President George W. Bush's dramatic jet landing aboard a US aircraft carrier last week was unnecessary, but he wanted to experience the risky maneuver, his spokesman said on Tuesday.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer had originally told reporters that Bush had to use a Navy combat plane to reach the USS Abraham Lincoln because the ship would be "hundreds of miles from shore," out of helicopter range.
It was, in fact, some 48km off the coast of California -- but the landing made for endlessly replayed television images and enabled Bush to swagger among crew members while wearing a flight suit, even though he was never at the plane's controls.
"The president wanted to land on it, on an aircraft that would allow him to see an aircraft landing the same way that the pilots saw an aircraft landing," Fleischer said on Tuesday.
Bush's speech marked the unofficial launch of next year's reelection bid, prompting some opposition Democrats to grouse that the made-for-television address amounted to manipulating the military for political purposes.
Veteran Democratic Senator Robert Byrd decried what he called "the flamboyant showmanship" displayed by the president aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln.
"American blood has been shed on foreign soil in defense of the president's policies," Byrd said on the Senate floor. "This is not some made-for-TV backdrop for a campaign commercial ... To me, it is an affront to the Americans killed or injured in Iraq for the president to exploit the trappings of war for the momentary spectacle of a speech."
The senator said that while he did not begrudge Bush's salute to US servicemen, he wanted to "question the motives of a deskbound president who assumes the garb of a warrior for the purposes of a speech."