The Lighter Side of the G-8

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Thursday, June 10, 2004; 10:35 AM

The "Group of Eight" summit is wrapping up today off the coast of Georgia, and that means it's time for all the reporters there to empty out their notebooks and dazzle readers with amusing tidbits, behind-the-scenes morsels and brilliant color.

Dana Milbank writes in his "G-8 Journal" in The Washington Post today: "World leaders at the Group of Eight summit on Sea Island this week will produce a thick stack of initiatives, action plans and communiques solving most every problem devised by God or man, from stolen passports to methane gas waste. But surely none of these initiatives is as innovative as the G-8's bold new action plan to stop rumormongering."

Milbank describes the audacious plan.

He also notes that the White House has been "offering interviews with 19 senior administration officials to anybody who asks. Interviews with some of the luminaries on the list, such as White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, have proved elusive.

"But others, such as John R. Bolton, the undersecretary of state for arms control, have gamely sat for hours as a procession of reporters from around the world file in for 20-minute interviews -- the G-8 equivalent of a carnival dunking booth. Asked midday on Tuesday how many interviews he had done so far, Bolton estimated: 'A million.' "

David E. Sanger and Richard W. Stevenson write in the New York Times that "when President Bush needed a place to repair alliances that have been strained to the maximum degree, he chose this playground of the Southern rich, with its glorious 'cottages' and expensive golf resorts. . . .

"These days it is not much of a place to experience average America, but it is a fine locale to shut out the rest of the world, view conspicuous architectural consumption and walk beaches that have little or no public access."

And the Times reporters added, "A confession: the print 'pool' reporters -- one from a newspaper, one from a magazine -- luxuriated in their own seven-bedroom house, fully equipped with a formal library, a sunroom with a jukebox, and, true to their duty, a small pool."

Here's an excerpt from the pool report on the meeting with Mideast leaders filed by Sanger to his less fortunate colleagues:

"[Bush] had some time to kill as he waited, so he struck up a conversation with your pooler about his new sport -- mountain biking.

"The highlights: 'Went out for an hour this morning on the golf course -- good way to get the heart rate up.' His bike, he said, had 21 gears and 'the wide tires.' He recommended that when your pooler takes a bike for a spin, 'wear a helmet,' either a reference to his mishap at the ranch a few weeks ago or a vote of no-confidence in your pooler's sense of balance."

Another excerpt:

"But the highlight was the arrival of President Saleh of Yemen. He arrived with a large dagger stuck in the front of his belt, in ceremonial style. Apparently the Secret Service decided not to relieve him of it on his way in. (Cans of shaving cream, in contrast, are forbidden, as your pooler found out at the press center the other day.) President Saleh introduced himself; POTUS made it clear he already knew who he was. They chatted for a moment, then POTUS pointed to the dagger, sheathed in green, and made a few joking stabbing motions."

Hot Wheels

And reporters just love writing about those zippy, high-tech, souped-up, electric-powered golf carts that are the mode of transportation for world leaders at Sea Island.

Jay Reeves of the Associated Press writes: "After a summit luncheon, Bush took al-Yawer, the new Iraqi president, out for a spin.

" 'Be careful, I'm driving,' Bush shouted to a group of pedestrians."

Here's a Reuters photo.

David Gregory of NBC News has video of the Bush-Yawar drive-by.

The Moscow Times reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin "appears to have taken an instant liking for his GEM, the all-electric carts that the G8 leaders and other senior guests have been given to ride around Sea Island during the summit.

"His Global Electric Motors is painted in the white, blue and red colors of the Russian flag and has an inscription under the windshield reading 'Russian Federation.' Each G8 leader has a cart painted in the colors of his country's national flag. . . .

"The only senior official who has outright refused to use a GEM is European Commission President Romano Prodi, Izvestia reported. He asked for a bicycle."

Reuters' Steve Holland identifies another outlier: "British Prime Minister Tony Blair's has a British flag emblazoned across it in Austin Powers style. Perhaps that is why he was frequently seen on foot."

Larry Elliott and David Teather write in the Guardian: "Jacques Chirac was evidently unmoved by the attempt to be laid back. Not the sort of person to be impressed at the prospect of zipping around the secure compound in a golf cart, he turned up for talks in trad summit gear -- a suit and tie."

Laura Bush Lets Loose

The first lady granted all sorts of interviews yesterday. There was Terry Moran of ABC News, Dana Bash of CNN, Norah O'Donnell of NBC News, Bill Plante of CBS News, Jim Angle of Fox News -- and of course Jeannie Blaylock of WLTV-TV, Channel 12 in Jacksonville.

That's where the hard-hitting questions showed up. From Blaylock's report:

"Does the president get up in the morning and go to some closet in the White House and choose his own tie or does somebody lay out his outfit before each business day?

" 'He goes in there and chooses his tie just like everybody else,' Mrs. Bush said with a laugh.

"I asked the First Lady if the President ever had a fashion faux-paus.


" 'I think he dresses very well, which is new for him. Since he became governor, he got few nice suits. He was known before that for wearing his suits until they were real worn out.'

"While on the First Coast, the First Lady says she's really enjoying driving around in a golf cart, considering she doesn't get to drive too much."

Go ahead, watch the video.

And here is Blaylock's reporter's notebook.

The Serious News From the G-8

Glenn Kessler and Dana Milbank write in The Washington Post: "France and the United States clashed anew over Iraq on Wednesday, jarring the Group of Eight summit that the Bush administration had hoped would bury the diplomatic battles of the past.

"Just hours after President Bush expressed hope that NATO could play an expanded role in providing security for Iraq, French President Jacques Chirac emphatically rejected the idea. . . .

"The dispute hinted at the tensions simmering beneath the surface of the summit. The administration is eager to capitalize on the unanimous passage Tuesday of a U.N. Security Council resolution recognizing the interim Iraqi government, and it has pressed for agreements here on a range of issues, including Bush's signature effort to promote democracy in the Middle East. But officials from other nations said they reluctantly accepted some of the administration's ideas, and then only in watered-down or otherwise revised form."

David E. Sanger and Richard W. Stevenson write in the New York Times: "An emotional President Bush met Wednesday for the first time with the newly designated interim president of Iraq, Sheik Ghazi Ajil al-Yawar, telling him, 'I never thought I'd be sitting next to an Iraqi president of a free country a year and a half ago.' . . .

"[I]t was evident that Mr. Bush saw this as an emotional culmination of his 15-month-long venture in regime change. It is, as one of Mr. Bush's own senior aides conceded Wednesday, an experiment whose outcome is impossible to predict."

Overall, wrote Sanger and Stevenson, the atmosphere at the G-8 summit "was generally cordial and the leaders appeared genuinely intent on leaving their divisions over Iraq behind them. But there were flashes of tension. A day after American officials suggested that Europe still had a lot of work to do in helping to ensure a rebound in the world economy, Mr. Chirac pointedly noted that among the biggest economic risks facing the world were the big budget and trade deficits run up under Mr. Bush in the United States."

Here's Kenneth R. Bazinet in the New York Daily News: "President Bush blindsided a gathering of stunned world leaders yesterday by suggesting that NATO should send troops to Iraq -- an idea that's been shot down before."

John Roberts of CBS News wraps up the president's day, including the snags at the G-8.

AFP reports: "US President George W. Bush walked into the G8 summit buoyed by a unanimous UN vote on Iraq, but walks out with few new signs of international help just three weeks before the handover of power there."

And AFP again: "World leaders wrap up a G8 summit after a new era of trans-Atlantic unity dissolved in just one day into fresh US-France spats and squabbles over Iraq's 120 billion dollar debt pile."

Transcripts of all the G-8 goings-on are available here.

The Torture Memos

Fallout continues from the disclosure this week of two Bush administration memos that argue the president is not subject to federal laws and international treaties barring torture.

David G. Savage and Richard B. Schmitt write in a news analysis for the Los Angeles Times: "Rarely, if ever, have the president's advisors claimed an authority to ignore the law as written by Congress.

"The legal memo, written last year for the Defense Department and disclosed this week, did not speak for President Bush, but it claimed an extraordinary power for him. It said that as the commander in chief, he had a 'constitutionally superior position' to Congress and an 'inherent authority' to prosecute the war, even if it meant defying the will of Congress. . . .

"A broad range of legal experts, including specialists in military law, say they were taken aback by this bald assertion of presidential supremacy.

" 'It is an extraordinary claim. It is as broad an assertion of presidential authority as I have ever seen,' said Michael Glennon, a war law expert at Tufts University. 'This is a claim of unlimited executive power. There is no reason to read the commander-in-chief power as trumping the clear power of Congress.' "

Frank Davies writes for Knight Ridder Newspapers: "A March 2003 Pentagon report arguing that the United States isn't bound by laws and treaties against torture has caused a major rift between Bush administration officials seeking maximum leeway to question prisoners and military lawyers who fear reprisals against U.S. troops."

Reagan Legacy Watch

Bush and the first lady will visit the Capitol Rotunda this evening after returning to Washington from Sea Island. After paying their respects, they plan to meet with Reagan family members, who are staying at Blair House.

Helen Dewar and Charles Babington write in The Washington Post: "With all the pageantry of Washington's first state funeral in three decades, Vice President Cheney and congressional leaders stood before the flag-draped coffin of Ronald Reagan in the Capitol Rotunda last night to honor the two-term president as a giant of his time."

Here are excerpts from Cheney's speech; the full text; and the video.

David E. Rosenbaum writes in the New York Times: "In domestic policy, President Ronald Reagan's most lasting legacy is the philosophy dominant in the White House today that tax cuts are the proper tonic for whatever ails the economy and that large budget deficits are not necessarily harmful.

"But one of the guiding principles of Mr. Reagan's tax policy, simplifying the tax code by eliminating narrow tax breaks, was abandoned by subsequent presidents of both parties who preferred to use tax preferences to meet various social and economic goals and satisfy special interests."

Donald Lambro and Ralph Z. Hallow write in the Washington Times: "America's affectionate farewell to Ronald Reagan has focused attention on the similarities between the 40th president and President Bush, whose policies of tax cuts and a stronger defense parallel his Republican forefather."

Bush on the Couch

The buzz is growing about "Bush on the Couch," the unauthorized "applied psychoanalysis" of the president by Georgetown psychiatrist Justin A. Frank.

"We can assure you nobody will be caught perusing this book in the White House," Richard Leiby writes in today's Reliable Source column in The Washington Post.

Frank "claims President Bush exhibits 'sadistic tendencies' and suffers from 'character pathology,' including 'grandiosity' and 'megalomania' -- viewing himself, America and God as interchangeable. Frank told us yesterday that his opinions are based on publicly available materials, adding, 'I've never met the president or any members of his family.' "

Tina Brown, in her Washington Post column last week, predicted the book will do boffo business in New York. "It caters to two New York obsessions, therapy and Bush-bashing -- and is thus a candidate for the local bestseller list."

Poll Watch

Jonathan Weisman writes in The Washington Post: "The nation's economy is growing smartly, wages have begun to rise, and employers have added more than 1.4 million jobs to their payrolls in the past nine months. Yet voters continue to give President Bush poor ratings on his handling of the economy.

"It may sound baffling, but interviews with voters, pollsters and economists suggest Bush's stubborn difficulties on domestic policy boil down to an obvious problem abroad."

That problem: Iraq.

In fact, there's a new Los Angeles Times poll out today supporting that position.

Ronald Brownstein writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Widespread unease over the country's direction and doubts about President Bush's policies on Iraq and the economy helped propel Sen. John F. Kerry to a solid lead among voters nationwide, according to a new Times poll."

Bush's overall approval rating in the Times Poll was 51 percent, unmoved from three months ago and still at an all-time low for that poll. ( has historical data.)

"One of Bush's assets is some voters' belief that he has been a strong commander in chief on one front: 54% approve of his performance in the war on terrorism," Brownstein writes.

"But on the economy, 54% of voters disapprove of his performance, while 43% approve. That's virtually unchanged from March, despite several months of strong job growth."

In an accompanying story, Brownstein also writes: "In three of the key states where the campaign for the White House burns the hottest, President Bush's position is stronger -- and Sen. John F. Kerry's weaker -- than in the nation overall, according to new Times polls."

Bottoming Out?

Greg Hitt writes in the Wall Street Journal: "A little more than a week ago, President Bush did something that surprised White House aides: He went out of his way to take questions from reporters in the Rose Garden."

Hitt's theory is that "after a grim spring of bad news on several fronts, Mr. Bush finally has good things to talk about as the crucial summer of his re-election campaign arrives. And he seems to realize it."

Woodward Watch

Chaka Ferguson of the Associated Press reports from Bob Woodward's lecture at the Council on Foreign Relations yesterday: "In a lesser-reported fact from his book, Woodward said, the White House spied on former U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix, who has said that the justifications for the Iraq war were unfounded.

" 'One of the things that's gone unnoticed [in the book] is . . . national intelligence assets spying on Hans Blix,' he said. 'And Bush was getting these reports and felt that there was incongruity between what Blix was saying publicly and what he was actually doing. It makes it very clear we were wiretapping Hans Blix.' "

© 2004