With Friends Like These

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, December 6, 2004; 10:58 AM

President Bush gave up part of his Saturday to meet with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and offer a public show of confidence.

In an Oval Office photo op with Musharraf at his side, Bush had this to say about his companion's exploits against Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda: "I am very pleased with his efforts. . . . His army has been incredibly active and very brave in southern Waziristan, flushing out an enemy that had thought they had found safe haven."

So what does Musharraf do next?

Well, he goes right out and tells Robin Wright and Peter Baker of The Washington Post that the search for bin Laden has gone completely cold and that the United States shares major responsibility because the U.S.-led coalition does not have enough troops in Afghanistan.

Then he goes and tells CNN's Wolf Blitzer that the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was a mistake that has made the world a more dangerous place -- although a swift withdrawal would make matters worse.

The Putin Problem

Then there's Bush's old friend, Russian President Vladimir Putin, of whom Bush famously said he had looked into his eyes and seen the soul of a man he could trust.

James Harding and Arkady Ostrovsky, writing in the Financial Times, see echoes of the Cold War in the deteriorating relationship between the two men.

"The Bush White House, once so proud of the uncommon bond forged between a US president and his Russian counterpart, is having misgivings about Vladimir Putin's Kremlin," they write.

"[B]ehind closed doors, senior White House officials, State Department diplomats and senior figures on Capitol Hill have grown steadily disenchanted with Mr Putin's leadership across a range of issues and aggravated by the Ukraine crisis.

"Speaking on condition of anonymity, US administration officials say the concerns are not just about well publicised 'political transgressions' - Moscow's approach to Chechnya, human rights, treatment of the press and concentration of powers into the Kremlin's hands - but also the creeping economic and diplomatic efforts to maintain influence across Russia's former empire."

Scoff Goes Public in Canada

And after spending two days in Canada last week trying to burnish relations with his new friend, Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, Bush probably didn't expect Martin to tell reporters about a comment made behind closed doors that might subject him to ridicule.

But Robert Russo of the Canadian Press reports that Martin, describing his private talk with Bush during an impromptu encounter with a handful of reporters, quoted Bush as posing "a pointed question for his host on missile defense: Why would anyone be opposed to this?"

Russo concludes: "Bush's private scoffing at opposition to his missile defence plans would suggest a surprising lack of awareness of Canadian political reality or a president who is determined to prod his host into defending his reticence to take a clear position on one of his legacy projects."

It might also suggest a surprising lack of awareness of American political reality. There are plenty of folks who have serious qualms about the plan right in Bush's backyard. See, for instance, this Orlando Sentinel series from October.

Speaking of Canada, Rick Klein writes in the Boston Globe: "The Canada trip, carefully planned to inaugurate a new era in international relations as Bush begins his second term, was a dress rehearsal for Bush's larger and more important European tour in February.

"But while aides designed events to show Bush at his most magnanimous, observers on both sides of the border came away from the trip convinced that, whatever the need to repair relations with allies, Bush's trip was not about humility, contrition, or moderation."

Intel Watch

Walter Pincus and Mike Allen wrote in Sunday's Washington Post: "President Bush urged Congress again yesterday to pass the intelligence restructuring bill, but key House opponents appeared to remain firm as some dissenters began to emerge in the Senate.

"With Congress returning tomorrow for a short session to pass the omnibus fiscal 2005 spending bill, the White House said it will delay sending a letter from the president to House and Senate leaders while administration and congressional staffs work out a strategy to get the stalled measure passed."

Philip Shenon writes in today's New York Times: "Prominent lawmakers from both parties agree that the bill's passage is likely to depend on how much President Bush pressures Republicans to force a final House vote on the bill today or tomorrow, before lawmakers leave Washington for the year."

Cabinet Remaking Continues

Richard W. Stevenson writes in the New York Times: "President Bush has decided to replace John W. Snow as treasury secretary and has been looking closely at a number of possible replacements, including the White House chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., Republicans with ties to the White House say.

"With the White House having said on Friday that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld would stay on for Mr. Bush's second term, Mr. Snow is the only secretary at a major cabinet department whose fate has not been publicly addressed. . . .

"Mr. Bush announced immediately after Election Day that Mr. Card would stay on as chief of staff, but Mr. Card is said by some Republicans to be very interested in the treasury job. Mr. Bush has already nominated several loyalists in White House staff positions to top cabinet posts, including Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, as secretary of state, and Alberto R. Gonzales, who would shift to attorney general from White House counsel."

Stevenson notes: "Under Mr. Bush, economic policy has been made largely within the White House, and cabinet secretaries, including Mr. Snow, have been primarily salesmen. But the president's plans for revising Social Security and the tax code give the next treasury secretary a chance to put an imprint on two of the most important economic issues facing the nation."

Mike Allen reported in The Washington Post on Saturday: "A senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told reporters late yesterday afternoon that Bush met with Rumsfeld on Monday and 'asked him to remain in his position.' . . .

" 'The president believes very strongly that Secretary Rumsfeld is the right man during these challenging times,' the official said. 'We remain a nation at war and it is critical that we win this war, and Secretary Rumsfeld has shown himself to be a proven and capable leader.' "

Linda Feldmann writes in Christian Science Monitor: "It is now possible to count on one hand the Bush cabinet members who may yet stick around for the second term. Assuming that both Treasury Secretary John Snow and Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta (the cabinet's only Democrat) both leave as expected, that will bring the exodus to 10 out of 15."

Frank James writes in the Chicago Tribune: "If there is a pattern in President Bush's choices for key posts in his second term, it's that the people he has selected often have extraordinary personal stories of having succeeded after overcoming great obstacles. . . .

"The president hails from an elite family and attended Yale and Harvard Universities. But he was raised in West Texas and appears drawn to people whose life stories show they achieved beyond most expectations, say experts who have studied Bush's presidency and life.

"And the president sees something of himself in their stories, students of Bush say, for the president believes that, like himself, they have done better than others thought they would."

James adds: "The downside of this sense that one was self-made, experts said, is that it can lead to being impervious to others' opinions and a disdain for those who haven't figured out how to better their circumstances."

Return of the WMD Commission

The WMD Commission is back on the radar after a very long time.

Douglas Jehl writes in the New York Times: "The commission that President Bush appointed last February to assess the state of American intelligence on weapons proliferation has been deliberating entirely in secret and may not depart from that practice before it issues a final report next March, officials of the panel say. . . .

"The practice of the intelligence commission has provided little public indication of the depth of any problems it has found."

But, Jehl writes: "The nine members of the commission briefed Mr. Bush and his top national security aides on their progress during a private meeting last month, and administration officials say the White House approves of its low-profile approach. . . .

"Still, one member of the commission, Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, has suggested that what the panel has discovered about the Central Intelligence Agency is troubling."

Maybe it's about time for me to dust off my authoritative and exclusive All About the WMD Commission page.

Space in the Budget

Guy Gugliotta writes in The Washington Post: "Without a separate vote or even a debate, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) has managed to deliver to a delighted NASA enough money to forge ahead on a plan that would reshape U.S. space policy for decades to come.

"President Bush's 'Vision for Space Exploration,' which would send humans to the moon and eventually to Mars, got a skeptical reception in January and was left for dead in midsummer, but it made a stunning last-minute comeback when DeLay delivered NASA's full $16.2 billion budget request as part of the omnibus $388 billion spending bill passed Nov. 20."

Global Warming

Juliet Eilperin writes in The Washington Post about how a slew of new scientific findings on global warming have not persuaded the White House to alter its current climate policy.

"Rather than endorsing mandatory limits on carbon dioxide emissions linked to warming, the course embraced by most of America's allies, the White House is focusing on technological fixes: developing energy sources that burn cleaner or finding ways to extract excess carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere."

Star Power

Jennifer Frey writes in The Washington Post about the star-studded "Kennedy Center Honors" last night.

The list of recipients included Elton John and Warren Beatty.

"It was a night for numerous, and thunderous, standing ovations. There was a little bit of opera, a little bit of theater, a little bit of dance, and a healthy dash of the Rocket Man's good old rock-and-roll. The show -- which will be televised Dec. 21 on CBS -- is a pastiche, each segment a nod to the honoree's talents and history."

Jack Nicholson spoke about Beatty. "On Beatty's political ambitions: 'For years Warren has dreamed of attending these awards. Unfortunately, not exactly as a Kennedy Center honoree, but as the president of the United States.' (This prompted Bush and Beatty to look at each other amusedly across their aisle in the balcony.)"

Civil Rights Commission Clash

Johanna Neuman writes in the Los Angeles Times: "President Bush plans to name a new chairman and vice chairman of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission as early as Monday, a move that could end the tumultuous reign of its current chairwoman, Mary Frances Berry. . . .

"The White House, citing court precedents, says the terms of Berry and Vice Chairman Cruz Reynoso expire at midnight Sunday. But Berry says commission documents show that her appointment expires Jan. 21."

Steve Miller writes in the Washington Times: "Several sources close to the commission told The Washington Times yesterday that the new panel members will be Ashley Taylor, a former Virginia deputy attorney general, and Gerald Reynolds, the former assistant secretary in the Department of Education's civil rights office."

They are both Republicans.

Today's Calendar

Even as new violence hit the Middle East, Bush was meeting this morning with Ghazi Yawar, the interim Iraqi president and an influential leader in Sunni Muslim regions of Iraq, and Jordan's King Abdullah II. Bush also meets in the afternoon with Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade, then participates in a children's Christmas reception.

Honeymoon Over?

Tom Raum writes for the Associated Press: "If President Bush gets a second-term honeymoon, it may not last long. Or it may already be over. A failure in the coming days to win congressional passage of the intelligence reorganization bill he supports -- fretting House Republicans are standing in the way -- would not bode well for political bliss when the new Congress convenes next month."

Tax Watch

Warren Vieth writes in the Los Angeles Times: "As President Bush lays the groundwork for a possible overhaul of the U.S. tax code, one option under consideration would deal its biggest financial blow to citizens of blue states such as California and New York."

Press Corps Watch

Paul Bedard writes in his Washington Whispers column in U.S. News about The Washington Post's new White House correspondents. Mike Allen and Dana Milbank are out. "Allen is headed to the Hill, and Milbank will write a column. But the White House would be premature to cheer the departure of the aggressive duo. Three equally aggressive guys are taking their place: Peter Baker, former Moscow and White House correspondent; Jim VandeHei, who covered the Kerry campaign; and national reporter Mike Fletcher."

And speaking of the press corps, potty-mouthed and (normally) iconoclastic political blogger Wonkette offers up what might be an anonymous White House correspondent's spluttering riposte to my Salon.com/NiemanWatchdog.org essay on Friday suggesting that the White House press corps maybe could do a better job of asking questions at presidential press conferences.

Accidental Tourist

Elisabeth Bumiller of the New York Times writes in a White House Letter about how Bush's "25-hour drop-by in Canada last week . . . was a reminder that Mr. Bush travels as aerobically as he and his father play golf, and that a man whose critics called him an accidental president in his first term is showing clear signs that he will remain an accidental tourist in his second.

"Mr. Bush never lingers at much of anything, but he really doesn't linger in museums and at historical sites. . . .

"The president has even less patience with elaborate welcoming ceremonies and official dinners on foreign trips. 'He'll usually get on the plane and jokingly say, "Thank you, Condi, I enjoyed that," ' said a Bush aide, who asked not to be identified because the president's remarks reflected impatience with his job."

Advice From the Next Generation

The Los Angeles Times asked schoolchildren: "What children's book would you give the president as a gift?" Among the responses:

" 'So You Want to Be an Inventor?' by Judith St. George because he might want to invent something new for the United States, like a machine that gives you money whenever you press a button." (David, 7, Turtle Rock Elementary, Irvine, Ca.)

"The Newbery Award book 'The Tale of Despereaux' by Kate DiCamillo. It is a story about a little mouse that learns how to be brave and courageous. There are enemies who want to hurt him, but he uses his brains to succeed without hurting anyone." (Andrew, 8, Reilly Elementary, Mission Viejo, Ca.)

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