Pumping Up the Volume

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, April 13, 2005; 1:02 PM

President Bush ratcheted up the rhetoric of his revisionist justification for war yesterday at the Fort Hood army base in Texas, calling the taking of Baghdad "one of the great moments in the history of liberty."

"The toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue in Baghdad will be recorded, alongside the fall of the Berlin Wall," he said. Here's the transcript.

Then he used a servicemember's words to assert a connection between the war in Iraq and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. "The men and women of the Phantom Corps know why we are in Iraq," Bush said. "As one First Team soldier, Lieutenant Mike Erwin, put it: 'If we can start to change the most powerful country in the Middle East, the others will follow, and Americans 20 years down the road won't have to deal with a day like September the 11th, 2001.' "

"Hoo-ah!" went the troops.

Bush has labored hard to recast his decision to go to war in Iraq as the centerpiece of his post hoc agenda to fight terrorism by spreading democracy throughout the world.

Yesterday, Bush was -- as usual -- speaking before a supportive crowd. Soldiers are not inclined to give their commander in chief any guff. And if anyone is entitled to believe that their sacrifices are not in vain, it is the people having to make those sacrifices.

But before a more diverse audience, Bush might have heard something other than hoo-ahs.

Bush made no mention of the weapons of mass destruction that were the ostensible reason for attacking Iraq at the time, and which turned out not to exist.

There is much debate over whether the war in Iraq has increased or decreased the threat of terrorist strikes like those of Sept. 11.

In fact, recent polls show that most Americans think the war in Iraq wasn't worth it.

The Coverage

Jim VandeHei writes in The Washington Post: "An audience of 25,000 soldiers, some recently returned from Iraq and others soon to ship out for a first or second tour, gathered under a spring sun to listen, politely and often quietly, to Bush compare their efforts toppling Saddam Hussein's statue in Baghdad to the fall of the Berlin Wall. . . .

"Increasingly, the president uses speeches to troops to praise American ideals and send a signal to other nations the administration is targeting for democratic change. 'As the Iraq democracy succeeds, that success is sending a message from Beirut to Tehran that freedom can be the future of every nation,' Bush said here."

Peter Wallsten writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Bush's remarks on Tuesday showed how he hoped history would view his decision to go to war and reflected Iraq's position as the centerpiece of his agenda to reshape the Middle East. . . .

"At the time, U.S. officials expected eventually to discover stashes of biological and chemical weapons and evidence of a nuclear weapons program that had been the chief rationale for the war. Such weapons were never found."

Mark Silva writes in the Chicago Tribune: "Bush also is trying to make the fall of Baghdad a hallowed event in the annals of American warfare. He called the 21-day advance on Baghdad that seized the capital 'the fastest armored advance in military history.'"

Julie Mason writes in the Houston Chronicle: "After his speech, Bush, still wearing the jacket with ARMY printed over his heart and 'Commander in Chief' printed on his right front, joined soldiers in the lunch line at the Wagon Wheel Inn, the mess hall for the 1st Cavalry.

"The president walked through the lunch line with his own tray, flanked by a soldier on each side. He stopped for a soda and headed to join a long table of others with his lunch of fried chicken, macaroni and collard greens."

Clara Tuma of KVUE-TV in Austin has the stirring visuals, including a Marine One flyover.

Bill Straub notes for the Scripps Howard News Service that the president's stop "coincided with an announcement out of Warsaw that Poland intends to withdraw its 1,700 troops remaining in Iraq by year's end. Poland has been one of the administration's most enthusiastic supporters."

Rearranging the Goalposts

Bush yesterday: "From the beginning, our goal in Iraq has been to promote Iraqi independence -- by helping the Iraqi people establish a free country that can sustain itself, rule itself, and defend itself," he said.

Bush on March 22, 2003: "And our mission is clear, to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein's support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people."

Suspect Numbers

There was one bit of news yesterday, with Bush saying that "security operations are entering a new phase" in which trained Iraqi security forces now outnumber U.S. troops in Iraq.

Bush said more than 150,000 Iraqi security forces have been trained and equipped.

Wallsten writes, however: "Although Bush's figure for trained Iraqi forces was in line with the Pentagon tally of 152,617, the Government Accountability Office had cast doubt on the administration figures."

Indeed, the Pentagon, through its American Forces Press Service, last week reported: "Trained and equipped Iraqi security forces number 152,617, divided between the ministries of interior and defense, according to U.S. State Department April 6 statistics. The 66,895 soldiers in the Iraqi army, 186 in the air force and 521 in the Iraqi navy come under the purview of the Ministry of Defense.

"The Ministry of Interior now has 55,862 police and highway patrolmen trained and equipped, officials said. There are also 29,153 civil intervention forces, border police, police commandos and the like."

But according to that March GAO Report: "U.S. government agencies do not report reliable data on the extent to which Iraqi security forces are trained and equipped . . . The data does not exclude police absent from duty. Further, the departments of State and Defense no longer report on the extent to which Iraqi security forces are equipped with their required weapons, vehicles, communications equipment, and body armor."

Steve Holland notes for Reuters: "The number of U.S.-trained Iraqi troops has been a controversial issue, with some congressional Democrats accusing the Bush administration of greatly inflating the number and overstating their capabilities.

"In April 2004, the Pentagon said the United States had trained and fielded more than 200,000 Iraqi security forces. But Pentagon officials said last fall they had changed the way they calculated that number and greatly reduced how many it said were trained and equipped."

Meeting the Families

Bush spoke eloquently of the losses endured by the men and women of the armed forces -- and their families.

"This time of brave achievement is also a time of sacrifice. Many of our soldiers have returned from war with grave wounds that they will carry with them the rest of their lives. And America will fulfill its duty by providing them the best medical care possible. Still others have given their lives in this struggle -- your friends, your comrades. We honor their memory. We lift them up in prayer. Their sacrifice will always be remembered by a grateful nation. (Hoo-ah!)"

Afterwards, Bush met privately for over three hours with the family members of 33 soldiers from Fort Hood killed in the Iraq campaign.

Pretty much all we know about that is what press secretary Scott McClellan told us: "It's always amazing to see the strength of the family members. I remember one mother said, you know, 'Finish the job -- that's my message to you.' Another wife was saying, 'We support you.'

"And the families were very appreciative of the visit by the President. You know, some of them -- some of the families did have some concerns that they expressed about some of the help that they were getting, and the President always makes sure that we follow up on those concerns, so we did make some notes of the concerns that they expressed and we will be following up on those."

Mollie Miller writes for the local Killeen Daily Herald that at least one widow was planning on registering some complaints with the president.

"Linnie Blankenbecler, whose husband, Command Sgt. Maj. James Blankenbecler was killed Oct. 1, 2003, in Iraq, said the families of the fallen soldiers would talk to the president about survivor benefits.

"'I expect (Bush) to be a man of honor and to take care of the families,' Blankenbecler said. 'I want him to make survivor benefits to be equal for all.'"

So how many families complained, and how strongly? I couldn't find any stories about that this morning.

Also unclear to me is whether any of the families Bush met with oppose the war, and if so what they told the president, and if not, how were they kept away?

Hoo-ah Watch

Bush gave the troops one hoo-ah, and they returned the favor with 16 of their own during the course of his remarks, according to the White House transcribers.

A "hoo-ah," is the traditional Army expression of approval, apparently derived from HUA, an acronym for "heard, understood, acknowledged."

The last time I heard Bush greeted with so many hoo-ahs was over a year ago, at Ft. Polk in Louisiana. There, as I reported in my Feb. 18, 2004 column, commanding officers not only explicitly gave troops permission to break protocol, but they even practiced their hoo-ahs before Bush arrived.

Live Online

Washington Post White House correspondent Jim VandeHei is Live Online today at 1 p.m. ET.

Sharon Watch

David E. Sanger writes in the New York Times: "Spreading photographs of Iranian nuclear sites over a lunch table at the Bush ranch in Texas on Monday, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel urged President Bush to step up pressure on Iran to give up all elements of its nuclear program, according to senior American and Israeli officials.

"Mr. Sharon said Israeli intelligence showed Iran was near 'a point of no return' in learning how to develop a weapon, the officials said. However, Mr. Sharon gave no indication that Israel was preparing to act alone to attack Iranian nuclear facilities, a prospect that Vice President Dick Cheney, who was at the lunch, raised publicly three months ago."

So why didn't we hear anything about this yesterday?

McClellan, in his gaggle after the meeting Monday, said Iran came up, but he wouldn't say in what context.

Sanger explains: "Israeli radio and other news reports in Israel gave more details earlier Tuesday, prompting American and Israeli officials to speak about the interchanges more openly."

Bubble Watch

John Arthur Hutchison writes for the News-Herald of Northeast Ohio: "A invitation-only group at Lakeland Community College in Kirtland on Friday will hear President Bush discuss ideas for Social Security reform and how ideas may be incorporated from state and public retirement system models."

Left Holding the Bag

The Associated Press reports from Evansville, Ind., where city officials are crying foul against the Secret Service.

Apparently, a federal court recently ruled that police officers violated a protester's rights when they arrested him during a visit by Vice President Cheney in 2002.

City officials say they were just enforcing the no-protest zone mandated by the Secret Service. But the Justice Department has refused to come to the city's defense.

"It wasn't fair to put local law enforcement in the position of having to enforce the plan and then not back our Police Department," City Attorney David Jones told the Associated Press. "The Secret Service left us holding the bag."

On the Case

The Associated Press reports from Chicago: "The Secret Service sent agents to investigate a college art gallery exhibit of mock postage stamps, one depicting President Bush with a gun pointed at his head."

Who's to Blame for Abuse?

R. Jeffrey Smith writes in The Washington Post: "The dispute over the Bush administration's treatment of military detainees is playing out in a North Carolina courtroom, where a CIA contractor has asserted that his rough interrogation in 2003 of an Afghan who subsequently died was indirectly authorized by deliberations in Washington at the highest ranks of the Bush administration."

The contractor's lawyer wants to call Vice President Cheney's legal counsel as a witness, and "cited an August 2002 Justice Department memo that concluded 'a defendant who had acted pursuant to an exercise of the President's constitutional powers' in conducting an interrogation could not be criminally prosecuted."

Social Security Watch

Donna Smith writes for Reuters: "President Bush needs to offer more specifics to have any chance to win passage this year of his plan to restructure the Social Security retirement program, a key Senate Republican said on Tuesday.

"Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a proponent of Bush's proposed individual Social Security investment accounts, said the president must offer more details about how to best fix the program's financial problems and insist on a vote in coming months."

Oren Dorell writes in USA Today: "Debate over Social Security has spawned an array of websites that calculate benefits -- and a multitude of answers.

"Enter the same age, income and retirement date into Internet Social Security calculators and you get different results, each suiting its creator's stand on President Bush's plan for individual investment accounts."

Among the calculators featured are those from, left to right, the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the House Democrats, the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute.

Mystery Video

Where on earth did these guys find that video?

Vive La Family

The Associated Press reports: "President Bush has chosen Craig Stapleton, a cousin by marriage and top campaign fund-raiser, to be the next U.S. ambassador to France, the White House said Tuesday."

Negroponte's Promise

Dana Priest and Walter Pincus write in The Washington Post: "President Bush's choice to be the nation's first director of national intelligence promised yesterday that he would challenge, if only in private, political leaders who mischaracterized intelligence in public statements and said he is determined to use his new authority to make the 15 intelligence agencies cooperate fully with one another."

The Beeb and the iPod

Elisabeth Bumiller's New York Times story on the presidential iPod has launched a whole cottage industry of follow-up stories and a bit of mockery.

The BBC asked readers to suggest what songs they thought should be on Bush's Ipod. Among the suggestions:

• Green Day's American Idiot -- Marianne, Harare, Zimbabwe

• Don't Worry, Be Happy! -- Bobby, Dallas

• Happiness is a warm gun, the Beatles -- Paul Buchan, Johannesburg, South Africa

• Surely it has to include 'Charmless Man' by Blur -- John Paine, Hampshire, UK

• Bang & Blame by R.E.M. -- Joel Guerin, Ancaster, Canada

• More to the point . . . should he be listening to his iPod whilst on his bike? -- Martin, Shrewsbury

• He really ought to be listening to American Idiot by Green Day! -- Charlotte, Hitchin

• How about Monkey Man by the Specials? -- Islay Reid, Montrose, Scotland

• Just so long as it's not the Chemical Brothers, 'Push The Button'. . . . -- Dom, London, UK

The President and the Pitch

Barry Svrluga writes in The Washington Post about the history behind President Bush's throwing out of the ceremonial first pitch for the Washington Nationals in their new home ballpark.

"The proceedings tomorrow night continue a long tradition of presidents throwing out first pitches that began 95 years ago to the day, when William Howard Taft tossed a ball to Washington Senators great Walter Johnson, who then went out and threw a one-hitter to beat the Philadelphia Athletics, 3-0. Since that day, nearly every president has continued the tradition."

Here's a graphic on the Hurlers in Chief.

Svrluga writes: "Joe Grzenda, the 67-year-old Pennsylvanian who threw the last pitch in Senators history, will walk to the mound, carrying that very same ball. He will hand it to President Bush."

Ken Herman writes for the Cox News Service: "For the president, a man who made a fortune off the team many locals still believe was stolen from them, it will be a rare public appearance in front of a crowd not controlled by the White House.

"So when he throws the first pitch, will he be greeted as a local baseball fan celebrating the game's return to Washington? Or will he be received as a Texas robber baron who eventually pocketed a bundle from the demise of the beloved Senators?"

Herman notes that there are some who are still bitter over the Washington Senators' move to Texas 34 years ago.

"The franchise, rechristened as the Texas Rangers, found dollars by the bucketful in their new home.

"About 15 million of them wound up in the pocket of a politician's kid who, three team sales after the move, became managing general partner of a group that bought the team for $89 million in 1989 -- then sold it for $250 million in 1998."

Bush the Slime-Mold Beetle

The Cornell University News Service reports that Bush, Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld each recently had a slime-mold beetle named in their honor.

"Two former Cornell University entomologists who recently had the job of naming 65 new species of slime-mold beetles named three species that are new to science in the genus Agathidium for members of the U.S. administration. They are A. bushi Miller and Wheeler, A. cheneyi Miller and Wheeler and A. rumsfeldi Miller and Wheeler."

Quite the honor, indeed. Apparently the entomologists named some of the other beetles after an ex-wife and "Star Wars" villain Darth Vader.

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