Goose Steps and Hip Wiggles

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, May 10, 2005; 11:12 AM

It was an old-fashioned Soviet-style military parade, complete with propagandist sights and sounds glorifying the Communist, totalitarian rule that terrorized citizens of Eastern Europe for so many decades.

And according to White House press secretary Scott McClellan, President Bush was quite taken with it.

McClellan said that Bush considered the parade "a really dramatic moment -- he thought the architecture around Red Square was magnificent, and that the music played by the military bands was powerful. And then he talked about the old Soviet-era trucks that drove by with the World War II veterans. It was very moving. And he talked about what a proud moment that was for those veterans."

Here's the text of McClellan's gaggle aboard Air Force One on its way from Russia to Georgia.

"Q But Soviet songs were sung, and the Soviet flag marched by. What significance did it have for him, to be sitting in that square --

"MR. McCLELLAN: I think it's the way I described it. I visited with him about it, and the way I described it . . . is the way I would describe it. . . .

"Q Any squeamishness about the hammer and sickle flag, and goose-stepping soldiers and the symbols of that era?

"MR. McCLELLAN: No. I think part of this trip has been to celebrate the sacrifice of all those who helped to defeat the Nazis and to defeat fascism. But it's also been a way to look at the lessons of the past, as we move to the future. And I think that's really been the focus of the President's trip."

Peter Baker and Peter Finn write in The Washington Post: "The goose-stepping troops hoisted hammer-and-sickle banners bearing the visages of the Soviet icon Vladimir Lenin. Gray-haired veterans waved red flowers from truckbeds, their chests brimming with medals and ribbons, their faces etched with the wear and tear of hard lives. The boom of artillery fire thundered across the air and jets roared overhead.

"What Russians had never seen at a Victory Day celebration on Red Square until now, however, was an American president. . . .

"If Bush felt unease on the reviewing stand during tributes to the Red Army, he did not show it. President Bill Clinton came to Moscow for the 50th anniversary celebration in 1995 but boycotted the Red Square parade in protest of Russia's offensive in Chechnya. Bush decided to attend in a gesture to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin despite recent tension over the course of Russian democracy, White House officials said."

Steven Lee Myers and Elisabeth Bumiller write in the New York Times: "Mr. Putin expressed no contrition for the Soviet domination of Eastern and Central Europe that followed the end of World War II, as some leaders from that region had hoped he would. Instead, he said the war's legacy demonstrated the need for unity with Russia against new threats."

White House communications director Dan Bartlett "said Mr. Bush felt no discomfort about appearing as a prominent actor in a tableau of Soviet imagery, including flowing banners bearing the hammer and sickle and a martial parade that evoked past Soviet celebrations -- though without the displays of tanks and missiles that once rattled cold war nerves."

Julie Mason writes in the Houston Chronicle: "After pointing to the future with calls for reconciliation between Russia and its former occupied territories, President Bush visited the past Monday, taking a seat of honor at a V-E Day celebration here featuring goose-stepping soldiers and the hammer and sickle, symbols of Russia's brutal communist past. . . .

"But the Russians' aggressive militaristic display provided what seemed an awkward counterpoint to Bush's mission in Eastern Europe."

Meanwhile, in Private

Bush made no public statements yesterday, ceding the limelight to Putin. But in private, he reprised an old and important tradition.

Kim Murphy writes in the Los Angeles Times: "In another era, U.S. presidents attending summits here would meet on the sidelines with Soviet dissidents. The Americans would offer encouragement, professing confidence that the Cold War would one day end and democracy would come to Russia.

"On Monday, President Bush met with a new generation of Russian dissidents: leaders of civil groups advocating human rights, press freedom and other causes who have been the most outspoken over President Vladimir V. Putin's growing consolidation of power."

Murphy spoke to Alexei Yablokov, president of the Center for Ecological Policy of Russia and one of the delegates.

"I told Bush that if you have such good relations with Putin, then you must warn Putin against the direction he has chosen, the authoritarian path which can become very dangerous not only for Russia, but for the United States too," Yablokov said. "He nodded and said, 'Yes, yes, we shall see.' "

Georgia on His Mind

Jennifer Loven writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush, before a cheering crowd of tens of thousands of people, said Tuesday that the former Soviet republic of Georgia is proving to the world that determined people can rise up and claim their freedom from oppressive rulers. . . .

"Estimates of the crowd size -- in the square and the surrounding streets -- varied wildly, from less than 100,000 to more than 300,000. Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili said it was by far the largest gathering ever in the country, and it was certainly one of the largest Bush has ever addressed. . . .

"Ongoing fights in violent separatist regions, military campaigns against terrorists in the Pankisi Gorge and the recent abductions of foreigners presented security challenges that required Bush to deliver his open-air speech from a podium surrounded by a high wall of a clear bulletproof screen with sharpshooters on rooftops surrounding the square.

"But the safety concerns were outweighed by Bush's desire to lend support to this ex-Soviet satellite and hold it up as a success story in his pursuit of spreading democracy."

Here is the text of his speech: "You are making many important contributions to freedom's cause, but your most important contribution is your example. In recent months, the world has marveled at the hopeful changes taking place from Baghdad to Beirut to Bishkek. But before there was a Purple Revolution in Iraq, or an Orange Revolution in Ukraine, or a Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, there was the Rose Revolution in Georgia. (Applause.) Your courage is inspiring democratic reformers and sending a message that echos across the world: Freedom will be the future of every nation and every people on Earth. (Applause.)"

Dancing Man

Bush arrived in Georgia last night and was clearly in high spirits -- possibly in as high spirits as the press corps has ever seen him.

Peter Baker writes in The Washington Post: "Maybe it was his wife's televised teasing about going to bed so early, but 'Mr. Excitement,' as Laura Bush sarcastically dubbed the president a week ago, seemed eager to live up to the nickname Monday night.

"Landing here for the final stop on a five-day European trip, President Bush found himself overwhelmed by an enthusiastic welcome the likes of which he doesn't get in many countries. Between the fireworks and folk dancing, Bush got so into the spirit that he wound up throwing out his schedule, staying out late and even wiggling his hips in a decidedly un-Bush-like dance move."

Elisabeth Bumiller writes in the New York Times: "After a morning spent watching columns of Russian troops goose-step across Red Square in Moscow, President Bush arrived Monday night in this former Soviet republic, climbed up on a street stage of Georgian dancers, then swiveled his hips in tune to blasting folk music.

"Mr. Bush, whose previous dancing in public has been limited to brief waltzes with his wife, gyrated for only a few moments. But it was long enough to be captured in a scene that was replayed on Georgian television into the night.

"Georgians seemed taken aback but pleased, and gave polite good reviews to Mr. Bush's Elvis-like moves."

Peter Wallsten writes in the Los Angeles Times: "He was roasted just days ago by his own wife as a dullard who goes to bed too early. But upon his arrival in this former Soviet republic Monday night, President Bush was suddenly overcome with the pulsating rhythms of local bands, throwing his hands in the air and gyrating his hips."

Bill Plante of CBS News shows a brief clip of Bush's swiveling at about the 1:40 mark of his report.

Georgia Press Conference

Margarita Antidze and Caren Bohan write for Reuters: "President Bush gave backing on Tuesday to ex-Soviet Georgia in its efforts to regain sovereignty over two pro-Moscow separatist regions, as long as it was done peacefully.

"But, at a joint news conference in the mountainous Caucasus state, Bush avoided support for Georgia in a bitter dispute with the Kremlin over Russian bases on its soil, with remarks likely to have disappointed his host, President Mikhail Saakashvili."

Here is the transcript of the press conference.

Saakashvili told Bush: "Mr. President, you are a decisive and visionary leader."

Bush replied: "Mr. President, thank you for setting such a good example, you and your people. I appreciate the reforms you have put in place here. Georgia has come a long way very quickly. The President recognizes there's a lot of work to be done to leave the foundations, institutional foundations in place, so that no one will ever be able to overturn democracy. That's an independent judiciary, rule of law, free media. He was complaining about the media, which is a good sign. (Laughter.) It means you're free. I sometimes complain about ours, but not too publicly, of course."

About Saakashvili

Just who is this Saakashvili, who Bush says "loves democracy and loves freedom, and he loves the people of Georgia"?

As Peter Finn wrote in The Washington Post last week: "Saakashvili's overwhelming dominance of politics has led to charges from the country's opposition -- themselves Rose Revolutionaries who stayed out of government -- that Saakashvili is so taken with his preeminence that the revolution's democratic promise is being undermined.

" 'There are no checks and balances in this country,' said David Gamkrelidze, a onetime conspirator with Saakashvili and now head of the New Right Party, the only formal opposition group in Parliament. 'Saakashvili has authoritarian instincts. He cannot tolerate any criticism. And I hope that President Bush, in private, will speak to him about transparency, about democratic control, about the rule of law.' "

Here's a BBC profile: "Opinion polls suggest he has been the country's most popular politician for the last two years, and he appeared to have achieved a landslide victory in the 4 January election.

"But critics describe him as a demagogue and a populist with a strong lust for power."

Good Questions

Some of you may remember last summer, when plucky Irish television reporter Carole Coleman infuriated Bush during a 10-minute interview before his trip to Ireland. (See my July 1, 2004, column for more.)

I finally had a chance yesterday to comb through all the interviews that Bush granted to reporters from the Baltics, the Netherlands, Russia and Georgia before leaving on this latest trip. Some of them are proof, once again, that international reporters sometimes ask the toughest questions -- and evoke the most puzzling answers.

Here's Latvian television:

"Q The sentiment of anti-Americanism, as I'm sure you know, is quite widespread in Europe, and in my country, as well. Do you think there is any degree of your own fault in the fact that this sentiment is on the rise or --

"THE PRESIDENT: I made some hard decisions. You know, going into Iraq was a hard decision and I can understand people not liking that. But I would hope people in Europe would understand that freedom is not owned only by Europeans, that people around the world deserve to be free."

Here's Estonian television:

"Q Latest surveys show that the numbers of terrorism are increasing, not decreasing.


"Q Why is that?


"Q You have made a lot of efforts.

"THE PRESIDENT: Yes, that's why. If we weren't trying to find the enemy and bring him to justice, the world would look relatively peaceful. But we're on the offense. And so when you engage the enemy, when you try to bring them to justice, they don't like to be brought to justice."

Bush also spoke to a group of foreign print journalists. Here's that transcript:

"Q: Mr. President, you are a transformational, they call it, and promoting democracy in the world is a very ambitious goal; and achieve peace, changing the world, and it's also acknowledging Europe. But such a far-reaching idealism can also easily lead to moral inconsistencies that risk to undermine your credibility. For instance, how does the way detainees at Guantanamo Bay are being handled, how does that relate to your promotion of democracy and the rule of law?

"THE PRESIDENT: I appreciate that. That, and, for example, the pictures people saw about the prison -- prison abuse is different from the detainees in Guantanamo. We're working our way forward, so that they -- and our courts, by the way, are adjudicating this. It is a clear, transparent review of the decision I made by the courts, so everybody can see it. And they're being argued in the courts as we speak. People are being treated humanely. They were illegal non-combatants, however, and I made the decision they did not pertain to the Geneva Convention. They were not -- these were terrorists. Obviously, we've looked at Iraq differently.

"I can understand people being concerned about prison abuse when they see the pictures out of Abu Ghraib, and it made Americans universally sick, because the actions of those folks didn't represent the heart and soul of America, didn't represent the sentiments of the American people. And I am an idealistic person, because I believe in what is possible. I believe that freedom is universal, and I believe, if given a chance, people will seize the moment.

"But I'm also a realistic person, and I'm realistic enough to know that images on TV have sullied our country's image, at times. And we've just got to continue to spread -- tell people the truth, be open about the mistakes of Abu Ghraib, hold people to account."

The reporter, not dissuaded by that answer, asked for more.

"Q: Would you say -- can I follow up?

"THE PRESIDENT: Yes, sure.

"Q: You say you are a realistic person, but there's also a problem with the limits. What are the limits of your idealistic policy? Does every autocratic regime, like Iran, just fear -- just to have fear of the American military power?

Bush's long, meandering answer to that question is worth reading, too.

Finally, on Russian television , Bush spoke about Nazism, among other things. "It's an extremist point of view that believes that you should be able to trample the rights of minorities. It was the Nazis who annihilated millions of Jews, for example and there's a classic example of the rights of minorities being trampled."

Leave It to the Dutch

The Carole Coleman award, however, has to go to Wouter Kurpershoek, a correspondent for Dutch NOS television.

Here is the transcript , and here is the video of his interview.

After Bush explained that his desire for freedom justifies his foreign policy, Kurpershoek asked:

"Q But the interesting thing is, Mr. President, that we all agree, also in Europe, about your goals -- democracy, freedom, safety in the world.


"Q Does it frustrate you sometimes that -- for example, in The Netherlands they did a poll before you are coming now that vast part of the population does not agree with the way you're handling world affairs, for example.

"THE PRESIDENT: Well, you know --

"Q Is it frustrating?

"THE PRESIDENT: No, it doesn't. I mean, I --

"Q It must be a little, though.

"THE PRESIDENT: No, it doesn't; it doesn't frustrate me. I make decisions on what I think is right. That's what leaders do. The other day in a press conference I was asked about polls here in America. I said, a leader who tries to lead based upon polls is like a dog chasing his tail. That's not how you lead. No, I feel comfortable with the decisions I've made.

"Q Is it maybe, then, a communication problem?

"THE PRESIDENT: I don't know, I don't follow the Dutch media, don't know what's being said in Holland.

"Q Well, when people are being asked about you, or America, they admire, again, your goals, but when you talk about -- for example -- about the war on terror, and you see freedom and democracy, the Dutch see that, as well, but they also see, for example, prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib prison; or Guantanamo Bay, where prisoners are being held without charge; or the Americans who do not want their soldiers in The Hague for the tribunal, to be accountable.

"THE PRESIDENT: Well, we have different --

"Q So they see that problem.

"THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, all Americans, including me, reject Abu Ghraib. That was an aberration. That's not what America stands for. And if people are concerned about the tactics, I understand that. But the goal is peace. And now is the time to work together to achieve peace.

"Q How do you want to do that? What do you want to tell the Dutch people?

"THE PRESIDENT: Let me finish. But you asked me, do I worry about polls -- I don't, that's not what leaders do. Leaders who sit around and read polls all the time are leaders that don't lead.

"Q But the Dutch people are interested in --

"THE PRESIDENT: Let me finish, please. And I have an obligation to lead. And we're making progress. You saw eight-and-a-half million people voted in Iraq. They defied the terrorists, they defied the suicide bombers, because they desire to be free. And now we have an obligation to work to help that country develop into a democracy, because the lesson of Europe, of working together as democracies, has yielded peace."

And More About the Dutch Roundtable

I wrote in yesterday's column about the tough questions Bush apparently faced from a group of Dutch students. I say "apparently" because the press was ushered out of the room after the first two.

Well, Dutch NOS television caught up with some of the students afterward, and as far as I can tell from this highly amusing and only somewhat helpful automated translation , after the press was ushered out, one student asked Bush if he realizes his policies have frightened moderate Muslims. And another student apparently asked about the detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

Judicial Watch

Jim VandeHei and Charles Babington write in The Washington Post: "President Bush yesterday called for an immediate vote on two of his most controversial judicial nominations, increasing pressure on Senate Republicans to consider a historic rule change that would make it easier for him, and future presidents, to reshape the federal bench, including the Supreme Court."

Here's the text of Bush's statement.

Scam Watch

Brian Krebs writes in washingtonpost.com's Security Fix blog: "A new e-mail scam is making its rounds online, trying to trick White House employees into handing over their personal and financial data at a fake banking Web site."

Preserving Trust

A few relevant excerpts from the New York Times committee's report to the executive editor about preserving readers' trust:

"[O]ur charge from the executive editor included the question whether we should instruct our reporters to walk out of anonymous background briefings. We do believe the paper should encourage reporters to push back by objecting to the ground rules as the briefings begin, especially those conducted by public affairs spokesmen whose job is normally to speak on the record. We do not believe, however, that we have much to gain by unilaterally boycotting such sessions or by trying to work in concert with other news organizations -- which in any case are notably reluctant to join such a group effort."

And, on labeling commentary:

"We can hardly expect readers to understand the grab bag of labels we use to identify various types of articles in the paper. Many of us do not understand them either. (How does a Washington Memo differ from a White House Letter? What distinguishes News Analysis from an analytical news story? What's the difference between Critic's Notebook and TV Watch?)

"It is important to differentiate columnists in the news pages from those on the Op-Ed pages, who enjoy much greater leeway. Columnists and critics in the news pages are permitted to express professional points of view about what they cover."

Gannon and Vanity Fair

The much-anticipated Vanity Fair story about Jeff Gannon, by David Margolick and Richard Goodin , is now online.

Here's what they write about what Gannon says he was trying to accomplish with the questions he asked in the White House briefing room:

"His question had to stand out. It had to be punchy, distinctive, not something the 'old media' would ask. It had to advance the conservative agenda, something about abortion or tax cuts or religion or the war in Iraq that his constituency, the people in the red states and counties of America, would care about. It should be friendly toward the administration, not another of the cheap shots, the gotcha questions, he felt everyone else asked. Ideally, it should be conspicuous enough to prompt a memorable response, or at least to make a point in itself.

"And it had to call attention to Jeff Gannon. The daily question was all part of Gannon's grand strategy not just to elicit news but to become a journalistic force in his own right. Now that he had re-christened himself 'Jeff Gannon' -- James Guckert was his given name -- he had to create and extend what he calls 'the Jeff Gannon brand.' Only a few years earlier, he'd been keeping the books at an auto-body shop in eastern Pennsylvania, and, if you believe his Web sites, hiring himself out as a male escort for other men. . . . But now, as the White House correspondent for an obscure operation called Talon News -- actually little more than a collection of amateurs and true believers posting a hodgepodge of right-wing 'news' items online daily for Bobby Eberle, a Texas Republican activist -- he had become a fixture at the daily briefing."

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