Haiti Dominates Camp David Weekend

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, March 1, 2004; 11:02 AM

After watching from the sidelines for weeks as Haiti's civil unrest turned increasingly violent, the White House over the weekend unmistakably pushed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide out of power.

But why? And why now?

Today's press coverage begins exploring the White House's reasoning, but raises more questions than it answers. Was the primary motivation to avoid an influx of Haitian boat people? Was it a pragmatic choice made to avert further violence? Or was it a statement of revulsion for a once democratically elected leader turned despot?

And could earlier action have saved lives?

The United States has traditionally not shied from flexing its muscle in its own backyard, and no one really expects it to. That dates back to the 1800s and the Monroe Doctrine.

But how does the move in Haiti fit into the Bush Doctrine? And what will the U.S. (and the U.N.) role be in Haitian nation building?

Here's what we know so far, with much more to come:

Peter Slevin and Mike Allen write in The Washington Post about the White House's fast-moving weekend.

"On Friday, aides said, Bush decided the United States would send troops to help police an accord." But that position changed quickly.

"By the time Bush's foreign policy principals -- including Powell, Rice, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney -- held a teleconference Saturday morning, they agreed to press harder for Aristide's departure. They worked out a statement largely blaming him for the crisis. It went out under the White House seal."

(Here's is the text of that statement. It reads, in part: "This long-simmering crisis is largely of Mr. Aristide's making. His failure to adhere to democratic principles has contributed to the deep polarization and violent unrest that we are witnessing in Haiti today. His own actions have called into question his fitness to continue to govern Haiti.")

Aristide got the message loud and clear Saturday night from U.S. Ambassador James Foley, who offered him safe conduct out of Haiti, and he agreed to leave.

Slevin and Allen write: "Bush is rarely awakened by his staff, even for an international crisis, but at 1:30 a.m., Rice called Bush from her nearby cabin at the Camp David presidential retreat to let him know Aristide was leaving. Bush called Rumsfeld and authorized a deployment of Marines."

Christopher Marquis of the New York Times traces the timing of the White House's decision on Haiti to concern over a possible exodus of refugees.

"The final stage of Mr. Aristide's rule opened when the White House reacted strongly to the report of an attack on Friday on a Haitian Coast Guard installation by a pro-Aristide mob. After a firefight at the Killick base, five miles from the main port, the Haitian Coast Guard workers were forced to take to boats and flee the site, the official said. That incident persuaded White House officials that Mr. Aristide and his armed loyalists sought to shut down the process by which refugees were being intercepted by the United States Coast Guard and returned home."

Mike Allen writes in The Washington Post: "One twist in the politics of the Haitian crisis is that it has produced a détente between the White House and the Congressional Black Caucus. After refusing for three years to grant an audience to the group, Bush met with the members -- all Democrats -- Wednesday after they were admitted to the White House to talk to national security adviser Condoleezza Rice about Haiti, and then insisted on seeing the president."

But Wayne Washington of the Boston Globe writes: "Many black political leaders blamed President Bush yesterday for failing to focus enough on the humanitarian problems boiling in Haiti, and said the administration's unwillingness to support the government of its now-exiled president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, set a dangerous precedent.

"Administration officials have rejected charges that the White House cares little about the suffering of poor, black nations.

"'It's ridiculous,' said National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack, who also denied claims that the administration was slow to react to unfolding events in Haiti."

Here are Bush's brief remarks Sunday on Haiti. "I have ordered the deployment of Marines, as the leading element of an interim international force, to help bring order and stability to Haiti," he said. "I have done so in working with the international community. This government believes it essential that Haiti have a hopeful future. This is the beginning of a new chapter in the country's history."

Judy Keen writes in USA Today: "President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's departure from Haiti on Sunday ended his responsibility for the impoverished nation's stability and transferred much of it to President Bush."

On Gay Marriage, Is Bush Done?

Elisabeth Bumiller writes in her White House Letter for the New York Times: "White House officials say that Mr. Bush will not speak out about the amendment banning gay marriage in his political trips around the country and will leave his five-minute Roosevelt Room announcement as his major show on the issue."

Bumiller says even some White House officials thought Bush appeared uncomfortable during his endorsement last week. Here's the video. You decide.

A source of discomfort, Bumiller writes, is that "Mr. Bush's friends say that . . . the president is quite comfortable with gays. Laura Bush, when asked in a recent interview by The New York Times if she and her husband had gay friends, easily replied: 'Sure, of course. Everyone does.'"

Bumiller describes "a particularly striking encounter" Bush had with a former Yale classmate who had a sex-change operation.

Meanwhile, Debra Rosenberg and Mark Miller write in Newsweek about how they spoke last week to every one of the "Austin 12" -- "an informal group of gay Republicans who advised the Bush 2000 campaign, serving as a sounding board on gay issues."

And all 12 are ticked off. Some say they won't even vote for Bush again.

Powell Gets Mad

Nicholas Kralev writes in the Washington Times of Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's response to the accusation that his department "not only opposes President Bush's foreign policy, but also tries to undermine it.

"His response came out in a single well-known barnyard expletive. Then, to emphasize the point, he added: 'That's quotable.'"

More from Powell: "I am on the president's agenda. I know what he wants. I see him many times a week-- in groups or alone. And the people who work for me respond to the direction that the president gives to me and I give to them."

No Endorsement for TV Show

Charlie Savage writes in the Boston Globe that in spite of a report quoting producers of a new TV show, "DHS: The Series," as saying the show had been endorsed by President Bush and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, "spokesmen for the White House and Department of Homeland Security said they had no knowledge of the show."

National Guard Watch

NPR's Don Gonyea on Friday followed up Bush-Cheney campaign chairman Marc Racicot's unchallenged assertion last week on NPR that Bush had volunteered to go to Vietnam.

There is no documentation to support that claim and in fact Bush has said he didn't.

See Tuesday's column for more on that.

Racicot said he based his statement on a column in the National Review online (I'm assuming it's this one, by Jed Babbin) and this Washington Post story by Josh White.

Walter V. Robinson of the Boston Globe calls attention to a biography of Bush on the State Department Web site that inflates his guard service, crediting him with almost six years as a fighter pilot -- or about three and a half years too many.

Here's the State Department bio in question.

Bush Not Going to 9 out of 10 Super Tuesday States This Week

Scott Lindlaw of the Associated Press writes that "President Bush plans a week of heavy fund raising starting Monday, collecting campaign cash in the nation's capital, California and Texas for his re-election and for fellow Republicans."

Lindlaw notes that his California visit comes one day after its Democratic primary. Bush visited New Hampshire and South Carolina a day after Democratic primaries.

Richard W. Stevenson writes in the New York Times that the Bush campaign is lowering expectations: "President Bush's campaign strategists say they now expect to trail or do no better than run even with Senator John Kerry through the summer, despite their aggressive new effort to counter months of Democratic attacks."

And Bush "will refine his stump speech so that it is less about his accomplishments so far than about the opportunities he has created for the future, and the stark choices facing the voters in November."

Liz Sidoti of the Associated Press writes: "The first advertising of Bush's re-election campaign begins Thursday, and the multimillion-dollar buy, the cable stations chosen for the spots and the type of ad provide a window on his spring strategy: appeal to the conservative base."

Matthew Cooper and John F. Dickerson write in Time about Bush's comments before a White House sleepover Monday night with five Republican governors. "Bush was jovial, confident. He told the group -- George Pataki of New York, Dirk Kempthorne of Idaho, Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, Jim Douglas of Vermont and his Floridian brother Jeb -- that the presidential race would be close but that he would win."

They also write: "If this were the Clinton White House, the plunging polls would have spurred hastily assembled late-night meetings, presidential phone calls to allies at all hours, a round of firings. Not so in Bushland. . . .

"Like Bush, staff members sweat only when they work out, which some seem to do to nearly the same manic degree as the President. The Clinton War Room has given way to the Bush Office Park."

More Documents from Ron Suskind

Ron Suskind, the author who got 19,000 documents from former Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill, writes in Slate about the latest bunch he has posted on his Web site.

"These documents show us what the president thought about Social Security reform at the only moment over the past three years -- the fall of 2001 -- when he was fully engaged with this issue."

Bush seemed to like a plan "based on creative accounting principles," Suskind writes. Here are the documents in question.

Bush Ejects Bioethics Advisers

Rick Weiss writes in The Washington Post that the White House on Friday "dismissed two members of his handpicked Council on Bioethics -- a scientist and a moral philosopher who had been among the more outspoken advocates for research on human embryo cells.

"In their places he appointed three new members, including a doctor who has called for more religion in public life, a political scientist who has spoken out precisely against the research that the dismissed members supported, and another who has written about the immorality of abortion and the 'threats of biotechnology.'"

More Headlines:

• White House Water OK -- Washington Post

• CBO Disputes White House Deficit Promise -- Washington Post | New York Times | Los Angeles Times

• Schroeder and Bush Friends Again -- Washington Post Outlook Section | Washington Post| New York Times| Los Angeles Times

• Senate Intelligence Committee Not About to Subpoena White House -- New York Times

• Hastert Relents, Endorses Extending 9/11 Panel Deadline -- Washington Post | New York Times

• White House Seeks Steroid Summit -- Associated Press

Oscar Night Funnies

Steve Gorman and Ben Berkowitz report for Reuters that host Billy Crystal joked last night about first hosting the Oscars 13 years ago.

"'Things were so different then. You know how different it was? Bush was president, the economy was tanking and we'd just finished a war with Iraq,' he dead-panned. . . .

"Referring to his own on-and-off history as Oscar emcee, Crystal took a swipe at Bush's military service record, saying, 'They let me come and go as I please. It's kind of like the Texas National Guard.'"

© 2004 washingtonpost.com