Day of Reckoning

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Friday, March 19, 2004; 10:17 AM

As President Bush focuses on the one-year anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq, so does the media.

Dana Milbank and Robin Wright of The Washington Post look back at the events of the past year, and write: "There is evidence that the economic lives of Iraqis are improving, thanks to an infusion of U.S. and foreign capital. But the administration badly underestimated the financial cost of the occupation and seriously overstated the ease of pacifying Iraq and the warmth of the reception Iraqis would give the U.S. invaders. And while peace and democracy may yet spread through the region, some early signs are that the U.S. action has had the opposite effect."

That's not to mention the failure to find weapons of mass destruction.

Peter S. Canellos writes in the Boston Globe: "Now, after a year of military victories, the capture of a dictator, a bloody insurgency, an unsuccessful hunt for weapons of mass destruction, and a terror attack in Spain that may have been designed to retaliate for the war, no one knows for sure whether the world is safer or less safe."

Bush speaks today from the East Room of the White House to an audience of ambassadors, with the message "that the civilized world is at war," according to press secretary Scott McClellan.

Yesterday, he took his message to Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

Addressing the Troops, and the Survivors

Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post: "On Thursday, Bush saw the tangible nature of that sacrifice, meeting with 133 relatives of 46 soldiers who did not come home. Of the 564 U.S. troops killed in Iraq, Fort Campbell has lost 65, and seven others in Afghanistan. . . .

" 'The 101st Airborne has known greater losses than any other division-sized unit,' he said. 'Each of these Americans brought pride to our country. We pray for their families. We will honor their names forever.' . . .

"Bush, wearing a green Army jacket, received an enthusiastic welcome from the troops, who stood on the post's muddy parade grounds under bright sunshine and chanted 'U.S.A.!' Before Bush appeared, small U.S. flags were handed out, and an officer gave instructions to the troops on how to receive the commander in chief. 'We're going to show him a lot of love by waving flags,' the officer said. Telling the troops not to salute, he added: 'You're going to wave and clap and make a lot of noise. . . . You must smile. We are happy campers here.' "

But Elisabeth Bumiller writes in the New York Times that "[a]lthough the troops frequently cheered Mr. Bush and shouted 'hoo-ah!' at the applause lines in his speech, the reaction was still muted compared with the roaring response the president got on his last visit to the base, during the war in Afghanistan."

Bumiller also writes that Bush "made a veiled warning to Spain for its decision to pull its troops from Iraq.

" 'This terrorist enemy will never be appeased, because death is their banner and their cause,' Mr. Bush said here, immediately after denouncing 'the murderers in Madrid' who killed more than 200 people, including children, in bombings on a commuter train last week. 'There's no safety for any nation in a world that lives at the mercy of gangsters and mass murderers,' he said. 'Eventually, there's no place to hide from the planted bombs.' "

After his speech, and lunch, Bush and the first lady spent nearly two hours meeting one-on-one with widows, parents and children of 46 fallen soldiers.

Bill Estep of the Lexington Herald-Leader spoke to one of the widows.

"Rosemarie Simmons of Clarksville, Tenn., whose husband, Sgt. Leonard Simmons, was among the casualties, said the president and first lady Laura Bush spent time individually with each family.

"The president shook hands and hugged and kissed people. Bush asked about her welfare, said her husband was an outstanding soldier and thanked her, said Simmons, a mother of three.

" 'It was very moving. It meant a lot to us,' she said. 'Whenever one of us would start crying, he would hold us.'

"Simmons said many families who have lost loved ones think the sacrifice was worthwhile and support the decision to go to war. But the cost has been too high for some.

" 'I myself don't think it was worth it,' she said."

Ron Hutcheson of Knight Ridder Newspapers talked to soldiers in the crowd who, "clad in combat fatigues, crowded onto a muddy parade ground to see their commander in chief on a warm, sunny day. One soldier shouted to Bush: 'We love you!' Generally, the crowd reaction was positive. But some differed with Bush's upbeat assessment of the Iraq war. . . .

"Sgt. Phillip Thompson of McAlister, Okla., said he intends to quit the military when his six-year commitment ends later this year. Thompson, who returned from Iraq in January, said he no longer watches television news because he doesn't want to hear stories about the failure to find weapons of mass destruction.

" 'That was the whole reason we went over there,' he said. 'I keep hoping that they find something -- anything. Find me a can of mustard gas or something.' "

Here's the full text of Bush's speech; White House photos; news service photos; AP video, and a Fox News report.

Coalition Watch

Peter Slevin writes in The Washington Post: "The White House worked to reassure its nervous European partners yesterday, as President Bush faced new criticism from Poland over the decision to launch the war that toppled Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and his Baath Party dictatorship.

"Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewski, in the latest challenge among allies to the rationale for the U.S.-led invasion, said he feels 'uncomfortable due to the fact that we were misled with the misinformation on weapons of mass destruction.' "

In a phone conversation between Bush and Kwasniewski this morning, however, reports Monika Scislowska of the Associated Press, Kwasniewski pledged to keep Polish troops in Iraq "as long as needed, plus one day longer."

Medicare Watch

Amy Goldstein reports in The Washington Post: "Richard S. Foster, the government's chief analyst of Medicare costs who was threatened with firing last year if he disclosed too much information to Congress, said last night that he believes the White House participated in the decision to withhold analyses that Medicare legislation President Bush sought would be far more expensive than lawmakers knew."

Foster points an inferential finger at Doug Badger, the White House's senior health policy analyst. Badger's title is special assistant to the president for economic policy. Here's his White House bio.

Writes Goldstein: "Last night, White House deputy press secretary Trent Duffy said, 'It is my understanding that Mr. Badger did not in any way ask anyone to withhold information from Congress or pressure anyone to do the same.' "

Scalia Watch

Charles Lane writes in The Washington Post: "Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia fired back yesterday at critics of his recent duck-hunting trip with Vice President Cheney, issuing an unusual 21-page memo rejecting demands that he disqualify himself from a case involving Cheney."

Michael Janofsky writes in the New York Times: "In choosing to offer an expansive rationale, Justice Scalia provided colorful details of the January duck hunting trip as well as a snapshot of a friendship that began when he and Mr. Cheney both worked in the Ford administration. Justice Scalia was an assistant attorney general and Mr. Cheney was White House chief of staff."

Here are some excerpts from the memo. Here's the full text. And here are documents relating to the energy task force case from which Scalia is not recusing himself.

Who's persuaded by Scalia's argument? Not the Washington Post editorial board. Not Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

But the Wall Street Journal editorial board, on the other hand, cannot contain its delight.

"Our colleagues in the editorial-writing business came in for a pasting yesterday, and we have to say we've rarely enjoyed a Supreme Court memorandum more. Justice Antonin Scalia's memo explaining why he won't recuse himself from a case regarding Vice President Dick Cheney's 2001 energy task force is a smackdown for the ages."

Cheney Watch

Tom Raum of the Associated Press writes: "Dick Cheney's blistering attack on John Kerry's national security credentials underscores a decision by President Bush's re-election team to give the vice president a more prominent and assertive role in the campaign.

"But the strategy also hands Democrats new ammunition, as Cheney's slumping poll numbers and questions about his business ties have cast a cloud over his campaign activities, turning him into a target."

Gas Watch?

Jacob M. Schlesinger writes in the Wall Street Journal: "President Bush is facing yet another election-year economic headache: rapidly rising prices at the pump."

The issue could also reflect poorly on Bush's handling of Iraq, Schlesinger writes, because those gas prices, on course to hit record levels before the fall campaign, are in part a function of increased fears of Middle East terror.

Today's Calendar

After his remarks on the Iraq war in the East Room at 11 a.m., Bush and the first lady visit with soldiers and families at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Caught on Tape

CBS News's John Roberts was right in the middle of an interview with national security adviser Condoleezza Rice when she first got the news of the possible surrounding of Osama bin Laden's chief deputy, Ayman Zawahiri.

© 2004