Questions About Bush's Guard Service

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Tuesday, February 3, 2004; 10:02 AM

After years of burbling on the Internet, the one-year gap in President Bush's Texas Air National Guard service records during the Vietnam War has become a mainstream issue. The tipping point was when Democratic National Committee Chairman Terence R. McAuliffe on Sunday called Bush "AWOL."

Lois Romano weighs in this morning in The Washington Post with a review of the evidence in the case. Her story concludes that Bush "enjoyed preferential treatment" that allowed him to get a coveted Texas Air National Guard assignment during the Vietnam War.

But the issue of whether Bush actually shirked his military duties in 1972, when he transferred to an Alabama unit, is murkier. There do not appear to be any records of his service there.

White House communications director Dan Bartlett said yesterday that Bush "specifically remembers" performing some of his duties in Alabama. And the Bush campaign is adamant. A spokesman told Romano: "The president was never AWOL."

Patrick Healy of the Boston Globe reports: "Democratic presidential front-runner John F. Kerry, who has turned his decorated Vietnam War service into a theme of his campaign, said yesterday that President Bush and the US military should settle questions -- raised recently by Kerry allies -- about whether Bush completed his military service requirement in the Texas Air National Guard in the 1970s."

Maria L. La Ganga and Nick Anderson of the Los Angeles Times write that "Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie told Republican activists in North Carolina on Monday that McAuliffe was 'the John Wilkes Booth of character assassination,' and described his comments about Bush as 'reprehensible.' "

NBC's "Today" show addressed the issue this morning: "The Vietnam War ended almost 30 years ago, but its role in this year's presidential campaign may be just beginning," said Jonathan Alter.

Tim Russert told Matt Lauer that McAuliffe's attack was intended to "fire up the base" of Democratic voters, who feel the Democrats have been too passive. "What has happened this past week is very important, psychologically," Russert said.

On ABC's "Good Morning America," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told Claire Shipman that McAuliffe's statement was not appropriate. "I also don't think that some of things that have been said about Sen. Kerry are appropriate either," he said. "We should put this behind us and please let's not reopen the wounds and fight the Vietnam War all over again."

Bush Military Service Resources Online

There's a lot of background available on this issue online.

Here are some of the key stories I could find:

• Bush's Guard Attendance Is Questioned and Defended, Jo Thomas, the New York Times, Nov. 3, 2000.

• 2 Democrats: Bush Let Guard Down; Gore Surrogates Revive Issue of Apparent Laxity in Candidate's Military Service, George Lardner Jr. and Howard Kurtz, The Washington Post, Nov. 3, 2000.

• Records of Bush's Ala. Military Duty Can't Be Found, Wayne Slater, Dallas Morning News, June 26, 2000.

• One-Year Gap in Bush's National Guard Duty, Walter V. Robinson, the Boston Globe, May 23, 2000.

• At Height of Vietnam, Bush Picks Guard, George Lardner Jr. and Lois Romano, The Washington Post, July 28, 1999.

• In His Own Words: 'I, Like Others, Became Disillusioned,' Interview with Bush, The Washington Post, July 28, 1999.

The one Web site Bush supporters point to is, which comes out of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. It recently examined the evidence and concluded that "Bush was honorably discharged without ever being officially accused of desertion or being away without official leave."

The anti-Bush folks point to a legion of sites.

Among them are the works of two amateur researchers, Marty Heldt, an Iowa farmer who obtained some of Bush's military records through the Freedom of Information Act requests, and Robert A. Rogers, a retired Air National Guard pilot.

There's also a whole Web site devoted to the issue:

Here's some outrage from

Some of the loudest, and perhaps most effective howls about Bush's service record are coming from The Daily Howler, one of the Web's most iconoclastic sites, written by Bob Sommerby.

And the bloggers are active. Among those frequently linked to are Orcinus and bolo boffin.

Now, everyone's getting into the act. For instance, Joshua Micah Marshall in Talking Points, Eleanor Clift at Newsweek and Jonathan Chait at the New Republic.

Poll Watch

USA Today headlines a "dramatic decline" in Bush's job approval, based on a new USA TODAY./CNN/Gallup Poll "Bush's job-approval rating dipped below 50% for the first time in his presidency, to 49%, and his disapproval rating rose to a record 48%. His approval ratings for handling the economy, Iraq and health care all fell to near-record lows."

What's behind the drop? Susan Page and Richard Benedetto write: "A drumbeat of attack by the Democratic presidential contenders, credible allegations about intelligence failings on Iraq and an uninspiring State of the Union message have shaken the solid political standing he seemed to have just a few weeks ago."

CNN's Bill Schneider says it's trouble for the president.

In fact, the most recent polls tracked by all show Bush below the 50 percent job approval mark.

Intelligence Failures

Dana Priest and Dana Milbank of The Washington Post report that Bush will sign an executive order later this week calling for a commission to, in Bush's own words, "look at our war against proliferation and weapons of mass destruction, kind of in a broader context."

That means that in addition to investigating the failures of prewar intelligence on Iraq, it "will also review the CIA's misjudgments about weapons programs in Iran, Libya and North Korea, administration officials said yesterday."

Priest and Milbank note that Bush has still "avoided an acknowledgment that the Iraq intelligence was wrong."

Douglas Jehl and David E. Sanger write in the New York Times: "A draft of the executive order Mr. Bush is preparing to sign this week to create the commission makes no explicit reference to a study of how the intelligence assessments were used. Instead, it only directs the panel to compare intelligence findings about Iraq produced before the war with the absence of stockpiles of unconventional weapons found by American inspection teams on the ground."

In other words, the commission could conceivably choose not to examine "a highly charged political issue: whether President Bush and other senior administration officials exaggerated the evidence that Iraq possessed large stockpiles of illicit weapons."

Jonathan S. Landay, Warren P. Strobel and Joseph L. Galloway of Knight Ridder write: "What went wrong with intelligence on Iraq will never be known unless the inquiry proposed by President Bush examines secret intelligence efforts led by Vice President Dick Cheney and Pentagon hawks, current and former U.S officials said Monday."

Why? Because, their sources say, "the intelligence efforts led by Cheney magnified the errors through exaggeration, oversights and mistaken deductions."

Democratic congressional leaders criticized Bush for deciding to make all the appointments to the panel himself. See their letter to Bush.

Here are Bush's remarks after his cabinet meeting and a nifty picture of the scene.

Here's the text of another mighty combative news conference with press secretary Scott McClellan.

A Big Budget Story

A president's proposed budget often bears little connection to what Congress eventually passes. But it is undoubtedly a political document that reflects the president's priorities in great detail.

In a news analysis for The Washington Post, Jonathan Weisman writes: "President Bush has drafted an election-year budget that shows considerably more political concern for his conservative base, which is upset over the government's steady growth, than for any need to assuage moderate voters in November."

Weisman says that by cutting certain programs -- housing assistance for the elderly, vocational education, lead-hazard reduction, local law enforcement grants -- he is responding to the conservatives who have accused him of abandoning Republican principles of fiscal restraint, and not worrying too much about enraging liberals and possibly frightening moderate swing voters.

In her news analysis for The New York Times, Elisabeth Bumiller calls the budget an election-year gamble. "Mr. Bush's calculation is that voters will care far more about protecting the nation from another terrorist attack than about cuts to popular programs, or, for that matter, the record-high deficit."

Richard W. Stevenson writes in the New York Times: "Congressional Democrats sharply criticized the plan as a continuation of fiscally irresponsible policies that have led to a swing from huge projected surpluses to big and persistent deficits during Mr. Bush's presidency. They said blame for the deficits rested far more with the tax cuts than on the spending programs he now wants to rein in or cut. And, they said, the Bush tax cuts have failed to live up to their billing of creating millions of new jobs."

Greg Hitt and John D. McKinnon write in the Wall Street Journal that the budget "relies on some fiscal sleight of hand."

"Among the gimmicks: failing to provide for the future cost of occupying Iraq, which Mr. Bush's budget director suggests could cost as much as $50 billion in 2005; pledging steep cuts in some popular programs that Congress will probably reject; and anticipating large savings by making the federal government operate more efficiently, a timeworn budget pledge that rarely pays off as expected."

There's lots more in's special report on the budget, and on

The White House offers up the budget briefing by OMB Director Joshua B. Bolten, a budget summary, the president's budget message, and an index of the full budget.

Today's Calendar

Bush meets today with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, as Robin Wright previews in The Washington Post.

In the afternoon, Bush meets with the first crop of Iraqi Fulbright Scholars since the Gulf War.

Bushism Watch

The most recent "Bushism" via Jacob Weisberg of Slate actually dates back to Jan. 13, when Bush met with Argentina's president, Nestor Kirchner, during the Summit of the Americas in Monterrery, Mexico.

According to the Argentinean newspaper, Clarin, Kirchner pointed out to Bush that all but one of the Argentine delegates to the summit were imprisoned during the military dictatorship.

Bush reportedly replied: "I was a prisoner too, but for bad reasons."

Clarin declared that the allusion was to an arrest for drunk driving.

After that meeting, by the way, a senior administration official described it to the press as: "a very good meeting, a very open meeting, a very frank meeting, in which both sides indicated that they share common values, they share common goals, and they're going to work together."

Richard Leiby, The Washington Post's "Reliable Source," has a more recent possible contender:

"Asked yesterday by a reporter whether 'the country is owed an explanation about the Iraq intelligence failures,' President Bush said, 'Well, first of all, I want to know all the facts. . . . What we don't know yet is what we thought and what the Iraqi Survey Group has found, and we want to look at that.' "

© 2004