-in-law, Joe Bellonte, who never gives up hope for my political conversion) assure that I am on every conceivable Bushevik mailing list.

Next to the flight suit, I have another color glossy of George and Laura Bush. The Republican National Committee sent me the suitable-for-framing photo after the 2004 election. It's signed by the first couple and inscribed "To: William Gallagher, Thank you for your support and friendship as a Charter Member from Michigan. With your help we can make America stronger, safer and more prosperous. Best Wishes." I'm doing my share.

The photos do inspire conversations. When GOP politicos visit the newsroom and spot them, they invariably approach me for expected friendly chats. I am certainly civil, but usually ask questions like "How long do you expect this horrible war will last?" or "Can you think of any administration and Congress more fiscally reckless than what we now have?" My Bush-photo fans quickly flee.

Under the flight-deck photo, there is a prominent quote: "Because of you, our nation is more secure." The words came from Bush's speech that night, directed toward members of the U.S. military. But the impression the Bush front group wanted to make was that "because of you" was a tribute to their man pictured above the quote. How clever. How deceptive.

MAD is the most emblematic moment of the Iraq war so far. It represents the arrogant and perverted politicians who brought us the disaster, the shameless cheerleaders in the mainstream media who helped sell the war and the gullible masses who sucked up the images and lies.

When I look at the photo, I wonder how the American people could allow this vile, vainglorious man to lead our nation into such a mess. He fabricated the reasons for an imperial war of choice to serve his megalomania and the interests of his corporate sponsors.

Bush decided to flex U.S. military muscle, sending an army into the heart of Islam. We'll shock and awe the hell out of the Arab world with our great powers, strength and will, or so this pitifully shallow man thought.

Bush summed up his Messianic mission when he told British Prime Minister Tony Blair, "We're going to kick some ass." No Islamic extremist would ever again dare challenge such bold, inspirational leadership.

It was so easy, over in a few weeks. The Iraqi army ran, Saddam's statute toppled. Just as Vice President Dick Cheney had promised, our troops were "greeted as liberators." The neocons were right. Just slap those Arabs militarily and they'll get in line. We'll protect "our" oil, and Israel and democracy will blossom in the Middle East. It was a cakewalk.

Having so thoroughly failed its responsibility in the march to war, the mainstream American media reached its nadir gushing over Bush's theatrical performance when he made his grand entrance after landing on the Lincoln on a S-3B Viking jet. In 25 years in the news business, I have never seen a more disgusting and nauseating display of media excess.

The talking heads were beside themselves. Superlatives were inadequate. The effusive praise for the warrior-president echoed over every channel. No way to surf your way to sanity, no way to escape the fawning frenzy. Bush was basking in triumph, and his media worshipers could only toss laurel wreaths his way.

The Media Matters for America Web site posted a collection of some of the most ridiculous remarks and commentary aired on MAD when Bush declared that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended."

But since his premature military ejaculation, more than 2,262 American troops have died there, 17,000 have been wounded, and more than 50,000 Iraqi civilians are dead.

But on MAD, pundits like Chris Matthews were in rapture describing Bush's "amazing display of leadership" and bellowing, "Look at this guy!"

Ann Coulter, the venomous conservative fiction-writer, one of Matthews' guests on "Hardball," was transfixed.

"It's stunning. It's amazing," she drooled. "I think it's huge. I mean, he's landing on a boat at 150 miles per hour. It's tremendous. It's hard to imagine any Democrat being able to do that."

A few days later, G. Gordon Liddy, the former Nixon aide and convicted felon, joined Matthews for more wretched excess. Liddy descended into machismo madness and phallicism: "He's wearing his parachute harness, you know, and I've worn those because I parachute, and it makes the best of his manly characteristic."

Even sensible people were drinking the Kool-Aid. CBS's Bob Schieffer said, "As far as I'm concerned, that was one of the great pictures of all time." And former "Time" magazine columnist Margaret Carlson praised the choreography. "Cecil B. DeMille couldn't have done better," she said.

While all commentators mentioned Bush was a pilot in the Texas Air National Guard, not one mentioned the fact that he went AWOL for a year and was forced out of his flight suit for failing to take a required physical and undergo drug-testing. Why spoil such a sunny day?

A State Department annual survey reports a significant rise in global terrorism as the number of serious incidents tripled over those of the previous year. Violence in Iraq has grown, with 8,300 civilians killed in insurgent attacks. April has been the deadliest month for American soldiers so far this year, though the final tally is not yet in.

Oil is $75 a barrel and gas is $3 a gallon. The world hates us, and we're using money borrowed from China to pay for the war. Our children will get the bill.

Part of the quote under the flight-suit photo is spot on: "Because of you."

Bill Gallagher, a Peabody Award winner, is a former Niagara Falls city councilman who now covers Detroit for Fox2 News. His e-mail address is gallaghernewsman@sbcglobal.net.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com May 2 2006