Bush's Charm Offensive

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, December 2, 2004; 10:53 AM

President Bush in Canada yesterday rolled out what appears to be his second-term foreign policy game plan: Diplomacy without accommodation.

But is there such a thing?

Well, you might not have thought there was such a thing as being self-deprecatingly unapologetic either, but Bush pulled that off yesterday. So you never know.

Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post: "Addressing Canadian officials at the end of a two-day trip to the country, Bush vowed that his first order of business would be to build 'multilateral institutions,' signaling that, after a contentious first term, he was eager for more fruitful diplomacy.

" 'A new term in office is an important opportunity to reach out to our friends,' the president said, making his most extensive remarks on foreign affairs since his reelection last month. Pledging to 'foster a wide international consensus' for 'three great goals,' he said the first would be 'building effective multinational and multilateral institutions and supporting effective multilateral action.' The other priorities, he said, are fighting terrorism and promoting democracy.

"Yet, in a speech at this city's storied seaport, Bush made clear that such cooperation must occur on his terms, and he did not retreat from the first-term policies that angered some allies. . . .

"Aides said Bush's message on his two-hour stop in Halifax was a preview of the sentiment he would voice on a trip to Europe this winter: extolling the importance of international cooperation while holding his ground on policy. A White House official said after the speech that the looming foreign challenges of Bush's second term -- Iran, North Korea and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- are likelier to be solved through diplomacy than with the sort of force used in Afghanistan and Iraq. 'Diplomacy,' the official said, 'is essential to consolidate the gains of the first term.' "

Elisabeth Bumiller writes in the New York Times: "In a speech at Pier 21, the entry point in this blustery Nova Scotia port for nearly one million immigrants to Canada in the 20th century, Mr. Bush made clear that diplomacy would be a theme of his second four years. But he described a diplomacy that appeared to be based largely on his terms, with a heavy emphasis on 'the nightmare world of danger' that will befall future generations if the United States eases up in its struggle against terrorism."

John Roberts reports for CBS News: "His speech was part of a charm offensive, aimed to win back jilted allies with a more collaborative approach to foreign policy. . . . But it's clear any reconciliation will be on the president's terms. For example, Mr. Bush offered today to work more closely with the United Nations -- if his allies put more backbone into the UN."

Tim Harper writes in the Toronto Sun: "The man who has forged a reputation as the world's great unilateralist said he hoped, during a second term, to defend U.S. security and spread freedom by building 'effective multinational and multilateral institutions.'

"But he made it clear that his commitment to multilateralism and his reaching out to allies has its limits.

"And his words indicate it will be done on his terms, with U.S. interests and security guiding every move....

"In other words, a familiar strategy cloaked in softer language with no apologies, where post-decision explanations trump pre-decision consultations."

Alexander Panetta writes for the Canadian Press: "The warm standing ovation that greeted Bush on his way into what had been billed as a feel-good event turned to stony silence once the president began talking about actual policy.

"Bush exhorted Canada to fan out with him in the fight against terror, exporting it abroad and punishing terrorist-friendly states, blocking regimes seeking weapons of mass destruction while also joining his missile shield.

"He paused for emphasis while delivering a handful of lines scheduled to draw applause, but quickly moved on when most landed with a thud."

In his speech, Bush cited former Canadian prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, who called for aggressive action during the Second World War.

"We must also go out and meet the enemy before he reaches our shores. We must defeat him before he attacks us, before our cities are laid to waste," Bush quoted the prime minister.

"Mackenzie King was correct then, and we must always remember the wisdom of his words today," Bush said.

But, Panetta writes, Martin twice pointed out during his post-speech news conference "that the enemy King feared -- European fascists -- were nothing like the terrorists of today.

" 'Terrorism is a global threat that's very, very different from the situation we were facing in the Second World War -- which is what Mackenzie King was referring to,' Martin said."

Here is the text of Bush's speech in Halifax.

Missile Defense Defense

The Canadian press made much ado about Bush's unexpected proselytizing for missile defense.

Oliver Moore writes in the Globe and Mail: "Canadian government officials were left scrambling Wednesday by U.S. President George W. Bush's direct appeal for co-operation on continental missile defence. . . .

" 'Whatever we decide it will be in Canada's interests,' Mr. Martin told a Halifax press conference while Mr. Bush was on his way to the airport. 'We are a sovereign nation and we will make our own decisions on our airspace.' "

Bruce Cheadle writes for the Canadian Press Service: "Bush effusively praised Canadians for past hospitality Wednesday before tossing a political missile into the prime minister's lap."

Susan Delacourt writes in the Toronto Star: "As a result, Martin is squeezed even tighter between his conflicting bids to keep peace with the Americans while also trying to keep the peace with a fractious public and minority Parliament. The much-touted 'new partnership' with the United States could cost the Prime Minister some precious political capital at home."

White House Flair

Gloria Galloway writes in the Toronto Globe and Mail: "The White House used a speechwriter well versed in Canadian history and a former television producer with a flair for design to give George Bush's speech at historic Pier 21 yesterday a uniquely Canadian flavour, right down to quotes from William Lyon Mackenzie King. . . .

"Sean McCormack, press spokesman for the National Security Council, said the speech was written by a White House speechwriter who had done significant research into Canadian history.

"It was delivered before a collage of contemporary photographs of Canadian peacekeepers and images of wartime leaders King, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill."

But the Toronto Star noted that the White House, in its transcript of the Bush speech, misspelled the name of the man who led Canada for 22 years.

Comedian in Chief

John Ward of the Canadian Press Service reports: "Tongue firmly in cheek, President George W. Bush paid tribute yesterday to his mythical Canadian supporter, Jean Poutine. While he may have the reputation of a mangler of the English language, Bush used his Canadian visit to show that he -- or his speech writers -- can deliver a wit-laden line.

"The quips during his Canadian visit covered the landscape from the mad cow crisis, to hockey, to protesters and even a Rick Mercer CBC spoof."

AFP explains the Poutine joke.

"It was a self-deprecating reference to a gag from the 2000 White House race, when a prominent Canadian satirist tricked Bush into thanking the imaginary Poutine -- named for the traditional Canadian dish of french fries covered with cheese and gravy -- for his support."

In fact, as the CBC reported at the time, Bush was successfully led to believe that Poutine was Canada's prime minister. This came only a short while after Bush had failed a pop quiz on world leaders with a reporter.

Live Online

I'll be Live Online today at 11 a.m. ET, where among other things I'll be discussing Bush's short press availability this morning. Send me your questions and comments.

Valerie Plame Watch

Eric Lichtblau writes in the New York Times: "Alberto R. Gonzales agreed on Wednesday to remove himself from oversight of the politically charged investigation into the disclosure of a C.I.A. officer's identity if he is confirmed as attorney general.

"The assurance came at a private 45-minute meeting between Mr. Gonzales, the current White House counsel who is President Bush's choice to succeed John Ashcroft, and Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York. Mr. Schumer has led the push in Congress for an aggressive investigation into the disclosure of the identity of the C.I.A. officer, Valerie Plame. . . .

"Mr. Schumer and other Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee have pushed for his withdrawal. They asserted that Mr. Gonzales's role in handling the White House's response to the investigation last year, as well as his appearance before a grand jury hearing the matter, could cloud his impartiality."

Tom Brune adds, in Newsday: "Citing Gonzales' response, and an apparent 'inclination to cooperate and consult' with the Senate and Democrats more than Ashcroft has, Schumer said, 'I lean toward supporting him.' "

Tax Details, Please

Shailagh Murray and Jackie Calmes write in the Wall Street Journal: "If President Bush wants to overhaul the tax code before leaving office, he may have to move faster and do more to force consensus among the Republicans in Congress who can make it happen.

"Mr. Bush isn't expected to unveil his tax plan before next fall at the earliest. But Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley of Iowa says he needs to do so no later than March 1, since he believes Congress must pass it next year if it is to happen at all."

Social Security Watch

Donald Lambro writes in the Washington Times: "The White House is considering larger Social Security personal investment accounts than the 2 percent plans often linked to President Bush's proposals to overhaul the New Deal era retirement system, according to advisers who have attended administration briefings.

"In the weeks since Mr. Bush's re-election, White House officials have been holding a steady stream of meetings with Social Security reform advocates from the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and leading business and industry associations as they develop a plan to let younger workers invest part of their payroll taxes in stocks and bonds that they would own and control.

"Participants in these closed-door policy-making briefings say that Vice President Dick Cheney's office has become a player in the meetings and that senior officials are considering plans that would allow investments of up to 4 percent of payroll taxes, one of the three options proposed by the president's Social Security reform commission in 2001."

Deficit Watch

Rick Klein writes in the Boston Globe: "With new bills for Iraq and Afghanistan, and President Bush pushing tax cuts and an expensive remaking of Social Security, the administration seems to have little chance of significantly shrinking the budget deficit, despite Bush's promises to halve it within five years, according to independent analysts and legislators.

Economic Conference

The Wall Street Journal reports: "President Bush will hold a two-day economic conference here Dec. 15-16 with his advisers and a few hundred business leaders, as he contemplates an ambitious second-term agenda of overhauling taxes and Social Security while cutting a ballooning deficit in half."

Civil Rights Watch

Alan Elsner writes for Reuters: "Leaders of a divided federal civil-rights watchdog agency accused President Bush of deepening racial divisions, in a parting shot after years of sparring with his administration. . . .

"But the report is not an official document, because four of the eight commissioners, all of them Republican appointees, voted against adopting it and rejected the charges as politically biased. . . .

"A commission official said the newest report was effectively a last gasp, since Bush would be able to put his own appointee in charge."

Two of the four commissioners who voted for the report are about to be replaced by Bush.


'There will be two vacancies come Jan. 5 and the President will move quickly to appoint two individuals who share his strong commitment to uphold civil rights for all Americans,' said spokeswoman Erin Healy."

Replacement Watch

Ken Fireman writes in Newsday: "Former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik is the likely choice to head the federal Homeland Security Department during President George W. Bush's second term, according to sources close to Homeland Security officials."

Intel Watch

Celeste Katz and Kenneth R. Bazinet write in the New York Daily News: "The White House is convinced that a pair of stubborn GOP House chairmen blocking an intelligence reform bill will not listen to the President, so the administration is trying for an end run around them.

"President Bush has no plans to appeal directly to Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) and Judiciary panel Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), said White House and congressional sources. . . .

"So Bush, senior strategist Karl Rove and White House congressional liaison David Hobbs are enlisting the help of congressional leaders and other members of the two committees."

Posing in Great Company

Here's an AP photo of Bush with six of the 2004 Nobel prize winners in the Oval Office yesterday.

And here's a Reuters photo of Bush, before his speech in Halifax, sitting next to a White-House designed backdrop featuring President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

Oh, Christmas Tree

Paul Schwartzman writes in The Washington Post that Bush will illuminate the National Christmas Tree at a 5 p.m. ceremony today, "carrying on a tradition that dates to 1923 and unofficially launches a month-long blur of holiday festivities across the Washington region."

Cheney Cuts Loose

Here's the text of Vice President Cheney's remarks at a rally in Louisiana for Republican Billy Tauzin III, who is running for the congressional seat being vacated by his father. In two Louisiana congressional districts, the Nov. 2 election just set the stage for a runoff.

"Well, thank you very much. I haven't had this much fun since we beat John Kerry," Cheney said. "Well, it's -- we went through that campaign, and it was hard fought, then we won on November 2nd, and then you sort of decompress. And now, boy, I'm right back in the middle of it again. You folks in Louisiana know how to operate; you just campaign all year 'round."

Cheney also put in a pitch for Republican Charles Boustany.

Caught Fat Footed

Richard Leiby reports in The Washington Post's gossip column on Cheney's recent shoe size change, to a size 10EEE.

Late Night Humor

Via Paula Zahn on CNN:

"DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, 'LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN': Down in Washington, Christmas down there is pretty exciting because it's our nation's capital and they have the White House. They have it all decorated and stuff. And they have -- finally they have the big White House Christmas tree. And it's beautiful, quite a sight. Big huge 20-foot free. They have 200 glass bulbs on the tree, 75 tinsel garlands, 50 letters of resignation. Wonderful, wonderful tree. Very nice.

"JAY LENO, HOST, 'THE TONIGHT SHOW': Well, let's see what's going on at the White House, or as President Bush calls it, home alone."

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