White House on the Defensive

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, March 2, 2004; 9:40 AM

Ousted Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide's accusation that he was kidnapped by the U.S. military became topic one at the White House yesterday -- and was denied, denied, denied. But that's only one of the issues the Bush administration must deal with now that the United States has a major role in Haiti.

Paul Richter and Maggie Farley report in the Los Angeles Times: "In an interview with CNN, Aristide said he saw the U.S. military 'surround the airport, the palace, my house. . . . They used pressure to push me out. That's why I call it again and again a coup d'etat, a modern way to have a modern kidnapping.'

"Bush administration officials fervently denied the allegation, but the accusations from Aristide and his allies in the U.S. Congress and elsewhere threw the White House on the defensive and loomed as a potential complication in the effort to steer the impoverished country into a new era after nearly a month of unrest."

Wayne Washington in the Boston Globe writes: "The very words 'nation building' were akin to an expletive when George W. Bush ran for the White House four years ago. But now, as he seeks a second term, United States intervention in Haiti is but the latest example of how nation-building has become a defining feature of his administration's foreign policy. . . .

"[C]ritics say that by failing to support a democratically elected president, the administration has set a bad precedent for democracy in Haiti and is well on its way to an extended period of nation-building in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. With members of Congress reporting that Haiti's exiled president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, is now claiming that the Bush administration abducted him and forced him to leave his country, these critics say the United States bears an even heavier burden to make sure things improve."

John Roberts, on the CBS Evening News, said that Aristide's ouster "has left the White House open to charges that it failed democracy and has left yet another country with no clear political direction. Critics say while Aristide may have been a thug, he was an elected one, and the White House has sent a message that its support for democracy is not necessarily rock solid -- which in some parts of the world could be seen as a license to kill."

Sonya Ross of the Associated Press reports that Jesse L. Jackson and some members of the Congressional Black Caucus are demanding "an investigation into the way the Bush administration treated Aristide in the hours before he left his country and turned up in the Central African Republic."

Peter Slevin writes in The Washington Post: "Twenty-four hours after ushering Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide into exile, the Bush administration hurried yesterday to assemble an international peacekeeping force and a credible caretaker government, dismissing Aristide's sharp claim that he had been kidnapped by U.S. troops."

Tim Weiner and Lydia Polgreen report in the New York Times: "President Bush convened a meeting of the National Security Council on Monday to discuss a multinational peacekeeping force to take over within a few months from United States marines who landed here on Sunday."

And Weiner and Polgreen describe one image most definitely not destined for the Bush-Cheney campaign commercials: rebel leader Louis-Jodel Chamblain, a former death-squad member and convicted assassin, shouting "We're grateful to the United States!" from his truck as it headed toward the presidential palace.

Jim Michaels, Bill Nichols and Judy Keen write in USA Today that Haiti does not have a history of quick fixes.

"The low expectations were evident even as Bush administration officials pledged U.S. help. 'It's been a sad story for almost 200 years now,' Secretary of State Colin Powell said on CNN of the former slave colony, which has seen more than 30 armed coups since it won independence in 1804. 'We'll try again this time.'"

Running the Campaign from the Second Floor

Scott Lindlaw of the Associated Press offers up a primer on how President Bush is simultaneously overseeing White House and campaign operations.

"Ground zero at the White House is a second-floor office in the West Wing. Here, Karl Rove, Bush's chief strategist, keeps a sharp watch on politics, taking the nation's pulse in telephone calls with operatives across the country. . . .

"Across the Potomac River, in a tall brown office building, a parallel staff works on Bush's campaign. . . . Many of these people are former White House aides who quit their jobs to sign up with the campaign.

"A few White House aides bridge the two worlds, trying to maintain a delicate balance between official duties and campaign work.

"Rove, White House communications director Dan Bartlett and chief of staff Andy Card visit the campaign headquarters about once a week. While on White House grounds, they use BlackBerries, laptops and e-mail addresses issued by the campaign for campaign-related activities."

Preparing to Win -- and Lose Staff

Alan Fram of the Associated Press reports how the White House would appear to be preparing both for reelection -- and for a spate of staff departures.

"President Bush is making an unprecedented request to use up to $1 million budgeted for a possible presidential transition to train top officials who would join his administration if he should win a second term."

It's apparently "the first time a president has sought to use public transition funds to prepare officials to enter a re-elected administration," Fram writes. "Democrats and experts on presidential transitions say the funds should not be used when a sitting president is re-elected."

Where's the Economy, Stupid?

Edwin Chen and Maria L. La Ganga writes in the Los Angeles Times: "The economy is in such an unfamiliar place -- with businesses bustling and yet reluctant to hire new workers -- that economists are struggling for an explanation. And the mixed signals have allowed the president and his rivals to paint vastly different -- yet plausible -- pictures of the U.S. workforce and its prospects."

Scalia Watch

Charles Lane writes in The Washington Post: "The Supreme Court issued its first collective statement related to the controversy surrounding Justice Antonin Scalia's off-the-court contacts with Vice President Cheney, announcing in a brief order yesterday that the justices will let Scalia decide by himself whether he should sit on a case in which the vice president is a named plaintiff."

The full text of the order reads: "In accordance with its historic practice the court refers the motion to recuse in this case to Justice Scalia."

Robert S. Greenberger writes in the Wall Street Journal: "Four years ago, presidential candidate George W. Bush frequently cited Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas as his favorite members of the Supreme Court. In this election year, though, Justice Scalia may be causing him some political embarrassment."

Commission Watch

Hope Yen of the Associated Press reports: "The federal panel reviewing the Sept. 11 attacks has scheduled interviews with former President Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore this month but is struggling to get similar cooperation from President Bush and administration officials. . . .

"While Clinton and Gore have consented to public questioning without a time constraint, Bush and Cheney have agreed only to private, separate, one-hour meetings with the commission's chairman and vice chairman, instead of the full panel."

The panel is also "considering a subpoena to force the public testimony of national security adviser Condoleezza Rice."

Drug Crackdown

As Marc Kaufman reports in The Washington Post: "The Bush administration unveiled an expanded crackdown yesterday on what it called the growing menace of prescription drug abuse, which it said now touches and harms more than 6 million Americans yearly."

When Recession is Intentional

Speaking of drugs, John P. Walters, the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, was on "Ask the White House" yesterday and offered this insight into the drug war under our first MBA president:

"In the last few years we have really made an effort to analyze drug production and trafficking through a business model. Anyone who runs a company, whether it is a huge corporation or a corner store, knows that there are market forces that can hurt the bottom line. We are trying to identify those forces that will put drug cartels and trafficking organizations into a recession."

Private Party Rakes in Bucks

Sharon Theimer of the Associated Press reports: "President Bush met privately Monday with the Senate Republican fund-raising committee's biggest donors at Majority Leader Bill Frist's home. Bush spent about an hour and a half at the event at the Washington home of Frist, the Senate's leader and a physician from Tennessee. The event raised an estimated $2.7 million."

Today's Calendar

Bush today will make remarks on the one-year Anniversary of the Department of Homeland Security at the Ronald Reagan Building.

And according to the Bush/Cheney Blog, campaign manager Ken Mehlman will be a live guest on CNN's Inside Politics at 3:30 p.m. EST, on CNBC's Capitol Report at 7 p.m. EST and on FOX News' Hannity and Colmes at 9 p.m. EST.

© 2004 washingtonpost.com