Cheney's Invisible Hand at Work

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Tuesday, March 8, 2005; 11:11 AM

President Bush's idealistic rhetoric about promoting democracy across the globe shows signs that it might actually be working; White House working groups are considering a softer, European-style approach to Iran -- what's a powerful, hawkish vice president to do?

How about: Sic one of your favorite, hard-line proteges on the United Nations?

In case anyone thought Bush's foreign policy was veering from stick to carrot -- and in case anyone thought Vice President Cheney's influence was diminishing -- along comes John R. Bolton's nomination yesterday to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

"I don't do carrots," Bolton once said.

While Bush is buoyant about how things are going in the Middle East, Washington observers see Cheney's hand at work with the Bolton nomination, sending a clear message: Don't forget the stick -- and don't regret the stick.

A Bolton From the Blue

Glenn Kessler and Colum Lynch write in The Washington Post: "President Bush named Undersecretary of State John R. Bolton yesterday as the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, a surprise choice that would send an outspoken critic of the world body's effectiveness to its inner councils. . . .

"The post requires Senate confirmation, and Democrats immediately signaled they would wage a spirited confirmation battle. Forty-three Democrats voted against his nomination as undersecretary for arms control four years ago; even some Republicans privately expressed dismay at Bolton's elevation yesterday.

"Some U.N. diplomats said they were surprised. European officials said they were puzzled at how the appointment meshed with the administration's recent efforts at consultative diplomacy."

Steven R. Weisman writes in the New York Times: "A top Republican foreign policy official close to the administration said that it was well understood that Mr. Bolton might alienate Europeans, but that Mr. Cheney had pushed for him for the United Nations job. . . .

"Administration officials said his appointment would strengthen efforts to hold the United Nations to effective standards. But the nomination brought expressions of concern from many diplomats speaking on the condition that they not be identified by name or country, many of whom noted that Mr. Bolton had been scathing in his criticism of the United Nations."

Paul Richter writes in the Los Angeles Times: "In more than two decades in government, the 56-year-old Bolton has regularly served up messages that ignored diplomatic niceties. He has unsettled colleagues when he strayed from the administration's position. But he has won powerful admirers, including Vice President Dick Cheney, who once said Bolton deserved 'any job he wants' in the Bush administration."

Carla Anne Robbins and Yochi J. Dreazen write in the Wall Street Journal: "At a time when President Bush is trying to repair relations with allies badly strained by the Iraq war, the nomination is a further sign of the power of administration hard-liners and especially of Vice President Dick Cheney, who long has backed Mr. Bolton's career."

James Harding writes in the Financial Times: "The choice of John Bolton as the next US ambassador to the United Nations underlines the growing sense of vindication in the White House and among neo-conservative circles in Washington over the decision to go to war in Iraq."

Timothy M. Phelps writes in Newsday: "Bolton's nomination by President George W. Bush was seen by Democrats and diplomats here as a message to the world that the administration's flamboyant, in-your-face unilateralism has not changed, despite the conciliatory tone of Bush in Europe last month."

First Wave of Opinions

Susan E. Rice writes in an op-ed column in The Washington Post: "President Bush has shocked even his most cynical critics by nominating the combative neoconservative John Bolton to one of our most complex and sensitive diplomatic posts: U.S. ambassador to the United Nations."

Fred Kaplan writes in Slate: "Just as it looked like George W. Bush might be nudging toward multilateralism, he goes and appoints John Bolton as his ambassador to the United Nations. There could be no clearer sign that the contempt for the international organization, which was such a prominent feature of Bush's first term, will extend into his second term with still greater force and eloquence."

The Wall Street Journal editorial board writes: "It is now 60 years since the San Francisco Conference inaugurated the U.N. In that time, U.S. interests have more often been stymied than advanced by our participation. But the U.N. has also been the place where past ambassadors such as Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Jeane Kirkpatrick made America's case. We expect Mr. Bolton will carry on in that tradition, and perhaps even rescue the U.N. from itself."

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. writes in the National Review: "Bolton has been one of this country's most thoughtful critics of past U.N. misconduct."

ABC News's The Note writes that "the mega in-your-face pick of John Bolton to be United Nations ambassador is like Bill Clinton making a joint nomination of Joycelyn Elders to be both Secretary of State and Secretary of Health and Human Services."

Was Bush Right?

Peter Baker writes in The Washington Post: "A powerful confluence of events in the Middle East in recent weeks has infused President Bush's drive to spread democracy with a burst of momentum, according to supporters and critics alike, and the president now faces the challenge of figuring out how to capitalize on it in a region long resistant to change. . . .

"As he prepares to give another major speech today to mark the progress, Bush has been in a buoyant mood, aides said, seeing the recent moves as vindicating his expansive vision. 'He feels validation,' said one aide.

"How much the president influenced events driven by indigenous forces on the ground remains a point of debate here and in the region. Some diplomats, analysts and intelligence officers with long experience in the region worry that the Bush team is celebrating too soon and overestimating its ability to steer the change it is helping to set loose."

Rupert Cornwell writes in the Independent: "It is barely six weeks since the US President delivered his second inaugural address, a paean to liberty and democracy that espoused the goal of 'ending tyranny in our world'. Reactions around the world ranged from alarm to amused scorn, from fears of a new round of 'regime changes' imposed by an all-powerful American military, to suspicions in the salons of Europe that this time Mr Bush, never celebrated for his grasp of world affairs, had finally lost it. No one imagined that events would so soon cause the President's opponents around the world to question whether he had got it right."

Jefferson Morley writes in his World Opinion Roundup column: "In countries where President George Bush and his policies are deeply unpopular, online commentators are starting to think the unthinkable."

Blogger in the White House

The Associated Press writes: "With an official credential hanging from his neck, a young man stepped into the White House briefing room Monday as perhaps the first blogger to cover the daily press briefings. He found the surroundings to be dilapidated and cramped and concluded that his morning at the White House was 'remarkably uneventful.'"

"Garrett M. Graff, 23, writes Fishbowl D.C., a Web log about the news media in Washington. He decided to see if he could get a daily pass for a briefing after a recent controversy raised questions about White House access and who is a legitimate reporter."

Press Secretary Scott McClellan "said Graff was believed to be the first blogger to be credentialed to attend his morning press gathering and his televised briefing later in the day. McClellan ran into Graff in the press room in the afternoon and greeted him as 'the mystery man.' The two went up to McClellan's office to chat."

You can, of course, read all about it from Graff's point of view in the Fishbowl D.C. blog, which covers local media stories. "All-in-all it was a very surreal day -- anti-climatic almost even," he writes. "We were being interviewed by reporters about what it was like to interview them about them interviewing the White House."

As for his chat with McClellan: "We interrogated him gamely about his favorite reporters, and he gamely didn't answer, but instead babbled about how much he respected the work that reporters do in general. . . .

"Oh, and get this: He doesn't read blogs."

The interview ended with, as is traditional, no substantive information passing McClellan's lips. But in what could be a new, blog-inspired practice -- one that could even usher in a new era of responsiveness and mutual respect -- there was an exchange of chocolates.

See What You've Been Missing

Here is the transcript of yesterday's briefing.

Intentionally or not, CBS's John Roberts provided the young blogger with a case study in: What's the point?

The following excerpt also features McClellan's most blatant recent "tell." Most of the time these days, when he says the president has made his views very clear, you know two things: 1) The president has not made his views very clear; and 2) McClellan isn't about to, either.

"Q Would private accounts as an add-on, as a supplement to Social Security, as opposed to an integral part of Social Security, satisfy the President's desire to create private accounts?

"MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President has made his views clear. The President firmly believes that personal accounts are an important part of a comprehensive solution for strengthening Social Security. . . .

"Q Is that still an absolute red line for him?

"MR. McCLELLAN: Is what an absolute red line?

"Q Personal accounts within the framework of Social Security?

"MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you've heard the President talk about how this is a time when we all have to talk about the problems facing Social Security . . . [112 words more.]

"Q So I take it, then, from this long explanation, simply yes or no, that he is leaving the door open, that this is not necessarily a red line?

"MR. McCLELLAN: He is saying he welcomes all ideas. He is not embracing those ideas. He has put forward what his ideas are, but he welcomes all ideas for solving this problem.

"Q So it's not a red line.

"MR. McCLELLAN: The President's principles are clear, John. He believes firmly that personal accounts are part of a comprehensive solution.

"Q But it's not a red line.

"MR. McCLELLAN: John, that's not the way I would describe it.

"Q How would you describe it? . . .

"MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know what part you weren't hearing, because, I mean, his views are very clear. But --

"Q It was the yes or no part that I didn't hear.

"MR. McCLELLAN: No, the point that the President has made, John, is that we should work together. This is a serious problem, and we need a bipartisan solution.

"Q Red line, yes or no?

"MR. McCLELLAN: That's why the President is not getting into ruling things in or out. He made it very clear to you all several times that we're not going to get into commenting on each and every idea that is thrown out there by members of Congress --

"Q He threw out the idea!

"MR. McCLELLAN: We welcome ideas by members of Congress for solving this problem. That's how we get things done in this town. We've managed to get a lot done in the first term through the President's leadership and the willingness to tackle the big challenges that we face. And the President believes that the approach that we're taking now is the right way to proceed."

Bush and the Press

NYU journalism professor and blogger Jay Rosen wrote two weeks ago that the Bush Administration is "putting an end to business-as-usual between the executive and the press," noting that: "There's a difference between going around the press in an effort to avoid troublesome questions, and trying to unseat the idea that these people, professional journalists assigned to cover politics, have a legitimate role to play in our politics."

Howard Kurtz wrote in his Washington Post blog last Thursday: "Are the Bushies at 'war' with the Fourth Estate? Is there an insidious plot to weaken the media establishment, to carpet-bomb its credibility like the Saddam regime?

"I wouldn't go that far. . . .

"I would argue that nothing the White House has done has damaged the media's credibility more than what the profession has done to itself."

Rosen then replied, saying Kurtz was missing the point.

And today, Kurtz writes that he and Rosen actually agree more than they disagree.

When will Froomkin weigh in? Soon, I promise. In the meantime, we can chat about that and other topics in my Live Online discussion at 1 p.m. ET tomorrow. Send me your comments and questions.

Bubble Watch

Bush will spend Thursday and Friday on the road in Kentucky, Alabama, Tennessee and Louisiana holding more of his campaign-style "conversations" on Social Security.

Oliver Staley writes in the Memphis Commercial Appeal that the distribution of tickets remains unclear.

"As of Monday evening, the offices for Sens. Bill Frist and Lamar Alexander and Reps. Harold Ford Jr. and Marsha Blackburn hoped to have them by this afternoon, but may not have them until Wednesday. . . .

"Tickets also are expected to be released through 'local groups and organizations that have an interest in whatever subject the President is speaking on,' said White House spokesman Taylor Gross.

"But Gross did not know which groups in Memphis would be receiving tickets. . . .

"Gross said it won't just be partisans in Memphis.

"'The White House hopes that it's individuals who are Republicans, Democrats and Independents and that have a real interest in the issue of Social Security,' he said."

James R. Carroll writes in the Louisville Courier-Journal: "Hundreds of tickets have been made available for President Bush's 'conversation on Social Security' scheduled for Thursday in Louisville, but many already have been spoken for . . .

"Tickets, which are required to get in, are being distributed by the offices of U.S. Rep. Anne Northup, R-3rd District; Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; Gov. Ernie Fletcher; and the Kentucky Republican Party. . . .

"Asked why Louisville was picked, Gross said the president knows 'that Kentuckians understand the real need for Social Security reform.'"

Trust Fund Watch

David E. Rosenbaum writes in the New York Times that the Social Security trust fund is widely misunderstood. He quotes Douglas Holtz-Eakin, director of the Congressional Budget Office, as saying: "The Social Security trust fund has produced more bad public discussion than any other budget entity."

Unfortunately, Rosenbaum's story becomes exhibit A for Holtz-Eakin's thesis.

Try my February 11 column instead.

Today's Calendar

Terence Hunt writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush says his drive to spread democracy and freedom is the best way to combat terrorism and calls this a hopeful time in the Middle East."

Bush give a speech this morning at the National Defense University, a center for professional military education at Fort McNair in Washington.

Later, he meets with the Czech president, and the former presidents Bush and Clinton to talk about tsunami relief.

First Lady Watch

Jim VandeHei writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush and first lady Laura Bush joined up Monday at a community college here to promote their plan to help at-risk youths, especially those living in big cities, and announce a White House conference on the issue to be held this autumn."

Elisabeth Bumiller writes in the New York Times: "President Bush appeared as the supportive spouse on Monday to his wife's new program intended to help troubled youth, and then took a seat in the background.

"'This is a real role reversal,' the first lady, Laura Bush, told a crowd at the Community College of Allegheny County. 'I've listened to a million of his speeches. Now he's going to listen to one of mine.'"

Here is the text of their remarks in Pittsburgh.

St. Patrick's Day Gets Political

Reuters reports: "Relatives of a Northern Ireland Catholic man whose murder has prompted a storm of criticism against the IRA and its political ally Sinn Fein. . . . will be invited to the annual St. Patrick's Day reception at the White House on March 17. . . .

"This year, the leaders of Sinn Fein and the other Northern Ireland political parties have not been invited to the St. Patrick's Day event for the first time since 1995.

"Their omission has been widely interpreted as signaling U.S. displeasure with the current deadlock in the Northern Ireland peace process, which Britain and Ireland have blamed on the failure of the IRA to disarm and renounce crime."

Norway Royalty Watch

The Associated Press reports: "President Bush paused a long time as he stood with the king and queen of Norway before he answered a reporter's shouted question: Is Norway doing enough in Iraq? 'Yes,' Bush said.

"Norway, one of several NATO members that opposed the U.S.-led invasion, sent a 150-member group of engineers to Iraq in July 2003. They returned home in July 2004 amid growing domestic opposition to their mission - except for 10 officers who are still in Iraq."

Chicago Tribune reporter Mark Silva helpfully informed his colleagues in a pool report that according to the Norwegian press, the Norwegian term for photo opportunity is "Fotomulighet."

Dog Night

The Financial Times reports on the secret to the friendly dinner in Brussels between Bush and Jacques Chirac, the French president.

"Host Tom Korologos, US ambassador to Belgium, told an American audience recently that Chirac was greeted by a bounding shitzu named Oatsie. The dog, belonging to the ambassador, was quickly led away only to reappear later under Chirac's chair. Korologos joked that he feared he would be sent back to Iraq, where he was recently a senior counselor with the Coalition Provisional Authority, because of the pesky pooch.

"Fortunately, the squabbling presidents share a love of dogs."

© 2005