By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, May 15, 2008; 1:56 PM
Could it be that despite the outward signs of confidence, all the criticism being heaped upon President Bush is getting to him?
It's sheer speculation, of course, but how do you explain why the president, welcomed to Israel with adulation, started to cry while being praised by a fellow world leader who expressed seemingly sincere admiration?
Bush has cried many times during his presidency -- when he's met with the families of dead soldiers, after 9/11, at disaster scenes. But this was different. In this case, it seems his tears were for himself.
Reuters has the video of what it describes as Bush's "emotional moment" after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert praised him for his leadership in the fight against extremists.
"He is a great leader, a great friend, a source of inspiration and we are very proud that we can celebrate the 60th anniversary of the state of Israel with you and your wife here in our eternal capital, Jerusalem," Olmert said.
Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Ethan Brommer write in the New York Times that "Mr. Bush's eyes welled up with tears. He reached for the hand of his wife, Laura, as he wiped his cheek."The Coverage
Olmert's words came at what Stolberg and Brommer describe as "an emotional Academy Awards-style celebration of the country's 60th birthday here Wednesday night. . . .
"The gala, a highly produced affair, featured choral and dance performances as well as speeches from Mr. Bush, Mr. Peres and Mr. Olmert. It was billed as a celebration of '60 years of friendship.' But at times it seemed a celebration of Mr. Bush, who seemed overcome with emotion as Mr. Olmert lavished him with praise.
"'You are an unusual person,' Mr. Olmert told Mr. Bush. 'You are an unusual leader. You are an unusual friend of the people of Israel.'"
Michael Abramowitz writes in The Washington Post: "At home, Bush may be the least popular president since Harry Truman, but here in Israel he was greeted with a raucous standing ovation when he entered the auditorium and lavish praise from Israel's leaders.
"Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino tycoon and a big financier of Republican and Jewish causes, preceded Bush to the stage and hailed him as 'the most supportive' president Israel has ever known. The Israeli authorities took advantage of Adelson's presence to question him in a bribery investigation that is focusing on Olmert and could topple the government, a big subject of speculation on the sidelines of the conference. . . .
"Bush kept the Truman analogy going in his own remarks, since he seems to expect his decisions on Iraq and other issues will be vindicated by history, in the fashion of the 33rd president of the United States."
From the transcript: "Looking back 60 years later, we've also got to remember the courage of Harry S. Truman. As Israel prepared to declare independence, President Truman faced a tough choice over whether to recognize a new state. The future of Israel hung in the balance. As Chaim Weizmann told the President, he said, 'History and providence have placed this issue in your hands.' And today we know that the forces of Providence could not have chosen a better man than America's 33rd President. (Applause.)
"Eleven minutes after Israel came into existence, the United States became the first nation to recognize its independence. And because Harry Truman did what was right instead of following the conventional wisdom, we can say today that America is Israel's oldest and best friend in the world. (Applause.)"
Bush began his remarks with an acknowledgment that his days as president are numbered (250 as of yesterday): "I think it's a great tribute to this conference, as well as to Israel that some so many heads of state have come. Ex-heads of state and ex-leaders, thanks for being here. Save a seat in the ex-leader's club."Appeasement and Absolutism
Bush's speech to the Israeli parliament today cast all nuance to the wind. In the worldview he expressed, Israel and the United States are the undisputable heroes in an epic battle between good and evil. He also overtly waded into the campaign to succeed him.
Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes in the New York Times: "President Bush used a speech to the Israeli Parliament on Thursday to issue a veiled rebuke to Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential contender, who has argued that the United States should negotiate with countries like Iran and Syria.
"Mr. Bush did not mention Mr. Obama by name, and the White House said his remarks were not aimed at the senator. But in a lengthy speech intended to promote the strong alliance between the United States and Israel, the president invoked the emotionally volatile imagery of World War II to make the case that talking to 'terrorists and radicals' was no different than appeasing Hitler and the Nazis."
You don't use Hitler's name lightly in Israel, and here's what Bush had to say: "Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: 'Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided.' We have an obligation to call this what it is -- the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history."
Michael Abramowitz writes for The Washington Post: "President Bush invoked the specter of the Holocaust to warn Israeli lawmakers on Thursday afternoon that they must take seriously the incendiary language of extremist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, as he celebrated the state's 60th anniversary by sketching out a more hopeful future of peaceful co-existence between Jews and Arabs.
"On the second day of his Middle East trip, Bush toured the historic Dead Sea fortress Masada before returning here for an emotional address to the Israeli Knesset, where he cited Hamas' call for the 'elimination' of Israel, Hezbollah followers' chants of 'Death to Israel, Death to America' and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's vow to wipe the Jewish state off the map.
"'There are good and decent people who cannot fathom the darkness in these men and try to explain away their words. It is natural,' Bush said. 'But it is deadly wrong. As witnesses to evil in the past, we carry a solemn responsibility to take these words seriously. Jews and Americans have seen the consequences of disregarding the words of leaders who espouse hatred. And that is a mistake the world must not repeat in the 21st century.' . . .
"During the speech, Bush touched only briefly on his goal of achieving an Israel-Palestinian peace deal before the end of his term next January. Looking forward to the 120th anniversary of Israel, Bush said, 'The Palestinian people will have the homeland they have long dreamed of and deserved -- a democratic state that is governed by law, and respects human rights, and rejects terror.'"
Bush seemed to indicate, yet again, that he doesn't intend to leave office with Iran still a potential nuclear threat: "Permitting the world's leading sponsor of terror to possess the world's deadliest weapons would be an unforgivable betrayal for future generations. For the sake of peace, the world must not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon," he said.
Bush also likened Iran to al-Qaeda, saying both "reserve a special hatred for the most ardent defenders of liberty, including Americans and Israelis. . . .
"That is why Osama bin Laden teaches that 'the killing of Jews and Americans is one of the biggest duties.' And that is why the president of Iran dreams of returning the Middle East to the Middle Ages and calls for Israel to be wiped off the map."A Weak Denial
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino officially denied that Bush was labeling Obama an appeaser.
But CNN's Ed Henry reports that "White House aides privately acknowledged the remarks were aimed at the presidential candidate and others in his party."
And here's another good question from a reporter at todays' press briefing:
Q. "[T]here was another line in the President's speech about 'some have called for us to break ties with Israel'. Did the President have anyone particular in mind? Because I have not actually heard anyone call for that."
Perino: "I'll have to check for you; I don't know."A Dissenting View -- from the Pentagon
If anyone who wants to talk to Iran is an appeaser, what does that make Bush's defense secretary?
Karen DeYoung writes in The Washington Post: "The United States should construct a combination of incentives and pressure to engage Iran, and may have missed earlier opportunities to begin a useful dialogue with Tehran, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said yesterday.
"'We need to figure out a way to develop some leverage . . . and then sit down and talk with them,' Gates said. 'If there is going to be a discussion, then they need something, too. We can't go to a discussion and be completely the demander, with them not feeling that they need anything from us.' . . .
"The Bush administration has said it will talk with Iran, and consider lifting economic and other sanctions, only if Iran ends a uranium enrichment program the administration maintains is intended to produce nuclear weapons, a charge Iran denies. . . .
"Gates publicly favored engagement with Iran before taking his current job in late 2006. In 2004, he co-authored a Council on Foreign Relations report titled ' Iran: Time for a New Approach.'"Opinion Watch
The New York Times editorial board writes: "President Bush claims Lebanon's 2005 'Cedar Revolution' -- which ended 30 years of Syrian military occupation -- as a triumph of his policy of democracy promotion. Given Lebanon's history, that was always naïve. Lebanon is now in deep trouble, and Mr. Bush, who will be meeting Prime Minister Fouad Siniora in Egypt on Sunday, has no real plan to help overcome the crisis. . . .
"If Mr. Bush really wants to help Mr. Siniora he will need to talk with Hezbollah's masters in Syria and Iran: about the risks they court by promoting instability in Lebanon and the rewards they might reap in return for a more constructive approach. Mr. Bush's stubborn refusal to negotiate with either Syria or Iran has weakened American influence throughout the region. Lebanon's situation is dire. Mr. Bush will need to do a lot more if he wants to help salvage the Cedar Revolution."About That Iranian Intel
Greg Miller writes in the Los Angeles Times about the political pressures facing Thomas Fingar, the head of analysis for all U.S. spy agencies, and the man behind the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran released in December.
The report, reflecting a new intelligence finding that Tehran's nuclear weapons work had stopped, "kicked the legs out from under the administration's hard-line Iran policy and stunned the diplomatic world, touching off a political maelstrom that has barely abated after five months. . . .
"Democratic lawmakers and liberal columnists cast the document as evidence that fed-up spies were finally striking back against their political masters, while Iran hawks accused Fingar of subverting the president's policy. . . .
"'They wanted to forestall any possible military action by the Bush administration against Iran's nuclear program,' said John R. Bolton, the former United Nations ambassador.
"Bolton and others said that Fingar had surrounded himself with State Department colleagues who were hostile to the Bush administration and its approach to Iran. There is some evidence to support that view. [Richard Immerman, who Fingar hired to enforce quality control] published a paper before joining the government in which he called the Bush foreign policy team 'cognitively impaired.'
"Fingar said the Iran intelligence report emphasized the halt in warhead work because that was the newest finding. He attributes the attacks to anger among hard-liners that the report didn't conform to their preconceived views.
"'The unhappiness with the finding -- namely that the evil Iranians might be susceptible to diplomacy -- adroitly turned into an ad hominem assault,' Fingar said. 'Why do we have an intelligence community if all you want are cheerleaders?' . . .
"Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney continue to argue that Iran is unbowed in its pursuit of the bomb. And military officials are stepping up charges that Iran is helping destabilize Iraq, accusations denied by Tehran."Bush at Masada
Tabassum Zakaria writes for Reuters: "President George W. Bush on Thursday toured the Roman-era desert fortress of Masada, a national symbol in Israel of Jewish fighting spirit and self-sacrifice against powerful enemies and overwhelming odds. . . .
"A cable car carried Bush to the top of the towering plateau where 960 Jewish men, women and children committed suicide rather than surrender to Roman forces crushing a rebellion in ancient Judea, in an act chronicled by a 1st-century historian."
Bush didn't make any public remarks at Masada, but Perino said later: "I would say the President had a really fantastic time at Masada today."Time for Distance?
Adam Nagourney and Carl Hulse write in the New York Times: "The Republican defeat in a special Congressional contest in Mississippi sent waves of apprehension across an already troubled party Wednesday, with some senior Republicans urging Congressional candidates to distance themselves from President Bush to head off what could be heavy losses in the fall. . . .
"The special election results left Democrats and Republicans in rare agreement about one thing: President Bush looms as a drag on Republicans."
Jonathan Weisman and Paul Kane write in The Washington Post: "'These races were not in New Jersey or New England, where Republican erosion has taken place over the last decade. They were in the heart of the Bible Belt, the social conservative core of our coalition,' Rep. Tom Davis (Va.) fretted in a 20-page memorandum given to House Republican leaders yesterday and provided to The Washington Post.
"'Members and pundits, waiting for Democrats to fumble the ball so that soft Republicans and Independents will snap back to the GOP, fail to understand the deep seeded [sic] antipathy toward the President, the war, gas prices, the economy, foreclosures and, in some areas, the underlying cultural differences that continue to brand our party.' . . .
"Rep. Walter B. Jones (N.C.), who just crushed a primary opponent challenging him on his antiwar stance, said it is time to break with Bush and find a way out of Iraq.
"'If this party does not look at options and figure out how to pursue those options, we're in real trouble,' he said."
But Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, "rejected the notion of a dramatic break with Bush.
"'I don't see it particularly as an advantage to be in a debate with our president,' he said. 'It's not for me to second-guess the president of the United States.'"
Susan Davis and Sarah Lueck write in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required): "Republicans are blaming the losses on the unpopularity of President Bush, weak candidates and attack-style campaigns that failed to appeal to voters who are weary of divisiveness in Washington.
"Of these, the most damaging factor that House Republicans can't control is the president. 'Right or wrong, he's stuck to us,' said one Republican lawmaker."
Karl Rove writes in his Wall Street Journal opinion column that the recent spate of GOP defeats "only shows the GOP can't take 'safe' seats for granted when Democrats run conservatives who distance themselves from their national party leaders."Veto Override Watch
David M. Herszenhorn writes in the New York Times: "Ignoring a veto threat from President Bush, who says he wants to sharply limit government subsidies to farmers at a time of near-record commodity prices and soaring global demand for grain, the House on Wednesday approved a five-year, $307 billion farm bill with a solid bipartisan majority.
"The House voted 318 to 106 -- well above the two-thirds needed to hand Mr. Bush the second veto override of his presidency -- with 100 Republicans joining the Democratic majority in favor.
"The Senate was expected to follow suit with wide bipartisan support on Thursday, sending Mr. Bush a bill that he described this week as bloated and expensive and said 'resorts to a variety of gimmicks."
Michael Doyle writes for McClatchy Newspapers that Bush is set for "a major political embarrassment. . . .
"If the farm bill support holds, as lawmakers expect, Congress is on track to hand Bush the second veto override of his presidency. In an election year, even GOP lawmakers stressed Wednesday that they cared more about their rural voters than about Bush's declining clout."
Greg Hitt writes in the Wall Street Journal that the bipartisan support for the farm bill is "the latest sign that the waning months of President Bush's term are being defined by battles with a Congress that appears to be tuning him out. . . .
"For Mr. Bush, who is on a five-day tour of the Middle East, the domestic fight is a struggle to maintain relevancy, as his power and popularity ebb."On Giving Up Golf
I wrote in yesterday's column about Bush's idea of sacrifice: Giving up golf in solidarity with the families soldiers who have died or been wounded in Iraq.
And I noted that although Bush told Mike Allen of Politico that he had given it up in mid-August of 2003, an Associated Press report placed Bush on the links on Oct. 13, 2003.
Now it turns out Bush also went golfing in September. According to a Sept. 28, 2003, report from the Associated Press: "President Bush spent a sunny Sunday joking with his golfing friends at Andrews Air Force Base.
"Bush played with David Hobbs, his chief liaison to Congress; Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., a leading negotiator on the Medicare bill which is stalled in Congress; and House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio - a state Bush plans to visit this week.
"The president joked that photographers and reporters should not disturb Boehner, adding that the congressman 'doesn't handle pressure very well.'"
In an Oct. 2, 2003, Roll Call story no longer available online, Ed Henry wrote: "President Bush just couldn't stop needling House Education and the Workforce Chairman John Boehner (R-Ohio) - or anyone else - on the golf course this past weekend. . . .
"According to the pool report filed by Finlay Lewis of Copley News Service, Bush teed off on the first tee and saw his drive land 'somewhat wide right and in the rough.'
"While Nickles loosened up for his first drive, Bush joked, 'Play as many [balls] as you want. Let your conscience be your guide.'"
Henry reported that "Bush had a bit of trouble with his putting stroke on the 18th green and finished somewhere in the mid-80's. Boehner fired a 41 on the front nine and a 34 on the back nine, outpacing the big guy by about 10 strokes."More Reaction
Michael Paul Williams writes in his Richmond Times-Dispatch opinion column: "Mr. President, here's a news flash: No one has died because you spent a day out on the links.
"If this shallow gesture is the best you can do to display solidarity with bereaved families, you should have kept hacking away. It's yet another insult to those who have sacrificed the most in Iraq.
"It's doubtful that the families of the 4,077 U.S. troops who have been confirmed dead in Iraq take any solace from your abstaining from golf.
"Upon leaving office, you can hop back in the golf cart while your successor attempts to pull this nation out of the quagmire you so willingly plunged us into. But some 30,000 wounded troops may no longer have the physical, mental or emotional dexterity to play golf. Some have lost an arm or a leg or are no longer ambulatory. Others are waging inner wars with traumatic stress or depression. The last thing on their minds is a pitching wedge or a putter."
Countdown's Keith Olbermann delivered one of his "special comments" on Bush's "unforgivable interview."
"Do you think these families, Mr. Bush, their lives blighted forever, care about you playing golf? . . .
"When somebody asks you, Sir, about your gallant, noble, self-abnegating sacrifice of your golf game so as to soothe the families of the war dead, this advice, Mr. Bush: Shut the -- hell up!"Karl Rove Watch
"The committee wants Rove to testify about his role in the prosecution of ex-Gov. Don Siegelman (D-AL), but Rove has refused to appear for a hearing, instead offering to speak privately with staff off the record. He modified that offer to testify by letter.
"But Conyers says that's a no-go. If Rove is willing to create a record with a letter, he argues, then there's no reason why he shouldn't be willing to sit down with staff for an on-the-record interview. Conyers says the committee is prepared to offer 'other possible accommodations, such as providing a list of initial questions that may be asked,' but there must be a live interview and a transcript. Conyers again mentions the possibility of a subpoena should talks break down."
The New York Times editorial board blogs: "Witnesses to important matters don't get to answer questions in writing. They are questioned under oath. (We'd like to see someone subpoenaed in a criminal trial tell the judge they will only answer questions in writing.) Live questioning allows the questioners to follow up on answers, and get at the truth of what occurred -- something that is very difficult in a set of written questions."Polar Bears Win, Cheney Loses
Felicity Barringer writes in the New York Times: "The polar bear, whose summertime Arctic hunting grounds have been greatly reduced by a warming climate, will be placed under the protection of the Endangered Species Act, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne announced on Wednesday. . . .
"In recent days, some officials in the Interior Department speculated that the office of Vice President Dick Cheney had tried to block the listing of the bear. People close to these officials indicated that two separate documents -- one supporting the listing, and the other supporting a decision not to list the bear -- had been prepared for Mr. Kempthorne.
"In an interview, Mr. Kempthorne and his chief of staff, Bryan Waidmann, said they had not discussed the decision with anyone in the vice president's office, though they did not dispute that two documents had been made available for the secretary's signature this week.
"'Let's say I had my options available,' Mr. Kempthorne said."Cartoon Watch