Will Europe Warm to Bush?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, February 17, 2005; 1:09 PM

How European leaders react to President Bush during his trip there next week may depend on whether he can win back their trust -- and how he addresses a topic that he tends to avoid at home: Global warming.

Steve Holland writes for Reuters: "European leaders at a Brussels summit next week want to restore a sense of trust with President Bush after Iraq war divisions and hope to gain a greater voice in U.S. decision-making, a top European Union diplomat said on Wednesday.

"Former Irish Prime Minister John Bruton, the European Commission's ambassador to the United States, said he believes Bush will make a statement in Brussels about the problem of global climate change that will be welcome in Europe.

"Bush's abrupt withdrawal from the Kyoto treaty in 2001 lingers as an irritant between U.S. and European leaders. The fact that Bush may be willing to engage on climate change 'will be a sign that Europe has been listened to,' Bruton said. He spoke with reporters on the day the international treaty on curbing emissions of heat-trapping gases took effect."

Bush's greatest ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, has repeatedly pledged in recent weeks that Bush would address global warming during his visit. Most recently, the BBC reports, "Mr Blair said the problem of global warming could become 'a catastrophe' for some parts of the world if it was not addressed now.

"He said the 'only solution' was to bring the Americans back into talks and make sure China and India, which have populations of over one billion each, get on side."

Terence Hunt writes for the Associated Press: "The fence-mending trips, makeup meetings and friendly photo ops spread over the past two years have failed to repair problems between President Bush and European leaders.

"But the president's visit to Europe next week holds the promise of better relations for the simple pragmatic reason that disgruntled allies know they have to work with him for four more years."

Bush talked a bit about his upcoming trip in his press conference this morning. Here's the transcript.

"QUESTION: What do you have to offer or say to European allies to help restore that trust, particularly the trust in U.S. intelligence?

"BUSH: You know, my first goal is to remind both Americans and Europeans that the trans-Atlantic relationship is very important for our mutual security and for peace; and that we have differences sometimes, but we don't differ on values, that we share this great love and respect for freedom."

Bush then suggested that his recent disagreements with Europe were largely based on different interpretations of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"For some in Europe, it was just a passing terrible moment. And for us, it caused us to change our foreign policy -- in other words, a permanent part of our foreign policy.

"And those differences at times, frankly, cause us to talk past each other, and I recognize that. And I want to make sure the Europeans understand I know that, and that as we move beyond the differences of the past, that we can work a lot together to achieve big objectives."

Europeans' chief complaints, of course, are about Bush's invasion of Iraq and his go-it-alone foreign policy -- neither of which they saw as warranted by Sept. 11.

"There's also a concern in Europe, I suspect, that the only thing I care about is our national security," Bush continued. "And clearly, you know, since we have been attacked -- and I fear there's a terrorist group out there thinking about attacking us again and would like to -- that national security is the top of my agenda.

"That's what you'd expect from the president of the United States.

"But we also care deeply about hunger and disease, and I look forward to working with the Europeans on hunger and disease. "

Finally, and briefly, he touched on global warming: "We care about the climate. Obviously, the Kyoto Protocol had been a problem in the past. They thought the treaty made sense; I didn't. And neither did the United States Senate when it rejected, you know, the Kyoto concept 95-0.

"And so, there's an opportunity now to work together to talk about new technologies that will help us both achieve a common objective, which is a better environment for generations to come."

It will be interesting to see if he gets more expansive later on.

This afternoon, new national security adviser Steve Hadley holds an on-camera, on-the-record briefing about the trip.


Richard Wolffe and Holly Bailey write for Newsweek.com: "He doesn't wear pearls and he's unlikely to be called seductive. President Bush has many qualities but his welcome in Europe next week is never going to match the swoon that met his secretary of state during her own tour of the continent. Without the promise of a piano recital or an address to Parisian intellectuals, can the president charm Europe's leaders on the first foreign trip of his second term?

"It won't be easy."

But, Wolffe and Bailey writes: "The clearest sign that both sides want to kiss and make up is the extraordinary care that has surrounded this tour. On paper, Bush's trip is a carefully staged exercise in ego-stroking -- the sort of diplomatic massage that the Bush administration is hardly renowned for. . . .

" 'You'll hear the president talk about common values,' says a senior aide. 'We want to work with the French and the Germans to support these objectives. We don't want the transatlantic community bickering with each other over ideologies instead of getting on and doing things together.' . . .

"After dinner with [French President Jacques] Chirac, Bush will meet with every possible combination of European leaders -- in NATO, in the European Union and among the nation states. No sensitivity is too small to be overlooked. Bush will even meet with an obscure group known as the EU troika, representing the country holding its rotating EU presidency (currently Luxemburg), Europe's foreign policy head (Javier Solana), and the president of the European Commission bureaucracy (Jose Manuel Barroso). Then it's on to Mainz, Germany, for a soft session with [Chancellor Gerhard] Schroder that includes a roundtable-style event with 'real' German folk."

But wait! Not so fast on that meeting with "real Germans."

Noah Barkin writes for Reuters that "U.S. organizers are . . . taking all necessary measures to ensure the German public's dislike of Bush does not mar his kiss-and-make-up session with Schroeder."

And that means: "Initial plans for a 'town hall' style meeting attended by local students, businessmen and Americans have been scrapped -- to the relief of German government officials, who feared privately that such an open forum could backfire.

"Plans for a brief walk through the historic city center also appear to have been ruled out, though Bush's wife Laura may visit the city's Gutenberg Museum.

"At a news conference given by local government and police on Monday, officials were unable to say whether ordinary Mainz citizens would be able to get a glimpse of Bush during his visit."

Speaking of Mainz, AFP reported from that city's Carnival celebrations earlier this month, where "one float was decorated with an effigy of US President George W. Bush, backside bared, while German opposition leader Angela Merkel, known for her pro-American positions, figured running up a ladder behind him."

Syria as a Big Topic

Of course Syria could become a major focus of the trip.

Bush this morning said Syria is "out of step" with other nations in the Middle East and must be pressured to remove its troops from Lebanon.

He said he did not know if Syria was involved in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

But, he said: "Hopefully by the time I get overseas, we'll have a clearer understanding of who killed Mr. Hariri, and it'll be an opportune time to talk with our friends to determine what to do about it."

Robin Wright and Peter Baker write in The Washington Post: "The United States . . . is working closely with French President Jacques Chirac, who made a surprise trip to Beirut yesterday to convey condolences to the Hariri family. What to do about Syria is 'rapidly climbing up the agenda' of a meeting on Monday between President Bush and Chirac, said a senior administration official speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic sensitivity. 'We're on the same page. . . . The entire international community wants to see something happen.'"

United Europe

It's a big deal in Europe that Bush is going to Brussels.

Anthony Browne writes in the Times of London: "George W. Bush will become the first US President to visit the main institutions of the European Union in Brussels next week.

"On his European trip, the culmination of America's carefully choreographed post-Iraq charm offensive, . . . is seen by European diplomats as evidence that the EU is now the main port of call for the US leader, rather than the member states that make it up. They see the visit of the world's most powerful man as a sign of the coming of age of the Union's common security and foreign policy, which will be considerably strengthened by the European Constitution."

Guckert Watch

Gail Russell Chaddock writes in the Christian Science Monitor: "First came video 'news releases' produced by the Bush administration using a TV news format. Then came three conservative columnists who got big paychecks from federal agencies. Now, there's Jeff Gannon (not his real name), a journalist (maybe) who gained surprisingly easy access to the president, only to lob a sympathetically slanted question.

"No evidence has surfaced that Mr. Gannon was directed by the White House, but the circumstances ignited a debate over the inner workings of the White House press room.

"Presidents from George Washington on down have struggled with a news corps viewed as hostile. And in the age of television, the art of message management has been increasingly vital to the modern presidency.

"But taken together, these recent controversies suggest that the Bush administration may be pushing that craft into new territory -- and testing the limits of presidential public relations."

Liberal Media Watch

The liberal media -- and by that, I mean actual, certified liberals who write opinion columns in the mainstream media -- are turning their attention to the Guckert affair in a big way, and they see a pattern.

Maureen Dowd writes in her New York Times column: "Who knew that a hotmilitarystud wanting to meetlocalmen could so easily get to be face2face with the commander in chief?

"It's hard to believe the White House could hit rock bottom on credibility again, but it has, in a bizarre maelstrom that plays like a dark comedy. How does it credential a man with a double life and a secret past? . . .

"I was rejected for a White House press pass at the start of the Bush administration, but someone with an alias, a tax evasion problem and Internet pictures where he posed like the 'Barberini Faun' is credentialed to cover a White House that won a second term by mining homophobia and preaching family values?"

Sidney Blumenthal writes in Salon: "The White House press room has often been a cockpit of intrigue, duplicity and truckling. But nothing imagined on 'The West Wing,' or occurring before in the actual West Wing, challenges the most recent scandal there in phantasmagorical possibility."

Columnist Frank Rich in Sunday's New York Times writes that if Guckert "is yet another link in the boundless network of homophobic Republican closet cases, that's not without interest. But it shouldn't distract from the real question -- that is, the real news -- of how this fake newsman might be connected to a White House propaganda machine that grows curiouser by the day."

It's part of a pattern, Rich writes:

"Everything is scripted."

Supplemental Watch

So why did the White House submit an $82 billion emergency supplemental budget request -- chock-a-block with things that may not be emergencies?

Skeptics are suggesting that the administration is trying to sneak through many controversial expenses as emergencies so they would undergo less scrutiny, bypassing the months-long annual budget planning and approval process.

And some of those skeptics are actually House Republicans.

Mike Allen and Josh White write in The Washington Post: "House Republican leaders said yesterday that they may cut some of the nonmilitary parts of President Bush's $82 billion budget request for Iraq and anti-terrorism efforts because they are not emergencies.

"The sharp comments they made in challenging the budget request marked an abrupt departure from the deference the Republicans have shown Bush on earlier war funding. Party members said they are determined to reassert their authority over the budget at a time when the White House is accusing lawmakers of being big spenders.

"The main target of the rebellious Republicans is a request for $658 million to build what would be the largest embassy in the world: a fortress in Baghdad's Green Zone that would replace the former palace complex that U.S. officials are using."

John Hendren and Richard Simon write in the Los Angeles Times: "The bipartisan critics are highlighting what they describe as sleight-of-hand budgeting since the start of the war on terrorism in 2001. Few Republicans have said so publicly, but many Democrats have accused the administration of hiding big increases in spending -- beyond the 4.8% increase in the regular Pentagon budget -- in the special war funding bill.

"The emergency war bill receives less scrutiny and is more politically perilous to oppose than the regular Pentagon spending measure."

Alan Fram writes for the Associated Press: "Money for public opinion research for the new Ukrainian government, seven provincial Afghan hospitals and Palestinian community centers was included in President Bush's $81.9 billion request for war and aid to U.S. allies, according to administration documents obtained by The Associated Press.

"The materials, obtained Wednesday, also describe spending to start a law school in Afghanistan, smooth the issuance of Ukraine's driver's licenses and passports and build water treatment facilities in Jordan."

Social Security Watch

Nell Henderson and Jim VandeHei write in The Washington Post: "Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan warned Congress yesterday to go slow in borrowing to create personal Social Security accounts, after the White House suggested for the first time that it might accept an increase in payroll-tax revenue to bolster the system's finances. . . .

"Greenspan, appearing before the Senate Banking Committee, endorsed the idea of personal accounts but said there was no way to predict how financial markets would react to the federal government borrowing as much as $2 trillion to finance the plan."

As for Bush's statement about increasing the cap on payroll taxes (see yesterday's column for more)," Henderson and VandeHei write: "A White House official said Bush purposely opened the door to what amounts to a tax increase for high-income workers to signal to Congress his willingness to compromise to win approval of private Social Security accounts. 'Just because he said it was an option does not mean he embraced it,' spokesman [Trent] Duffy said."

Edmund L. Andrews and Richard W. Stevenson write in the New York Times about Greenspan's testimony, and also find a telling line from Bush's interview that I didn't see in yesterday's coverage:

"In the interview on Tuesday, Mr. Bush suggested that he foresees the plan to divert 4 percent of earnings into private accounts as a first step toward a longer range transformation of Social Security.

"'The relevant question there is how best to afford the transition from one system to another,' he told reporters. . . . 'It's a feasible place to start to enable us to introduce a novel concept into a Social Security system that needs to be reformed.' "

Do I Contradict Myself?

Peter Wallsten and Joel Havemann write in the Los Angeles Times: "In telling the regional newspapers that he was open to raising the $90,000 wage cap, Bush appeared to contradict previous statements by him and his staff. . . .

"In December, Bush was widely praised by some of his allies when he said: 'We will not raise payroll taxes to solve this problem.'

"Asked at the time whether that meant Bush opposed raising the $90,000 wage cap, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said: 'If you're talking about raising payroll taxes, that is a payroll tax increase; the president would not be for that.'

"He repeatedly called Bush's stance 'very clear.'

Asked this morning whether raising the cap would be seen as going back on your pledge not to raise taxes, Bush avoided a direct answer, saying: "I clarified a variety of ideas that people should be encouraged to bring forward, without political retribution."

Yesterday's Event

Michael Levenson writes in the Boston Globe about Bush's most recent campaign-style Social Security event, this one in Portsmouth, N.H., yesterday.

"Bush spoke for about an hour before a nodding, applauding audience of supporters invited by local Republican officeholders to the event at Pease International Tradeport. Sitting on a stool on stage, the president explained his plan to a hand-picked panel -- a retired Air Force member, a fourth-generation dairy farmer, a single mother -- all of whom praised his efforts as a way to strengthen the 70-year-old Social Security system.

"The town hall-style meeting was the type of carefully managed event the president used to great effect on the campaign trail, and he vowed to lobby until his message takes hold in coffee shops, corporate offices, and legislative hallways across the country. New Hampshire was his eighth such stop since pitching the plan in his State of the Union address earlier this month."

But here's the problem: "Just a few miles from the cavernous airplane hangar where President Bush told 1,000 cheering supporters about his plan to save Social Security yesterday, Pamela Cawley, working at a sub shop downtown, said she cannot imagine handing over a portion of her retirement into a private investment account. . . .

"All along Islington Street, the main drag in this middle-class city of 21,000, a handful of workers echoed Cawley's skepticism about the president's plan to partly privatize Social Security, the centerpiece of his second-term domestic agenda. Their reservations suggested the long, hard road Bush is likely to face as he barnstorms the country selling his plan to the American public and Congress."

And even amongst the applauding audience members, there were some concerns, writes Tim McCahill of the Associated Press.

Joe Adler writes for the Portsmouth Herald: "The president's forum on Wednesday was more subdued than the visits he made to the Granite State during the 2004 presidential campaign. Many more chairs had been set up than were needed, and shortly before the event got under way a block of chairs in the back was removed. "

So what happened there? Just no interest? I'd like to know if anyone who wanted tickets was turned down.

Adler notes: "Throughout his presentation, Bush attempted to inject humor, at one point telling panelist and dairy farmer Bill Yeaton, 'For a farmer, you're pretty darn articulate,' and asking Yeaton, 'When was the last time you wore a tie?' "

Here's the transcript of yesterday's gaggle. McClellan was at pains to point out that Bush had an actual Democrat on stage with him yesterday -- albeit one who agreed with him about everything.

"At the conversation on Social Security today -- I think you have the fact sheet already, but I wanted to bring to your attention on the panel today will be former Democratic Congressman Tim Penny. I think that this is an example of leaders on both sides of the aisle who recognize the importance of addressing the problems facing Social Security and working to find a bipartisan solution and doing so this year. So I just wanted to bring that to your attention."

A reporter followed up: "Q If the goal is to convince people who have doubts about the problem of Social Security, why do, it seems like we go to these rallies where people mostly seem to agree with the President. Why not -- is there some question as to whether the President's base of support is doubting the plan? Or at what point will you --

"MR. McCLELLAN: I disagree with your characterization. One, the President is reaching out to all Americans. This is an issue that affects all Americans. So he's reaching out to all Americans in that regard."

Here is the transcript of the New Hampshire event.


Adler also writes in the Portsmouth Herald: "As President Bush addressed supporters Wednesday about his plan to privatize Social Security, one local Bush supporter was noticeably absent from the audience at Pease International Tradeport.

"After Bush's speech, 1st District U.S. Rep. Jeb Bradley, R-N.H., affirmed his opposition to replacing some Social Security benefits with private accounts in which workers can invest wages. Bradley also pledged to oppose the plan during his first congressional campaign in 2002."

Some Social Security Scenarios

David Wessel writes in the Wall Street Journal: "The White House is being stingy with specifics about far-reaching changes to Social Security that President Bush is seeking, reflecting an apparently tactical choice that more details would draw more attacks that could doom the proposal. But the president and his aides have said enough to allow outsiders to plug numbers into spreadsheets to illustrate how Bush-style Social Security might work."

Wessell Web-posts a whole bunch of scenarios.

He explains: "The Wall Street Journal's examples rely on a spreadsheet built by Jason Furman, a New York University economist who opposes Mr. Bush's proposal. He worked on John Kerry's campaign and consults for the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities think tank. His spreadsheet is built on publicly available Social Security data, estimates the impact of proposals the White House has described and allows the user to specify various assumptions.

"The White House takes issue with this approach and with Mr. Furman's estimates. 'Any numbers are premature,' said White House spokesman Trent Duffy. 'This whole exercise is looking only at a limited number of options that are available to the president and Congress. This whole exercise doesn't make sense because it's too early in the process.' "

Poll Watch

John Harwood writes in the Wall Street Journal: "Americans remain wary of President Bush's idea for overhauling Social Security, but show increasing confidence over developments in Iraq, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll has found."

Here are the poll results.

The Wall Street Journal also reports: "President Bush's overall job approval rating has slipped slightly since November, according to the latest Harris Interactive poll. The president's job positive rating has slipped from 50% in November to 48% in mid-February.

"In addition, Vice President Dick Cheney's approval rating has slipped three percentage points to 45% from 48% in November 2004."

CPAC Watch

Today's agenda for the Conservative Political Action Conference has Karl Rove on at 12:35 p.m. and Vice President Cheney at 7:30 p.m.

You can hear streaming audio on Righttalk.com.

Intel Watch

Bush's selection of John Negroponte as director of national intelligence will be a topic of tomorrow's column.


Alex Keto writes for Dow Jones Newswires: "N. Gregory Mankiw, the head of President Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, has submitted his letter of resignation, the White House said Wednesday. . . .

"Speculation has swirled that Federal Reserve Governor Ben Bernanke will take his place, but Erin Healy, a spokeswoman for the administration, declined to comment. 'We don't speculate on personnel matters,' she said.

Mankiw, by the way, holds a press briefing this afternoon, upon the release of the 2005 Economic Report of the President.

Karl Rove Watch

Richard Leiby writes in The Washington Post: "Barely a month into President Bush's new term, Karl Rove -- the strategy wizard sometimes called 'Bush's Brain' -- seems to be trying to start off the next four years on friendly terms with New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who regularly bashes the prez in print. Last week at a lunch with the Times's editorial board in New York, Rove delivered to Dowd a large bouquet of assorted flowers, including roses and carnations."

David Charter writes in the Times of London that "the most influential Tory in Washington is now said to be Oliver Letwin's mother -- who died 12 years ago.

"A book about Baroness Thatcher written by the Shadow Chancellor's late mother Shirley Letwin is being regularly quoted by Karl Rove, the President's chief political adviser, in top-level discussions of Republican domestic policy.

"The Anatomy of Thatcherism, an academic analysis of the achievements of the Thatcher years written in 1992, is said to have inspired President Bush's second-term thinking with its focus on 'vigorous values', notably the impact of 'the ownership society'. . . .

"At a private meeting between [Liam Fox, the Tory co-chairman] and Mr Rove, disclosed in The Spectator magazine today, the powerful Bush adviser said that Letwin's analysis of Thatcherism was being used to 'recast the domestic political debate' in America. . . .

"Mr Rove quoted Letwin, who died in 1993, as saying: 'The Thatcherite argues that being one's own master -- in the sense of owning one's own home or disposing of one's own property -- provides an incentive to think differently about the world. The Thatcherite, whilst not believing that patterns of ownership absolutely determine people's moral attitudes, nevertheless stresses that the two are connected, and sees in wider individual ownership a means of promoting moral attitudes Thatcherism seeks to cultivate.' "

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