By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, March 31, 2008; 1:52 PM
There's a reason President Bush almost never appears before members of the general public: They really don't like him.
Despite the delirious mood of Washington Nationals fans on opening night at their new stadium, Bush was greeted with loud boos when he came to the mound to deliver the traditional first pitch.
Video from the Washington Times indicates that the boos were lusty. An ESPN video, via ThinkProgress.org, is more of a mixed bag of boos and cheers. But in additional Youtube videos from fans in right field and high above first base the boos had it.
It was a rare moment for Bush, who avoids public expressions of disagreement by appearing almost exclusively before carefully selected audiences. In fact, this is the first time in years I can recall him appearing before the unscreened masses. Far more typical are events like his most recent Thanksgiving address. As I wrote then, even when he was talking about something as uncontroversial as the essential goodness of our country, he wanted his audience prescreened for obsequiousness.
Back during Bush's Social Security barnstorming, University of Texas political scientist Jeffrey K. Tulis noted: "Certainly, in the past, presidential advance teams have on occasion taken steps to assure friendly audiences. It has not been uncommon for presidents to seek invitations to speak at friendly venues. But systematically screening audiences. . . . may be a new phenomenon, and one that the president should be asked to defend and justify in terms of his constitutional obligations."
Truly, it's one of the most blatant, indefensible examples of how Bush has turned his into the most divisive of presidencies.Lame Duck in Flight
Terence Hunt writes for the Associated Press: "Winding down his presidency, George W. Bush is beginning his farewell tour on the world stage trailed by questions about how much clout he still wields.
"Unpopular abroad, as he is at home, Bush nevertheless has been a commanding presence among world leaders for the past seven years. Now, with fewer than 300 days left in his term, other presidents and prime ministers are looking beyond Bush to see who will occupy his chair a year from now.
"It's an open question whether Bush's foreign policy priorities will be embraced by his successor in the Oval Office. Other world leaders have to calculate how far they should step out on the ledge with a president whose days are numbered and whose legacy had been darkened by the long and costly war in Iraq. . . .
"Around the world, there are hopes the next president will adopt a different style from what critics have called Bush's cowboy diplomacy and go-it-alone foreign policy."
Matt Spetalnick writes for Reuters: "Seeking to reassert himself on the world stage in the twilight of his term, Bush will press NATO for more troops in Afghanistan, try to keep up momentum in the alliance's eastward expansion and attempt to ease strains with Russia.
"But with Bush even more unpopular overseas than at home, he could have a hard time swaying world leaders at this week's Bucharest summit as they look to whomever will succeed him in January 2009."
Eastern Europe would once have seemed safe territory for Bush -- it may be the only region in the world largely supportive of his war in Iraq. But John D. McKinnon writes in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) that "the mood among many Eastern European leaders toward the U.S. president is growing less enthusiastic, even as they continue to pour outsized numbers of troops into the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, compared with their Western European counterparts."
John Ibbitson writes in Toronto's Globe and Mail: "All presidents in the final year of a final mandate are lame ducks. But Mr. Bush is experiencing something unheard of for a U.S. president. He's being ignored. . . .
"The U.S. economy teeters on the brink of recession, threatened by falling home prices and worthless mortgages; even Wall Street has lost confidence in Wall Street.
"What is the President doing to avert the crisis? Who cares? Economically, what really matters is what Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke is doing. Politically, what matters is what Mr. McCain, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton say they would be doing if they were in charge. . . .
"The problem is that Mr. Bush's legacy is unambiguously dismal. He is leaving the economy in worse shape than he found it, with an extra $4-trillion added to the national debt for good measure.
"He presided over a vast expansion, and abuse, of the powers of his office. The legacy of Guantanamo, torture and wiretaps will not soon be forgotten.
"The war on terror has had few tangible successes and many apparent failures. And elsewhere in foreign policy, the record has been bleak. . . .
"Mr. Bush, it has been said, compares himself to Harry Truman, a president who left office dogged by an unpopular war and low public approval, but who is today viewed as one the 20th century's finest presidents.
"It is possible that posterity will be equally kind to Mr. Bush. But if you're going to compare yourself to Mr. Truman, it helps to have your own equivalent of the Marshall Plan, the containment policy against Russia, the formation of NATO, the defence of South Korea and desegregation of the armed forces on your r¿sum¿. What in the Bush legacy even comes close?"Another Cheney Backfire?
Vice President Cheney visits Iraq, and just over a week later, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki launches a surprise attack on political rivals in Basra. Just a coincidence? Or another spectacular Cheney backfire? You decide.
There's little doubt that Cheney went to Iraq with two things most on his mind: The continued U.S. troop presence and the threat posed by Iran. A bold and successful move by Maliki would have been a huge PR victory for the central government -- and if it increased tensions with Iran, all the better.
The White House evidently had high hopes. Bush on Friday described "what's taking place in Basra and in other parts of Iraq" as "a defining moment in the history of a free Iraq."
But what's taking place appears to have only weakened the U.S.'s puppet government -- while strengthening Iran. Surprise.
The latest development in Iraq is that Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, after six days of fighting between his followers and U.S. and Iraqi forces, has agreed to a truce -- on certain conditions. The big winners appear to be Sadr and Iran. The big loser: Maliki.
Charles Levinson writes in USA Today: "Iranian officials helped broker a cease-fire agreement Sunday between Iraq's government and radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, according to Iraqi lawmakers.
"The deal . . . may signal the growing regional influence of Iran, a country the Bush administration accuses of providing support to terrorists in Iraq and elsewhere."
Leila Fadel writes for McClatchy Newspapers: "Iraqi lawmakers traveled to the Iranian holy city of Qom over the weekend to win the support of the commander of Iran's Qods brigades in persuading Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr to order his followers to stop military operations, members of the Iraqi parliament said. . . .
"The Qom discussions may or may not bring an end to the fighting but they almost certainly have undermined Maliki - who made repeated declarations that there would be no negotiations and that he would treat as outlaws those who did not turn in their weapons for cash. The blow to his own credibility was worsened by the fact that members of his own party had helped organize the Iran initiative.
"'The delegation was from the United Iraqi Alliance (dominated by the Dawa party and the Supreme Council of Iraq), and the Prime Minister was only informed. It was a political maneuver by us,' said Haider al Abadi, a legislator from Maliki's Dawa party."
Erica Goode and James Glanz write in the New York Times: "The negotiations with Mr. Sadr were seen as a serious blow for Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who had vowed that he would see the Basra campaign through to a military victory and who has been harshly criticized even within his own coalition for the stalled assault.
"Last week, Iraq's defense minister, Abdul Kadir al-Obeidi, conceded that the government's military efforts in Basra have met with far more resistance than was expected. Many Iraqi politicians say that Mr. Maliki's political capital has been severely depleted by the Basra campaign and that he is in the curious position of having to turn to Mr. Sadr, a longtime rival, for a way out.
"And it was a chance for Mr. Sadr to flaunt his power, commanding both armed force and political strength that can forcefully challenge the other dominant Shiite parties, including Mr. Maliki's Dawa movement and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq."
Meanwhile, Sudarsan Raghavan writes in The Washington Post: "For Iraqis, widespread clashes this past week have exposed their nation's brittleness. After months of relative calm and declining violence, many people were locking themselves inside their homes and shops again as Shiite gunmen battled U.S. and Iraqi forces. Curfews restricted their movement, yet they were still unable to escape the mortar and rocket fire.
"In Baghdad's Karrada neighborhood Sunday, the despair was palpable. In alleyways and storefronts, people spoke about their frustration and dread, and about the misguided politics they blamed for running Iraq into the ground. Many said they were worried not about sectarian conflict but about war erupting right in their community. "
And Peter Graff writes for Reuters: "The United States confirmed on Sunday that U.S. special forces units were operating alongside Iraqi government troops in Basra, where the government is battling militants loyal to Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr."
Charles J. Hanley of the Associated Press puts Bush administration confidence in context: "Iraq's new army is 'developing steadily,' with 'strong Iraqi leaders out front,' the chief U.S. trainer said. That was three-plus years ago, and the trainer was David H. Petraeus, now the top American commander in Iraq. Some of those Iraqi officials at the time were busy embezzling more than $1 billion allotted for the new army's weapons, according to investigators."Iran Watch
When does the CIA director not believe his own agency's conclusions? Apparently, when it's not politically expedient.
Greg Miller writes in the Los Angeles Times: "CIA Director Michael V. Hayden said Sunday that he believes Iran is still pursuing a nuclear bomb, even though the U.S. intelligence community, including his own agency, reached a consensus judgment last year that the Islamic Republic had halted its nuclear weapons work in 2003.
"Asked on NBC's 'Meet the Press' whether he thought Iran was trying to develop a nuclear weapon, Hayden said, 'Yes,' adding that his assessment was not based on 'court-of-law stuff. . . . This is Mike Hayden looking at the body of evidence.'
"He said his conviction stemmed largely from Iran's willingness to endure international sanctions rather than comply with demands for nuclear inspections and abandon its efforts to develop technologies that can produce fissile material.
"'Why would the Iranians be willing to pay the international tariff they appear willing to pay for what they're doing now if they did not have, at a minimum . . . the desire to keep the option open to develop a nuclear weapon and, perhaps even more so, that they've already decided to do that?' he said."
Conclusion by rhetorical question. When have we heard that before?
Here's the transcript. Tim Russert asked the obvious follow-up question:
Russert: "I can hear a lot of listeners, viewers asking, 'Well, then why did Saddam Hussein not cooperate more fully if he, in fact, did not have weapons of mass destruction?' Sometimes, people behave in strange ways that we don't understand."
Hayden: "Oh, yeah, I understand. But, but, again, you've asked me for an assessment, you've asked me--and I can only work from the facts that I see. In Saddam's case, he had a nuclear weapon program, he had a weapons of mass destruction program. He stopped it, but in--almost in a deathbed confession, he tells us that he maintained, he continued to maintain the illusion because he wanted the world, or at least the neighborhood, to think that he still had these, these weapons."
An authoritative assessment from the intelligence community issued in December concluded Iran had suspended its nuclear weapons work in 2003. But Hayden's political masters had no use for that conclusion.
In an interview with ABC News last week, Cheney alleged without any evidence that Iran was "heavily involved in trying to develop nuclear weapons enrichment, the enrichment of uranium to weapons-grade levels."
And as I wrote in my March 21 column, Bush falsely and inflammatorily stated that the Iranian government has "declared they want to have a nuclear weapon to destroy people."
These people appear to have learned nothing.Torture Watch
A segment of CBS News's " 60 Minutes" yesterday described the case of Murat Kurnaz, who at the age of 19, "vanished into America's shadow prison system in the war on terror. He was from Germany, traveling in Pakistan, and was picked up three months after 9/11. But there seemed to be ample evidence that Kurnaz was an innocent man with no connection to terrorism. The FBI thought so, U.S. intelligence thought so, and German intelligence agreed. But once he was picked up, Kurnaz found himself in a prison system that required no evidence and answered to no one."
First, he was taken to a U.S. base in Kandahar, Afghanistan. "Kurnaz claims his interrogations at Kandahar turned to torture. He told 60 Minutes that American troops held his head underwater.
"'They used to beat me when my head is underwater. They beat me into my stomach and everything,' he says.
"'They were hitting you in the stomach while you're head was underwater so that you'd have to take a breath?' [CBS's Scott] Pelley asks.
"'Right. I had to drink. I had to . . . how you say it?' Kurnaz replies.
"'Inhale. Inhale the water,' Pelley says.
"'I had to inhale the water. Right,' Kurnaz says.
"Kurnaz says the Americans used a device to shock him with electricity that made his body go numb. And he says he was hoisted up on chains suspended by his arms from the ceiling of an aircraft hangar for five days.
"'Every five or six hours they came and pulled me back down. And the doctor came to watch if I can still survive to not. He looked into my eyes. He checked my heart. And when he said okay, then they pulled me back up,' Kurnaz says.
"'The point of the doctor's visit was not to treat you. It was to see if you could take another six hours hanging from the ceiling?' Pelley asks.
"'Right,' Kurnaz says.
"'I suspect you know that the U.S. military will deny this happened. The U.S. military will deny that you were shocked. It will deny your head was held in a bucket of water. It will deny that you hung from a ceiling for days at a time,' Pelley remarks.
"'Doesn't matter whatever they will say. The truth will not change,' Kurnaz says. . . .
"After six weeks in Afghanistan, Kurnaz was loaded onto another plane, this time bound for Guantanamo. The Pentagon labeled the prisoners 'unlawful enemy combatants.' They didn't have the rights of prisoners of war and were beyond the reach of any court.
"At Guantanamo Kurnaz says he endured endless months of interrogations, beatings at the hands of soldiers in riot gear, and physical cruelty which included going without sleep for weeks and solitary confinement for up to a month in cells that were sealed without ventilation or were set up to punish him with extreme conditions.
"'It's dark inside. No lights. And they can punish you in isolation by coldness or by the heat. They have special air conditioners over there. Very strong. They can turn it very cold or very hot,' Kurnaz says.
"He says it went on year after year, always the same questions about al Qaeda, and the endless effort to break his will. He heard nothing from the outside and wondered whether anyone knew that he was there."Resignations Watch
Carol D. Leonnig writes for The Washington Post: "Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson announced his resignation today, citing "personal and family matters." He has come under pressure from Congress for his refusal to answer questions about a federal lawsuit and whether he tried to steer land to a business friend. . . .
"According to two government sources who work on housing issues, Jackson was called last Monday to the White House, where top Bush administration aides discussed his ability to continue to lead the agency. The sources requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
"That meeting came three days after two senior Senate Democrats called on Bush to oust Jackson. Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.) and Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.) advised the president that his secretary's refusal to answer lawmakers' questions made him unable to lead the $35 billion agency. A White House spokesman replied that Bush continued to have confidence in Jackson."
Jackson also famously asked in 2006: "Why should I reward someone who doesn't like the president, so they can use funds to try to campaign against the president? Logic says they don't get the contract. That's the way I believe."
Christopher Lee writes in The Washington Post: "A mid-level White House staff member has resigned after informing officials of allegations that he misused federal grant money for personal gain before he joined the government, a White House official said yesterday.
"Felipe Sixto quit as special assistant to President Bush on March 20 after learning that the nonprofit Center for a Free Cuba planned to take legal action against him, said White House spokesman Scott Stanzel. Sixto was chief of staff at the Washington-based group for about three years before joining the White House's Office of Intergovernmental Affairs last July. . . .
"Sixto's resignation comes on the heels of another mid-level staff member's abrupt departure from the White House. Special assistant Tim Goeglein resigned Feb. 29 after acknowledging that he had plagiarized material for a newspaper column."Treasury Plan
Howard Schneider writes for The Washington Post: "Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. today proposed a broad overhaul of the way the nation oversees the financial system, elevating the role of the Federal Reserve in monitoring markets and recommending other changes in hopes of curbing some of the practices that have slowed the economy in recent months and led to steep losses at mortgage and financial companies."
Edmund L. Andrews writes in the New York Times: "Many of the proposals, like those that would consolidate regulatory agencies, have nothing to do with the turmoil in financial markets. And some of the proposals could actually reduce regulation."
Damian Paletta, Greg Ip and Michael M. Phillips write in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required): "Congressional Democrats and others say the current crisis is the result of too little regulation, not too much. 'It takes a certain chutzpah to say the appropriate response to a financial crisis is to loosen regulation,' said Barbara Roper of the Consumer Federation of America, a consumer-advocacy group. 'Wall Street [in the plan] generally looks to me like they didn't get hit with anything they don't want.'
Paul Krugman writes in his New York Times opinion column: "Anyone who has worked in a large organization -- or, for that matter, reads the comic strip 'Dilbert' -- is familiar with the 'org chart' strategy. To hide their lack of any actual ideas about what to do, managers sometimes make a big show of rearranging the boxes and lines that say who reports to whom.
"You now understand the principle behind the Bush administration's new proposal for financial reform, which will be formally announced today: it's all about creating the appearance of responding to the current crisis, without actually doing anything substantive. . . .
"So, will the administration's plan succeed? I'm not asking whether it will succeed in preventing future financial crises -- that's not its purpose. The question, instead, is whether it will succeed in confusing the issue sufficiently to stand in the way of real reform."A New Housing Plan?
Lori Montgomery and David Cho write in The Washington Post: "The Bush administration is finalizing details of a plan to rescue thousands of homeowners at risk of foreclosure by helping them refinance into more affordable mortgages backed by public funds, government officials said. . . .
"The plan is similar to elements in legislation proposed two weeks ago by Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, officials said. . . .
"If enacted, the plan would mark the first time the White House has committed federal dollars to help the most hard-pressed borrowers, people struggling to repay loans that are huge relative to their incomes and the diminished value of their homes."Wrong Number
Peter Baker writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush visited a credit counseling service here Friday to promote his administration's efforts to help homeowners crunched by the mortgage crisis. 'I want my fellow citizens, if you're worried about your home, to call this number: 1-88-995-HOPE,' he said. 'Let me repeat that again: 1-88-995-HOPE.'
"The only trick? He was one '8' short. As the president shook hands with guests after his statement, Danny Cerchiaro, a homeowner from Iselin, N.J., who had gotten help restructuring his mortgage, whispered something in Bush's ear. The president promptly went back to the lectern. 'Danny just told me I've got to get the number right,' he said sheepishly. '1- 888-995-HOPE.' . . .
"It was not the first time, though, that the president got the number wrong. When he announced the program in December, he gave the first four digits as 1-800 instead of 1-888. That incorrect number he announced led callers to a Christian education academy near Dallas."Karl Rove Watch
Adam Nossiter writes in the New York Times: "Former Gov. Don Siegelman of Alabama, released from prison Friday on bond in a bribery and corruption case, said he was as convinced as ever that politics had played a leading role in his prosecution.
"Speaking by telephone in his first post-prison interview, shortly after he had left the federal penitentiary at Oakdale, La., Mr. Siegelman said there had been 'abuse of power' in his case, and repeatedly cited Karl Rove, the former White House political director.
"'His fingerprints are smeared all over the case,' Mr. Siegelman said, a day after a federal appeals court ordered him released on bond and said there were legitimate questions about his case."
Husna Kazmir writes for the George Washington University newspaper, the Hatchet: "Republican strategist Karl Rove was unfazed by two separate interruptions from protesters calling him a war criminal as he spoke about the 2008 election in front of a sold-out crowd at the Elliott School of International Affairs Friday night."
Said Rove: "I was introduced as a genius so you gotta make up your mind. I'm either an idiot or a genius!"
Thinkprogress.org has some video clips.Cartoon Watch