War Week

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, March 15, 2004; 10:35 AM

Today, in White House Briefing, a special preview of the week ahead, the months ahead, and the day ahead. Plus much, much more.

As Mike Allen writes in Sunday's Washington Post: "The White House will mark this Friday's first anniversary of the invasion of Iraq with a week-long media blitz arguing that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was essential to combating global terrorism and making the United States safer.

"The message is crucial to President Bush's reelection campaign, which has tried to shift the focus of the race from troublesome issues such as the economy to his biggest strength in polls -- his handling of the aftermath of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001."

Some things to look forward to:

"On Tuesday, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, Rumsfeld and other administration officials will give interviews to radio stations around the country from the Pentagon. . . .

"Bush will speak Thursday at Fort Campbell, Ky. He and first lady Laura Bush will eat lunch with troops.

"And on Friday, the president and the first lady will pay their third visit in six months to wounded soldiers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Bush also will give a major speech in the East Room to ambassadors from countries that were members of the U.S.-led coalitions that attacked Afghanistan and Iraq."

Further into the future, "Other administration officials said they will use appearances in coming weeks to begin setting what the White House calls 'realistic expectations' for the condition of Iraq's infrastructure -- including its electricity supply, gas lines and food distribution network -- in advance of the scheduled end of the U.S.-led occupation on June 30."

Already, Ken Guggenheim of the Associated Press reports on the first salvo of war week: The administration "blanketed the Sunday network news shows with its top military and diplomatic officials, who stressed the danger posed by Saddam and highlighted progress in rebuilding Iraq."

The Months Ahead

Expect a lot of presidential trips in the next eight months to these 18 states:

Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Why? Because, as Dan Balz and Jim VandeHei write in The Washington Post, those are the battleground states. All the rest are either solidly red or blue -- not even in play in 2004.

And Off He Goes Today!

And indeed, Bush is off to Pennsylvania today.

Deb Riechmann of the Associated Press previews the trip: "President Bush, hoping to move Pennsylvania to his win column in this year's election, is reaching out to voters in the state by touting record home ownership in America -- a bright spot in the economy."

Meticulous record-keeper Mark Knoller, White House correspondent for CBS Radio, tells me this is Bush's 26th visit to Pennsylvania as president.

"Aside from DC neighbors Maryland and Virginia, the only state Bush has visited more frequently since taking office is his home state of Texas -- where he's been 34 times," Knoller writes in an e-mail.

"Other states visited most frequently by Bush are Florida (19), Missouri (15), Ohio (15) and New York (14)."

Also This Week

Paul Richter of the Los Angeles Times reports that "Mohamed ElBaradei, the chief U.N. nuclear inspector and a critic of U.S. claims about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, will meet with President Bush this week to discuss ways to tighten controls on nuclear technology and expertise."

The White House invited ElBaradei "despite their differences over Iraq," Richter notes.

Has the White House Lost Its Touch?

Jonathan Weisman and Mike Allen write in The Washington Post: "A string of glaring missteps by President Bush's economic team has raised alarm among the president's supporters that his economic policymakers may have lost the most basic ability to formulate a persuasive message or anticipate the political consequences of their actions."

Weisman and Allen write that some Republicans, who "refused to speak on the record because they said that if they did, they could not be candid about the problems without infuriating Bush and his most powerful aides . . . noted that several key officials who were steeped in Bush's first campaign have moved out of the West Wing or out of the government, and their replacements -- especially in the economic arena -- have weaker political antennae."

Even Mom is (Reportedly) Worried

Time's John F. Dickerson and Karen Tumulty write: "Bush has to answer those within his party who are increasingly questioning the agility and management of his campaign. Among them, two well-placed sources tell TIME, are Laura and Barbara Bush. 'They are paying attention,' says a Bush official. The President's mother, in particular, is worried that she has seen this movie before. Says the official: 'She does not want to see her family go through a '92 thing again.' "

Dickerson and Tumulty ask: "What happened to the best political team the G.O.P. had seen in years? . . .

"For some Bush loyalists, the past several weeks of trouble are simply a matter of sluggish reaction to quickly changing news cycles. For others, the shortcomings of the campaign revolve around chief political strategist Karl Rove and whether the President's top political mind is distracted, trying to do too many jobs in running both a campaign and the White House political operation."

Warrior Candidate

Dan Balz writes in an analysis for The Washington Post: "The opening stages of President Bush's reelection campaign represent a dramatic departure in tone and style from Bush's campaigns for governor and president. The man who calls himself a wartime president has become a warrior as a candidate. . . .

"The president's advisers defend the tone of the campaign and the attacks on Kerry, delivered in ads and directly by Bush at campaign appearances, by saying they are a response to months of pounding by Kerry and other Democratic presidential candidates and to millions of dollars of ads the Democrats have aimed at Bush. . . .

"Others attribute the changes in the Bush campaign to the fact that he is in deeper trouble than he expected against an opponent he did not anticipate."

Semi-retired adviser Karen Hughes, the preeminent encapsulator of all things Bush, told Balz: "Ultimately, I think elections come down to trust -- who do you trust to best lead the country," Hughes said. "In this case, I think it will come down to who do you trust to defend the country."

Losses in Spain

David E. Sanger writes in the New York Times: "The ouster of the center-right party in Spain, only days after a terrorist bombing that may be linked to Al Qaeda, is the first electoral rebuke of one of President Bush's most steadfast allies in the Iraq war."

As a result, "on Sunday evening administration officials scrambled to hide their disappointment."

And indeed, as The Washington Post's Fred Barbash reports this morning, Spain's new prime minister-elect Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero just said that Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair "must do some reflection and self-criticism," on the Iraq war. Zapatero said in a radio interview, "You can't bomb a people, you can't organize a war with lies."

In other words: "It's bad news for the administration," says Bill Plante on CBS's Early Show today.

One more Spain note: In his Sunday Politics column, Dana Milbank notes that Bush may have somewhat overstated Spain's "great traditions of democracy."

But Do Other Leaders Like Bush?

Paul Farhi writes in The Washington Post: "Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) ran into some tough questioning Sunday -- from, among others, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell -- about his assertion last week that he had met with foreign leaders who support his candidacy over President Bush."

Kerry still refused to name names. But Farhi notes: "In a survey of world opinion released in June by the Pew Research Center in Washington, people in most countries surveyed rated Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, French President Jacques Chirac and British Prime Minister Tony Blair more highly than Bush."

Here's that report.

Haiti and the White House

Peter Slevin of The Washington Post offers a view into how diplomacy transpires at the White House.

Slevin writes that the White House strategy in Haiti -- right up until it forced out president Jean-Bertrand Aristide -- was to persuade "other nations and institutions to do the diplomatic heavy-lifting to produce a political compromise." So, for instance:

"On Dec. 15, as the crisis boiled, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice scheduled a meeting at the White House with Trinidad's prime minister, Patrick Manning. In a planned drop-by, President Bush arrived and said he had something to discuss.

"Bush told Manning that the situation in Haiti was growing more dangerous, posing risks to the region and to the impoverished nation itself, said two U.S. officials. The president said the 15-nation Caribbean Community needed to show more leadership in finding a peaceful solution."

Of course, that didn't work. And now U.S. Marines are exchanging fire with gunmen in the streets of Haitian cities.

"The failure to find a political solution -- which forced the United States to switch course and led to the deployment of Marines to restore order -- has produced intense criticism on Capitol Hill and elsewhere that Bush administration policy toward Haiti was marked by disengagement and neglect as the White House focused principally on Iraq."

Bush Time

In her White House Letter to readers of the New York Times, Elisabeth Bumiller asks and answers the question: "How does the leader of the free world use his most precious commodity, time? . . .

"To his supporters, Bush Time reflects the president's discipline and focus. To his critics, it reflects rigidity and a lack of curiosity. Either way, meetings are over fast. . . .

"[T]he president is generally awake by 5 a.m., when he has coffee and reads the newspapers in bed with his wife. By 7 a.m. he is in the Oval Office, where he makes calls, often to leaders overseas or his parents, before his national security briefing at 8.

"For the rest of the day, Mr. Bush is in more meetings -- with the National Security Council, his campaign staff, his domestic policy staff, his speechwriters. He often eats a lunch of salad alone while he channel-surfs in a small dining room off the Oval Office. He exercises in the White House gym, usually in the late morning or early evening. Either way, he's back at the residence around 6 for dinner at 7. The teetotaling president retires around 9 p.m., even when he has guests, and takes to bed a giant briefing book to read as preparation for the following day. Lights are out at 10."

Wait, he reads the newspapers? Didn't Ken Auletta in the New Yorker write that Bush himself said he's not much of a newspaper reader? And in that same Auletta story, Chief of Staff Andrew Card is quoted as saying "He may skim the front page of the papers. Laura reads the papers and she alerts him." By contrast, Bumiller doesn't make her sourcing clear.

Either way, I'm devastated to hear he doesn't make time every morning for White House Briefing.

Also From the Knoller File

Speaking of how Bush spends his time, CBS's Knoller tells me that this weekend's trip to Camp David was Bush's 77th visit to the presidential retreat in the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland, where he has now spent all or part of 244 days of his presidency.

Who Needs Real Journalists, Anyway?

Robert Pear reports in the New York Times that the Department of Health and Human Services has sent scripts and video segments to local television stations for them to use as news reports on the new Medicare law.

"In one script, the administration suggests that anchors use this language: 'In December, President Bush signed into law the first-ever prescription drug benefit for people with Medicare. Since then, there have been a lot of questions about how the law will help older Americans and people with disabilities. Reporter Karen Ryan helps sort through the details.'"

But the reporter isn't a reporter; she's reading a script written by the government. And the General Accounting Office is taking a look.

A Dandy Benefit

Deb Riechmann of the Associated Press writes: "President Bush rocked his head in time to 'Yankee Doodle Dandy' and a medley of other patriotic tunes Sunday night during a benefit for the Ford's Theatre, which ended with six aging, award-winning soldiers saluting the current commander in chief."

Print pool reporter Chuck Lindell of the Austin American-Statesman reported to his colleagues that he saw a tuxedo-clad president plant kisses on the cheeks of singer Patti LaBelle and recording artist Jessica Simpson.

It'll all be on ABC sometime in July, we are told.

Radio Address Gets Political

Jennifer Loven of the Associated Press writes: "President Bush used yet another forum to issue a thinly veiled attack against Democratic rival John Kerry, saying Saturday in his weekly radio address that higher taxes and new trade barriers would be 'a recipe for economic disaster.' "

Rove Cleared

Michael M. Phillips writes in the Wall Street Journal: "A government watchdog has cleared the Interior Department of allegations it succumbed to pressure from White House political adviser Karl Rove when it reversed a controversial water policy in the Pacific Northwest."

Pepper Me With Questions

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