Bush's Oily Embrace

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, June 19, 2008; 12:33 PM

President Bush jumped into the 2008 presidential race with gusto yesterday, blessing John McCain as a worthy heir to his war presidency and joining McCain's call for offshore oil drilling.

But as with almost anything Bush attempts these days, the backfire risk is high. Establishing their candidate's independence from Bush is a top priority for the McCain campaign -- understandably so, considering that Bush is officially the most unpopular president of the modern era.

The move also exposes Bush and McCain to the criticism that they are in the tank for Big Oil -- as oil companies, who already have leveraged skyrocketing prices into even more stratospheric profits, arguably would be the only real beneficiaries of drilling offshore.

The Oil Pitch

Michael Abramowitz and Juliet Eilperin write in The Washington Post: "President Bush called yesterday for lifting the 27-year-old ban on U.S. offshore oil drilling, joining Sen. John McCain in endorsing an idea that Republicans hope will gain traction in Congress and on the campaign trail as the price of gasoline soars. . . .

"Democratic leaders in Congress said the plan is going nowhere. 'President Bush and John McCain are not serious about addressing gas prices,' said Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.). 'If they were, they would stop offering the same old ideas meant to pad the pockets of Big Oil and work with Democrats to reduce our dependence on oil.'"

Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes in the New York Times: "One was an oilman from Texas, the other a high-paid energy executive. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, for seven years George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have been unable to persuade Congress and the public that domestic oil drilling is an answer to America's energy needs.

"With the clock running down on his presidency, Mr. Bush made one last push Wednesday by calling on Congress to end the 27-year moratorium on most offshore drilling. With oil at more than $130 a barrel, gasoline over $4 a gallon and the broader economy threatened, the White House is betting it can finally break a decades-old Washington deadlock between those who favor domestic oil exploration and those who say conservation is the key."

But, as Stolberg writes: "If anything, Democrats say, the White House action gives them a chance to paint Mr. Bush as beholden to the oil industry and Mr. McCain as a clone of Mr. Bush, a message that will only grow louder as the November election draws near.

"'To have President Bush be the face of this issue for the Republicans means having the worst possible spokesman,' said Geoff Garin, a Democratic strategist who helped run Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign.

"'What Republicans are doing for themselves right now,' Mr. Garin added, 'is deepening the impression that they are the party of Big Oil.'"

John D. McKinnon and Stephen Power write in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required): "In a move that was carefully coordinated among the White House, Sen. McCain's presidential campaign and leading Republican lawmakers, the president sharply criticized the Democrat-run Congress for blocking the administration's past proposals to boost domestic oil production. . . .

"In a Rose Garden appearance, Mr. Bush framed the issue starkly: 'If congressional leaders leave for the Fourth of July recess without taking action, they will need to explain why $4-a-gallon gasoline is not enough incentive for them to act.' . . .

"The McCain camp, the White House and top Republicans began discussing their energy plans more than a month ago, and quickly decided to emphasize domestic supply. . . .

"Administration officials emphasized the decision's economic importance for ordinary Americans, but it also has the backing of oil producers. Last month, Exxon Mobil Corp. Chief Executive Rex Tillerson said it was 'terribly upside down' that Mr. Bush would lobby Saudi Arabia to boost production even as much of the U.S. remains off limits to domestic drilling."

Ben Casselman writes in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required): "As politicians debate whether to open federal offshore waters to oil and natural-gas drilling, there is agreement on at least one point: It isn't a short-term fix.

"If the bans were lifted tomorrow, it would be at least seven years -- and likely as long as a decade -- before the first oil began to flow off the coasts of Florida, California and the eastern seaboard. . . .

"Nonetheless, the industry has for years coveted the potential energy reservoirs hidden beneath federal waters."

Bush's remarks also came off as a fairly desperate attempt at blame-shifting.

H. Josef Hebert writes for the Associated Press: "With the presidential election just months away, Bush made a pointed attack on Democrats, accusing them of obstructing his energy proposals and blaming them for high gasoline costs. . . .

"With Americans deeply pessimistic about the economy, Bush tried to put on the onus on Congress."

Mark Silva writes in the Chicago Tribune: "Just a few months ago, President George W. Bush said he 'hadn't heard' that gas might reach $4 per gallon."

Now, "the president is accusing the Democrats of simply not getting it."

Opinion Watch

The New York Times editorial board writes: "It was almost inevitable that a combination of $4-a-gallon gas, public anxiety and politicians eager to win votes or repair legacies would produce political pandering on an epic scale. So it has, the latest instance being President Bush's decision to ask Congress to end the federal ban on offshore oil and gas drilling along much of America's continental shelf.

"This is worse than a dumb idea. It is cruelly misleading. It will make only a modest difference, at best, to prices at the pump, and even then the benefits will be years away. It greatly exaggerates America's leverage over world oil prices. It is based on dubious statistics. It diverts the public from the tough decisions that need to be made about conservation. . . .

"The only real beneficiaries will be the oil companies that are trying to lock up every last acre of public land before their friends in power -- Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney -- exit the political stage."

Gail Collins writes in her New York Times opinion column about Bush suddenly calling for "a great deal of excruciatingly controversial legislation, all of which he demanded the Democrats in Congress pass before the Fourth of July recess. . . .

"It was sort of mesmerizing. Imagine some half-forgotten celebrity popping up out of nowhere and announcing that he wants an Academy Award. By Tuesday. And if he doesn't get it, he cannot be responsible for the consequences. . . .

"There was also the matter of John McCain. Poor McCain has been trying desperately to convince the public that there's a vast, vast gulf between him and the current administration. It's been tougher than he expected. . . .

"Earlier this week, McCain made news when, in a change of position, he called for allowing more offshore drilling. It was his moment to betray the environmentalists in the name of cheaper gasoline. You'd think the president would have the decency to wait, and refrain from holding a press conference that made the two of them sound like soul mates."

Speaking of Oil

Well, at least one Bush-Cheney dream about Iraq is coming true.

Andrew E. Kramer writes in the New York Times: "Four Western oil companies are in the final stages of negotiations this month on contracts that will return them to Iraq, 36 years after losing their oil concession to nationalization as Saddam Hussein rose to power.

"Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP -- the original partners in the Iraq Petroleum Company -- along with Chevron and a number of smaller oil companies, are in talks with Iraq's Oil Ministry for no-bid contracts to service Iraq's largest fields, according to ministry officials, oil company officials and an American diplomat.

"The deals, expected to be announced on June 30, will lay the foundation for the first commercial work for the major companies in Iraq since the American invasion, and open a new and potentially lucrative country for their operations."

As Kramer puts it, ever so delicately: "There was suspicion among many in the Arab world and among parts of the American public that the United States had gone to war in Iraq precisely to secure the oil wealth these contracts seek to extract. The Bush administration has said that the war was necessary to combat terrorism. It is not clear what role the United States played in awarding the contracts; there are still American advisers to Iraq's Oil Ministry."

No Distance Here

Ben Feller writes for the Associated Press: "Seeking to energize party loyalists, President Bush on Wednesday gave his most extended public support to Sen. John McCain, his former foe for the White House. The president said McCain is the only candidate in the race who can face tough decisions and 'will not flinch.'"

From the transcript of Bush's remarks at a massive Republican fundraising dinner last night: "We need a President who has the experience and judgment to do what is right, even when it is not easy. We need a President who knows what it takes to defeat our enemies. And this year, there is only one man who has shown those qualities of leadership -- and that man is John McCain."

Bush took yet another swipe at last week's major Supreme Court decision-- the third time in four years the Court concluded that his detainee policies violated basic precepts of the American legal system.

"We received a fresh reminder of the importance of the courts last week," Bush said "A bare majority of five Supreme Court justices overturned a bipartisan law that the United States Congress passed and I signed to deliver justice to detainees at Guantanamo Bay. With this decision, hardened terrorists -- hardened foreign terrorists now enjoy certain legal rights previously reserved for American citizens. This is precisely the kind of judicial activism that frustrates the American people. And the best way to change it is to put Republicans in charge in the Senate and John McCain in the White House."

Bush concluded: "This is the final time I'm going to speak to this event. And when I ran for President eight years ago. . . . I promised to uphold the dignity and honor of this office. And to the best of my ability, I have tried to live up to that promise. (Applause.) Next January I will leave with confidence in our country's course -- and the proud work we have done together."

Torture Watch

Members of the House Judiciary Committee heard more testimony yesterday on Bush's interrogation policies. Here's some video. Here's the prepared statement from Daniel Levin, a former acting head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel under Bush.

Laura Rozen blogs that Levin concluded his prepared statement with one additional observation: "As a witness sitting here in a hearing, I feel like I have some obligation to say something about this. And I'm very limited, I think, in what I can say. But if the subcommittee has been informed that there was a total of three minutes of waterboarding, I would suggest the subcommittee should go back and get that clarified, because that I don't believe is an accurate statement."

Legal blogger Marty Lederman notes that, when Levin was asked if he knew "of any Administration that has so consistently advanced positions that are at odds with mainstream and judicial opinions regarding the scope of its powers?," he replied: "I don't."

Here is the prepared testimony of Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as chief of staff to secretary of state Colin Powell and has emerged as a leading administration critic.

"At what level did American leadership fail?" Wilkerson asked. "I believe it failed at the highest levels of the Pentagon, in the Vice President's office, and perhaps even in the Oval Office, though [some evidence] tends to make me think the President may have been ignorant of the worst parts of the failure."

He said Cheney's view is "that any evil is justified in the name of security."

War Crimes Watch

I wrote in yesterday's column that Anthony Taguba, the two-star general who led an Army investigation into the horrific detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib, has accused the Bush administration of war crimes and is calling for accountability.

Warren P. Strobel writes for McClatchy Newspapers that Taguba "is thought to be the most senior official to have accused the administration of war crimes."

Scott Horton writes for The New Republic that a war-crime prosecution of Bush officials is not in the cards domestically. But, he writes: "Is it likely that prosecutions will be brought overseas? Yes. It is reasonably likely. [Philippe Sands's new book The Torture Team] contains an interview with an investigating magistrate in a European nation, which he describes as a NATO nation with a solidly pro-American orientation which supported U.S. engagement in Iraq with its own soldiers. The magistrate makes clear that he is already assembling a case, and is focused on American policymakers. I read these remarks and they seemed very familiar to me. In the past two years, I have spoken with two investigating magistrates in two different European nations, both pro-Iraq war NATO allies. Both were assembling war crimes charges against a small group of Bush administration officials. 'You can rest assured that no charges will be brought before January 20, 2009,' one told me. And after that? 'It depends. We don't expect extradition. But if one of the targets lands on our territory or on the territory of one of our cooperating jurisdictions, then we'll be prepared to act.'

"Viewed in this light, the Bush Administration figures involved in the formation of torture policy face no immediate threat of prosecution for war crimes. But Colin Powell's chief of staff, Colonel Larry Wilkerson, nails it: 'Haynes, Feith, Yoo, Bybee, Gonzales and--at the apex--Addington, should never travel outside the U.S., except perhaps to Saudi Arabia and Israel. They broke the law; they violated their professional ethical code. In the future, some government may build the case necessary to prosecute them in a foreign court, or in an international court.' Augusto Pinochet made a trip to London, and his life was never the same afterwards.

"The Bush administration officials who pushed torture will need to be careful about their travel plans."

War Funding Watch

Paul Kane writes in The Washington Post: "The White House and leading House Democrats agreed yesterday on a massive emergency spending bill that would provide more than $162 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and create an education benefit for veterans of those battlefields.

"Moving toward the end of the last fight of his tenure over Iraq war funding, President Bush yielded to Democratic demands to include the veterans benefit and a 13-month extension of unemployment benefits in exchange for a reduction in other domestic spending and no tax increases."

Carl Hulse writes in the New York Times: "The willingness of House Republicans and Democrats to reach a deal showed that both sides concluded it was expedient for them to dispose of politically troublesome issues like the war money and the unemployment aid. Mr. Bush, should he sign the measure, would be relenting as well since he had earlier indicated he would reject the veterans program and the unemployment aid."

Abramoff Watch

R. Jeffrey Smith writes in The Washington Post that e-mail traffic made public recently by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee provides a "rare glimpse of high-level, behind-the-scenes string-pulling."

As Smith explains, Jack Abramoff and his colleagues at Greenberg Traurig successfully manuevered to push aside a State Department official who was working against their clients' interests in the Northern Mariana Islands.

The e-mails, which Smith excerpts, "show how Abramoff, now serving a prison term for fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy, relied on key White House contacts, including Susan Ralston, executive assistant to political adviser Karl Rove; Monica Kladakis, then deputy White House personnel chief; and Ken Mehlman, then the White House political director."

Briefing Watch

The questions at White House spokesman Tony Fratto's press briefing yesterday were far more informative than the answers. Consider:

Q. "On the President's offshore oil statement today, it didn't seem like he really wanted to cooperate much with Congress. He's calling them obstructionists, and blaming them for the high price of oil. Where do you come up with the idea earlier that he wanted to work closely with Congress on this?"

Q. "Tony, the Democrats have made it clear for a long time that they're absolutely opposed to this. This appears to be going nowhere. Are there any other ideas that the White House is exploring that can actually do something about the high gas prices?"

Q. "If $4-a-gallon gasoline is enough to make people rethink drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf, is it also enough to make people rethink perhaps raising the CAFE standard requirements for automakers?"

Q. "Why is he pushing Congress on this, and not pushing the oil companies that have 33 million acres of leased area that they aren't developing . . . ?"

And Q. "Tomorrow President Bush is awarding the Medal of Freedom to General Pace. And in the past when he's awarded that medal to other architects of the war -- George Tenet, General Franks -- there's been some criticism from Democrats that they're too controversial to give the award to and it's really just kind of a concession to quiet their criticism, perhaps, of the war in their retirement years. Do you have any response to that kind of criticism?"

Medal of Freedom Watch

Deb Riechmann writes for the Associated Press about today's Medal of Freedom ceremony. Here are the citations; here is the transcript of Bush's remarks.

Override Redux

Mary Clare Jalonick writes for the Associated Press: "Congress enacted a massive $290 billion farm bill for a second time on Wednesday after a clerical error in the first bill threatened delivery of U.S. food aid abroad.

"The Senate voted 80-14 to override President Bush's veto of the legislation, more than the two-thirds majority necessary to enact it. Bush vetoed the bill for a second time earlier Wednesday, and the House voted 317-109 to override it a few hours later.

"Most of the bill was enacted in May, when both the House and Senate easily overrode Bush's first veto of the legislation. But 34 pages of the bill that would extend foreign aid programs were mistakenly missing from the parchment copy Congress sent to the White House, so that section did not become law."

McClellan Watch

Kenneth T. Walsh writes for U.S. News: "Former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan's testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, scheduled for Friday, has some Republican insiders worried. . . .

"GOP strategists say McClellan's experience could underscore one of the weak points of the West Wing--the conversion of the press secretary's job, at least under McClellan, into what some call a propagandist. 'The press secretary has become the mouthpiece and not the fact checker,' says a former senior adviser to a Republican president.

"In the past, he added, the press secretary played a dual role of serving the president by putting the best face on news developments regarding his or her boss, and, on the other hand, also recognizing the need to provide a healthy amount of unbiased information to the public through the media. 'They didn't let him [McClellan] see things for himself. They just told him what to say,' the former adviser says."

Impeachment (Non) Watch

Mary Ann Akers blogs for washingtonpost.com that Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) "tells us he's giving the House Judiciary Committee 30 days to act on his resolution proposing 35 articles of impeachment against President Bush or else he'll raise even more hell on the House floor. Thirty-five articles was just the tip of the iceberg. If Judiciary does nothing, he'll go back to the House floor next month armed with nearly twice as many articles."

Ray McGovern writes in a Detroit Free Press op-ed: "United States Rep. John Conyers, the Detroit Democrat who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, has a rendezvous with destiny. He is uniquely placed to thrust a rod through the wheels of a White House juggernaut to war with Iran by commencing impeachment proceedings against President George W. Bush. . . .

"When bombs are falling on Iran, it will be too late -- and our commander in chief is likely to give that order within the next couple of months. As former White House press secretary Scott McClellan reminds us, when the president sets his mind on something, he is not going to let anything stop him. . . .

"Conyers may say there's not enough time to begin impeachment, with only seven months left to this administration. But how could Conyers say this one day, and on the next say that if Bush attacks Iran, well then the House may move toward impeachment? His nonchalance regarding what an attack on Iran would mean is mind-boggling. You impeach the scoundrels before they start another war."

More on Sunday Dinner at No. 10

Alistair Horne, writing in an opinion column in the Independent, has more on Bush's unusual dinner Sunday at 10 Downing Street, where the guests included Rupert Murdoch -- and a handful of British historians.

"I had the honour of being seated on the right of the President. I had first met him, just a year ago, having been invited to the White House, following his reading of my book, A Savage War of Peace; Algeria 1954-1962, which had been recommended to him by Henry Kissinger.

"Then -- as last Sunday -- far from being the wooden, robotic figure as seen on the television screen, I found him relaxed, humorous, and considerably interested in contemporary history. . . .

"In the Oval Office last year, I was questioned intently on how de Gaulle got out of Algeria; I had to reply, 'Mr President, very badly; he lost his shirt.' Though it was clearly a disappointing response, Mr Bush replied, with emphasis: 'Well, we're not going to get out of Iraq like that.' That was shortly after the launch of the 'surge'. This Sunday we talked almost entirely about the Second World War -- its turning-points and 'what-ifs' -- and the 'special relationship', which both leaders toasted reciprocally in generous terms. The President was well-informed, and a flatteringly good listener.

"We kept off the Middle East.

"Of course, as a critic of Iraq, and current US policy towards Israel and Palestine, I could have wished that the White House had studied the lessons of the Algerian War before rushing in in 2003. One day history itself will doubtless inform us as to whether Bush might have acted more cautiously, had he had the lessons of history at his elbow, rather than the impetuous rashness of hawkish advisors like Vice President Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz."

Countdown to Crawford

The Los Angeles Times has launched a new blog -- Countdown to Crawford; The Last Days of the Bush Administration-- primarily authored by reporters James Gerstenzang and Johanna Neuman.

In a post on Tuesday, Gerstenzang writes that the energy level at the White House mess ain't what it used to be.

"A recent visitor to the basement suite of dining rooms near the Situation Room in the West Wing reported a tomb-like atmosphere -- and it was a day when President Bush was at work in the Oval Office one floor above. The visitor has dined at the mess on many more occasions than he can count over the last three decades. It has always been the same: Phones ringing, aides scurrying in for quick conversations.

"Not now. . . .

"'There was no excitement. No energy,' the visitor said. 'It's astounding.'"

Late Night Humor

Conan O'Brien via U.S. News: "In a recent interview, President Bush said that he might not be the last President Bush if his brother Jeb decides to run. . . . Yeah, when he heard this, Jeb said, 'Please stop reminding everyone we're related.'"

Cartoon Watch

Walt Handelsman on Bush's gift to big oil, M.e. Cohen on Bush's dry well, John Sherffius on what Bush has in unlimited supply, Mike Luckovich on Bush's alternate reality sources, Bruce Plante on Bush thinking outside the box, and Adam Zyglis on Bush's idea of helping.

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