George W. Bush never conducted himself more like the nation's commander in chief than he did on his super-secret trip to Baghdad to thank U.S. troops for their sacrifices. There couldn't have been a more appropriate place or time - Thanksgiving Day - for the president to make such a bold gesture.
The chattering classes are reeling that the administration planned this trip for weeks and word never did get out to the media - not even to the omnipresent White House press corps - until the president and his small entourage were winging their way back home on Air Force One.
What most impressed the troops, however, was the president. They respected the personal security risks he took by flying into Baghdad in the dark of night to mix with them for a couple of hours. His surprise appearance drew whoops, cheers and tears of joy.
The president's emotional connection to the troops is palpable. This is why his visit wasn't just a morale booster. It was more like a tonic - a popular president telling the troops personally, on behalf of the nation, how much their sacrifices, courage and hard work are appreciated.
And to promise anew that, despite some recent setbacks, the nation's resolve in reconstructing Iraq has not wavered.
"We did not charge hundreds of miles into the heart of Iraq, pay a bitter cost of casualties, defeat a ruthless dictator and liberate 25 million people only to retreat before a band of thugs and assassins," said Bush.
That was not only music to troops' ears, but also to Iraqis' who fear the U.S.-led coalition will leave prematurely. It is one thing for the U.S. president to say his country will stay the course while on American soil; it's much more credible, to Iraqis, when he says it on Iraqi soil.
The Bush-bashers, of course, including the Democrats' nine presidential hopefuls, no doubt lost their Thanksgiving appetites when they learned of Bush's coup.
They're laying low for now, but some pundits are already beating on the president for lying to the media leading up to the trip. For Bush-haters, no good deed of his goes unpunished. Other leftists are characterizing the trip as a "political stunt."
Such partisan cynicism is not just tasteless, it's insulting and mean-spirited - not only to the president who risked his life, but also to the troops who risk theirs every day.
If there was ever a presidential move that transcended politics, it was George W. Bush's Thanksgiving Day pilgrimage to Baghdad. In baseball terms, he hit a grand slam home run. Even his harshest critics can't take that away from him.