Trips with the U.S. president to countries with little infrastructure are more complicated. And trips with the president to countries with little infrastructure, where you are not allowed to tell your colleagues on the ground you are coming, are extremely complicated.
Just trying to get a mobile phone connection to go through can be challenging, especially if one is stuck in some interior room of a palace with thick walls. Internet service that was supposed to be provided on this trip was, for the most part, not working.
Following the meeting, Bush and Talabani gave a joint statement with a key photo opportunity -- Bush, Talabani and the two Iraqi vice presidents all link hands, symbolizing a true partnership.
From the palace, we motorcaded through the Karrada neighborhood of Baghdad into the Green Zone, to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's residence, where he and Bush met. Quick photo op at the beginning of the meeting and then we set up for the ceremony where they each gave a statement and signed the documents representing the ceremonial conclusion of the Strategic Framework Agreement and the Status of Forces Agreement, both outlining the future of the Iraqi-U.S. relationship, including the withdrawal of U.S. forces by the end of 2011.
This was the culmination of what has been a very divisive war -- based on false intelligence -- that has defined much of the Bush presidency.
After their statements, as Bush and the Iraqi prime minister were shaking hands, a shoe suddenly flew right toward Bush's head. He ducked. Then another shoe, and the thrower was immediately manhandled to the floor, screaming as security agents pinned him down and dragged him out of the room, knocking over some equipment in the process. It happened so fast, it was surreal. The president took it all in calmly and remained at the podium. However, White House press secretary Dana Perino suffered a bruised eye in the melee.
After the commotion had died down, Bush joked about it, saying the shoe was a "size 10" and then later saying it was part of democracy, the same as "going to a political rally and having people yell at you ... like driving down the street and have people not gesturing with all five fingers."
We left the palace and took a short helicopter ride to Camp Victory, where Bush spoke to more than 1,000 troops in the main palace that is the headquarters for American commanders. He gave a rousing speech and it was clear that servicemen appreciated hearing from their commander in chief. I can imagine that, apart from returning home to loved ones, there is not much that is more inspiring to them.
A return to Air Force One at about 11:30 p.m. in Baghdad reminded me once again of the security involved. The plane was shrouded in darkness on the tarmac and it was hard to see going up the stairway. Once we got inside, the shades were drawn and all but one or two dim blue lights were off. Getting settled in our seats without running into anything was difficult.
It seemed only a minute had gone by since we had boarded that we heard the engines rev. We were on our way to Afghanistan while the rest of the world believed we were returning to Washington.