A Win for a Foreign Policy Under Fire

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, June 28, 2004; 12:03 PM

This morning's muted handover of political authority to an interim Iraqi government may be President Bush's best shot at reestablishing his foreign policy credentials abroad and bolstering them at home.

Will it be enough? Recent news reports and analyses describe Bush's foreign policy as discredited and his display of diplomatic strength as mostly limited to grip-and-grins with world leaders.

His visit to Europe is sparking protests in the streets and defensiveness from the White House, which reprimanded an Irish television reporter for being disrespectful in her interview with the president last week.

Meanwhile, it turns out that several senior aides to Bush and Vice President Cheney had input into the crafting of the torture memo that the White House repudiated under intense pressure last week.

And as Dean Goodman of Reuters, writing about the record-breaking opening weekend for "Fahrenheit 9/11", put it: "Bush-bashing became the nation's favorite spectator sport over the weekend."

Also today: The F-word update.

The Bush Doctrine: Eroded

Robin Wright writes in The Washington Post: "The occupation of Iraq has increasingly undermined, and in some cases discredited, the core tenets of President Bush's foreign policy, according to a wide range of Republican and Democratic analysts and U.S. officials.

"When the war began 15 months ago, the president's Iraq policy rested on four broad principles: The United States should act preemptively to prevent strikes on U.S. targets. Washington should be willing to act unilaterally, alone or with a select coalition, when the United Nations or allies balk. Iraq was the next cornerstone in the global war on terrorism. And Baghdad's transformation into a new democracy would spark regionwide change.

"But these central planks of Bush doctrine have been tainted by spiraling violence, limited reconstruction, failure to find weapons of mass destruction or prove Iraq's ties to al Qaeda, and mounting Arab disillusionment with U.S. leadership."

Diminished Diplomatic Strength

Christopher Marquis writes in the New York Times: "President Bush's trip to the NATO summit meeting in Turkey comes at a time of diminished diplomatic strength, in which international organizations and individual countries have forced his administration into some strategic compromises, foreign policy specialists and diplomats say."

Deb Riechmann writes for the Associated Press that in June, Bush's answer to "charges that he follows a lone-man approach to foreign policy that alienates America's friends" has been "splashy photo opportunities" with smiling world leaders.

'Let the Chips Fall Where They May'

Asked about his personal lack of popularity in Europe, Bush said this weekend that he didn't really care.

Here's the transcript of Bush's joint press conference in Ireland.

"Q Thank you. Mr. President, you don't appear to be a very popular fellow here in Europe. Do you have any explanation for your poor poll standings? And is that something that should concern Americans?

"PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, Hutch, I must confess that the first polls I worry about are those that are going to take place in early November of this year. I -- listen, I care about the image of our country. We've got a country that we've just got two-and-a-half trillion dollars worth of trade, or $2.2 trillion worth of trade with the EU. Obviously, something positive is happening.

"I don't like it when the values of our country are -- are misunderstood because of the actions of some people overseas. As far as my own personal standing goes, Hutch, my job is to do my job. I'm going to do it the way I think is necessary. I'm going to set a vision, I will lead, and we'll just let the chips fall where they may."

Thin Skinned

But someone in the White House is awfully thin skinned.

As I reported in Friday's column, Bush seemed quite irritated by Irish radio and television correspondent Carole Coleman's tough questions and attempts to move him off his stock answers on Thursday.

Here's Coleman herself describing the interview: "He was tough. He was very tough. And the policy of the White House is that you submit your questions in advance, and so they had my questions for about three days. They knew I was going to ask tough questions and I think he was prepared for that. . . .

"There were a few stages at which I had to move him along for reasons of timing and he's not used to being moved along by the American media. Perhaps they're a bit more deferential."

They had her questions for three days? I'll do some reporting today to figure out why Coleman had to to submit her questions.

And this is what happens when you're not deferential, I guess:

AFP reported on Saturday: "The US administration confirmed it had axed an interview that US First Lady Laura Bush had been due to grant to Irish public television RTE, only two days after the broadcaster's exclusive interview with the US president himself.

"No explanation was given for the schedule change, but journalists traveling with the Bush entourage in Europe noted that the cancellation had come a day after George W. Bush's less-than-sunny showing in his RTE exclusive."

Miriam Lord writes in the Irish Independent: "The White House has lodged a complaint with the Irish Embassy in Washington over RTE journalist Carole Coleman's interview with US President George Bush. . . .

"The Irish Independent learned last night that the White House told Ms Coleman that she interrupted the president unnecessarily and was disrespectful.

"She also received a call from the White House in which she was admonished for her tone.

"And it emerged last night that presidential staff suggested to Ms Coleman as she went into the interview that she ask him a question on the outfit that Taoiseach Bertie Ahern wore to the G8 summit."

Ahern, for those who missed it, wore a pair of canary-yellow trousers at the G8 summit that was so garish that the issue was raised in the Irish parliament.

Here's a transcript of Coleman's interview with Bush. Here's the video.

Angelique Chrisafis writes in the Guardian that "Mr Bush has been choking on . . . the gristle of the Irish media. Expecting nothing more than a gentle probing from a friendly state which America 'helped' to prosper, he gave the first White House interview to an Irish journalist for 20 years. But the state broadcaster RTE subjected him to a grilling which left him fuming and had media commentators and licence-payers debating the Irish style of journalism."

In fact, some bloggers are wondering why the American press corps can't be less deferential.

To be continued.

The Handover

Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Mike Allen have all the latest for washingtonpost.com from Baghdad and Istanbul.

Terence Hunt writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush celebrated the early transfer of political power to Iraqis Monday, declaring that 'the Iraqi people have their country back.'

A few hours earlier, Hunt writes, "President Bush marked the transfer with a whispered comment and a handshake with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, gathered with world leaders around a table at a NATO summit. Stealing a glance at his watch to make sure the transfer had occurred, Bush put his hand over his mouth to guard his remarks, leaned toward Blair and then put out his hand for a shake. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, a row behind the president, beamed."

Ronald Brownstein writes in the Los Angeles Times: "The hand-over of authority to an interim Iraqi government may offer President Bush his best opportunity before November to rebuild public confidence in his strategy for Iraq, but it also risks accelerating U.S. disillusionment with the mission there."

Torture Memo

Dana Priest writes in The Washington Post: "The CIA has suspended the use of extraordinary interrogation techniques approved by the White House pending a review by Justice Department and other administration lawyers, intelligence officials said. . . .

"The suspension is the latest fallout from the abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and is related to the White House decision, announced Tuesday, to review and rewrite sections of an Aug. 1, 2002, Justice Department opinion on interrogations that said torture might be justified in some cases.

"Although the White House repudiated the memo Tuesday as the work of a small group of lawyers at the Justice Department, administration officials now confirm it was vetted by a larger number of officials, including lawyers at the National Security Council, the White House counsel's office and Vice President Cheney's office. . . .

"In addition, Timothy E. Flanigan -- then deputy White House counsel -- discussed a draft of the document with lawyers at the [Justice Department's] Office of Legal Counsel before it was finalized, the officials said. David S. Addington, Cheney's counsel, also weighed in with remarks during at least one meeting he held with Justice lawyers involved with writing the opinion. He was particularly concerned, sources said, that the opinion include a clear-cut section on the president's authority.

"That section of the memo has become among the most controversial within the legal community that has analyzed the opinion since it was made public by The Washington Post."

David Johnston and James Risen write in the New York Times: "An August 2002 memo by the Justice Department that concluded interrogators could use extreme techniques on detainees in the war on terror helped provide an after-the-fact legal basis for harsh procedures used by the C.I.A. on high-level leaders of Al Qaeda, according to current and former government officials. . . .

"In repudiating the memo in briefings this week, none of the senior Bush legal advisers whom the White House made available to reporters would discuss who had requested that the memo be prepared, why it had been prepared or how it was applied."

F-Word Update

Dana Milbank and Helen Dewar write in Saturday's Washington Post: "Vice President Cheney on Friday vigorously defended his vulgarity directed at a prominent Democratic senator earlier this week in the Senate chamber.

"Cheney said he 'probably' used an obscenity in an argument Tuesday on the Senate floor with Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and added that he had no regrets. 'I expressed myself rather forcefully, felt better after I had done it,' Cheney told Neil Cavuto of Fox News. The vice president said those who heard the putdown agreed with him. 'I think that a lot of my colleagues felt that what I had said badly needed to be said, that it was long overdue.'"

Here's the transcript of Cheney's interview on Fox.

Reuters reported on Saturday: "President Bush is not taking Vice President Dick Cheney to the woodshed for uttering an expletive to a Democratic opponent in the U.S. Senate. . . .

"'These things happen from time to time,' said White House spokesman Scott McClellan when asked what Bush's reaction to Cheney's remark had been.

"'You're talking about one incident involving a private exchange,' McClellan told reporters traveling with Bush on a trip to Ireland and Turkey. 'It's not an issue with the president. The president is looking ahead.'"

Here's a transcript in which McClellan, asked five times about the topic, sticks to his talking points.

Temperature's Rising

"Fahrenheit 9/11" broke box-office records for a documentary this weekend.

Sharon Waxman writes in the New York Times: "The film's weekend success was fodder for the Sunday morning political talk shows, as pundits wondered what the political influence of the film might be, if any, on President Bush's re-election campaign."

Bridget Byrne writes in The Washington Post: "Bush-Cheney campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel had no comment on the box office numbers, but suggested that those wanting another view visit www.GeorgeWBush.com and see a compilation of clips titled 'Kerry Coalition of the Wild-Eyed.' In general, the campaign has said it did not want to take on Moore because it would lend him credibility."

Speaking of the Wild-Eyed

The "Coalition of the Wild-Eyed" Web ad is stoking controversy because it features clips of Adolf Hitler.

David E. Sanger writes in the New York Times: "President Bush's campaign Web site is featuring an advertisement casting Senator John Kerry and his allies as a 'coalition of the wild-eyed,' blending clips of former Vice President Al Gore, former Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont and the filmmaker Michael Moore shouting about Mr. Bush. Interspersed twice are images of a shouting Hitler, drawn from a Web spot that MoveOn.org, the Internet advocacy group that runs anti-Bush advertisements, briefly posted months ago in a contest for advertisements about the president.

"MoveOn.org quickly removed the advertisement from its site. But it resurfaces in the Bush-Cheney campaign's compendium of clips, and the result appears to liken Mr. Gore's and Mr. Dean's shouting to Hitler's.

"Mary Beth Cahill, Mr. Kerry's campaign manager, sent out a fund-raising letter on Friday accusing the Bush campaign of 'losing any last sense of decency' by posting the new advertisement."

Though Democrats have called for the Bush/Cheney campaign to pull the spot, it is still featured prominently on the Bush/Cheney Web site. Here's a direct link. The ad now has a short precede, added since Friday, which in part says: "The following video contains remarks made by and images from ads sponsored by Kerry Supporters."

The Okrent Challenge

Large formal briefings by anonymous senior administration officials are a staple of the White House. But they have become increasingly frequent in the past month. I count at least 17 this month. Make that 18; another one just came in over the transom.

New York Times "Public Editor" Daniel Okrent yesterday denounced background briefings as "an affront to journalistic integrity and an insult to the citizenry.

"So let me offer a blatant, grandstanding challenge to the five largest American papers and The Associated Press. Newspapers are by nature competitive rather than collaborative, but the very existence of the cooperatively owned A.P. demonstrates that concerted action can be good for journalism. Therefore: will the chief editors of USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and The A.P. jointly agree not to cover group briefings conducted by government officials and other political figures who refuse to allow their names to be used?

"If I hear from any of them, I'll let you know."


Karl Rove's Legmen

David D. Kirkpatrick profiles Tim Goeglein in today's New York Times.

"Karl Rove, the president's top political strategist, is famous in well-connected Washington for his tireless round of telephone calls and personal contacts with influential conservatives around the country.

"But even Mr. Rove has his limits -- calls he cannot make, hands he cannot shake and meetings he cannot attend. For those, he has Timothy Goeglein."

Goeglein is "the official White House liaison to conservatives and to Christian groups. He is Mr. Rove's legman on the right," Kirkpatrick writes.

"Mr. Goeglein usually attends a White House meeting around 8:30 a.m. each weekday with Mr. Rove and eight other officials to settle on the administration's message for the day. Most days, Mr. Goeglein and Mr. Rove are also in frequent contact by telephone and e-mail after that, Mr. Goeglein said. Mr. Rove said Mr. Goeglein's field reports from the conservative movement had helped the White House make a number of decisions, including formulating its policy limiting stem-cell research and promoting the signing of a bill restricting some abortions."

For some reason, Kirkpatrick leaves out Goeglein's most famous -- and controversial -- quote. Less than a month after Sept. 11, 2001, Goeglein told the Christian publication World magazine: "I think President Bush is God's man at this hour, and I say this with a great sense of humility."

In the Baltimore Sun, David L. Greene profiles Rove's other legman: Ken Mehlman, the Bush/Cheney campaign manager.

And WDAM-TV in Mississippi reports about the man himself. "The President's senior political advisor, Karl Rove, was in Hattiesburg this weekend visiting some family and friends and he tells us, in an exclusive interview, he's confident the President will be re-elected in November."

Reagan Legacy Watch

Ron Reagan, no fan of President Bush, is also no fan of the vice president.

From an interview with Deborah Solomon in the Sunday New York Times Magazine:

Q. "How did your mother feel about being ushered to her seat by President Bush?"

Reagan: "Well, he did a better job than Dick Cheney did when he came to the rotunda. I felt so bad. Cheney brought my mother up to the casket, so she could pay her respects. She is in her 80's, and she has glaucoma and has trouble seeing. There were steps, and he left her there. He just stood there, letting her flounder. I don't think he's a mindful human being. That's probably the nicest way I can put it."

Bush in Turkey

Mike Allen writes in The Washington Post: "NATO countries will set aside their objections and agree Monday to provide emergency military training for the interim government of Iraq, White House officials said Sunday. . . .

"[T]the White House described the move as giving President Bush the international imprimatur he had long sought for post-invasion operations. . . .

"The White House views the agreement on training for Iraq, which follows NATO's decision to take over an international security force in Afghanistan, as a crucial step in its effort to guide the alliance away from its historic emphasis on the defense of its own territory and instead toward taking the offensive against terrorism around the world."

Susan Sachs and Eric Schmitt write in the New York Times: "President Bush reassured Turkey on Sunday that it was once again a friend in good standing, despite its refusal to support American troops in the invasion of Iraq last year."

Bush in Ireland

Mike Allen wrote in Sunday's Washington Post: "President Bush asserted Saturday that the bitterness over Iraq among European allies was 'over' and that NATO has a responsibility to do more to help the fledgling government that will assume limited authority in Baghdad on Wednesday. . . .

"Antiwar protesters forced a 30-minute delay in Bush's news conference with Ahern and Prodi -- a symbolic victory over a president who prizes punctuality. Bush had to wait while the White House press corps was driven in circles on double-decker buses because thousands of opponents of the Iraq war had blocked miles of nearby roads."

Elisabeth Bumiller wrote in Saturday's New York Times: "Mr. Bush's arrival in Ireland was in striking contrast to the jubilant welcomes accorded here to Presidents Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy.

"Mr. Bush's reception was frosty, if not outright hostile, as widespread opposition to the Iraq war and revulsion at the Abu Ghraib prison scandal have turned a large portion of Irish popular opinion against him."

Presidential Skivvies

Mark Simpson of the BBC reports that "there was a wave of international censorship after George W Bush appeared at the window of an Irish castle wearing a white undergarment, rather than his traditional shirt and tie. . . .

"After spotting the camera, he quickly backtracked, and allowed one of his aides to open the bedroom window instead.

"It was too late. The cameraman had got the shot -- George W Bush as you have never seen him before, in a vest, about to go to bed, at Dromoland Castle in County Clare on the west coast of Ireland."

"Vest," I gather, is British for "undershirt."

Ireland Online reports: "The image, published today in the Star on Sunday and Ireland on Sunday, has been banned by the Government, and has been pulled from Sky News and a number of US television networks."

Blogger Atrios has a fuzzy picture of one of the tabloid covers.

Ireland On-Line reports that Prime Minister Bertie Ahern apologized for the invasion of Bush's privacy, but added: "In actual fact he looks a very fit man, probably far fitter than me, he goes out jogging and cycling everyday and he's a very healthy looking fellow."

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