Is Bush Vulnerable on Iraq?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, August 5, 2005; 1:15 PM

When a nation is attacked, its people tend to rally around their leader. President Bush's job approval ratings, for instance, shot up more than 30 percent in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

But the seemingly incessant litany of deadly attacks on American troops in Iraq appears to be increasingly turning the public against the president and the war he launched.

The signs of such a turnaround remain faint in the mainstream media coverage of public discourse about Iraq. Something -- maybe the administration's insistence that questioning its policies undermines American troops -- has somehow cowed many of the predictable voices of dissent into silence.

But go to Brook Park, Ohio, home base for the 14 Marine reservists who were killed in a roadside bombing in Iraq Wednesday, and you hear some expressions of anger at the president.

And ask the American people in general what they think of how Bush is running the war -- and whether they trust him anymore -- and the verdict is becoming clearer and clearer.

Poll Watch

Will Lester writes for the Associated Press: "Americans' approval of President Bush's handling of Iraq is at its lowest level yet, according to an AP-Ipsos poll that also found fewer than half now think he's honest. . . .

"Approval of Bush's handling of Iraq, which had been hovering in the low- to mid-40s most of the year, dipped to 38 percent. . . .

"A solid majority still see Bush as a strong and likable leader, though the president's confidence is seen as arrogance by a growing number. . . .

"Bush's overall job approval was at 42 percent, with 55 percent disapproving. That's about where Bush's approval has been all summer but slightly lower than at the beginning of the year."

Here are the complete results , and some graphs .

Tom Raum of the Associated Press looks at the headlines, looks at the poll results, and concludes: "The deadly recent attacks on American troops in Iraq are increasing the pressure on President Bush to develop an exit strategy. The U.S. death toll from the war is now over 1,800, and a new AP-Ipsos poll shows the lowest approval yet for Bush's handling of Iraq, just 38 percent.

"The president's fellow Republicans are growing nervous as they head into an election year."

Casualties of War

Brian Albrecht writes in the Cleveland Plain Dealer: "Wednesday, those Ohio families hit hardest by the recent deaths suddenly found themselves tiptoeing through an emotional minefield of memories, moods and a wide spectrum of views on the war.

"Daniel and Edie Deyarmin, of Tallmadge, said their son, Daniel Nathan Jr., believed in the mission that took his life Monday, and they will continue to believe in it, too.

" 'We've got to stay free,' his father said. 'Nathan didn't die in vain. He knew he was getting some of the bad guys.'

"But not long after Marines broke the grim news to Paul Schroeder and Rosemary Palmer -- parents of Edward August Schroeder II, one of the 14 Marines killed Wednesday -- the couple unleashed misgivings they had had ever since their son joined the Marines.

" 'I didn't want him to be there,' said Palmer, who sobbed when she heard of his enlistment. 'I didn't want him to be any part of it.'

"Their son, always the team player, once told them, 'There is no time for individualism or dissent in the desert.'

"But Paul Schroeder -- who blamed the death of his son on President Bush -- believed it was precisely the time for dissent on the homefront.

" 'We are not taking anything away from the troops on the field, but at some point we have to say enough is enough,' he said. 'Otherwise, my son will become just a memory.' "

Kaitlin Bell and Susan Milligan write in the Boston Globe: "The chain fence surrounding the headquarters of the Third Battalion, 25th Marines, yesterday gave the people of northeastern Ohio something they desperately needed: a place to express their complicated feelings about a war that took the lives of 16 of the battalion's members in Iraq.

"As wind twisted the stems of flowers and pulled the strings of balloons as taut as violins, people stood and grieved, and knelt and prayed. They expressed views ranging from deep anger at President Bush to a renewed conviction to rebuild Iraq so the Marines will not have died in vain.

"But many in this Cleveland suburb, in nearby Akron, and in Columbus expressed hope that this week's deaths, and the shock waves they sent throughout the country, would prompt a deeper discussion of a very perplexing war. . . .

"Ohioans describe their state as patriotic and supportive of the troops. The state last year gave a narrow, critical win to an incumbent president defending his decision to send soldiers to fight in Iraq. But the shock of the recent deaths -- combined with growing worries that the 2 1/2-year-old conflict remains unresolved -- has more residents wondering whether the sacrifice has been worth it."

The New York Post Proposal

The New York Post editorial board , a reliable supporter of Bush, continues to back him on Iraq but has some stern advice as well: "Show some leadership -- starting with a visit to Brook Park, Ohio. . . .

"The town needs to see and hear the president there. As does the nation.

"Bush's reluctance to attend individual funerals is understandable. He can't attend all of them, but he can't easily pick and choose, either: One soldier's death is no more worthy of a presidential visit than another's.

"But the geographical concentration of this week's losses creates a unique situation -- and cries out for special treatment. . . .

"Go to Ohio, Mr. President, and thank the proud families of Brook Park."

No Place for Dissent

Remember how President Bush earlier this summer asked Americans to log on to AmericaSupportsYou.mil , a Department of Defense Web site, and register support for the troops?

At the time , I did some word searches and it didn't look to me like the site was posting many -- if any -- comments that suggested that the soldiers might be victims of bad policy decisions.

There are now more than 60,000 viewable messages -- out of a reported 128,000 received -- on the site.

I encouraged my colleagues at washingtonpost.com to look into this, and yesterday, Robert MacMillan and Mary Specht reported: "The Defense Department has removed messages containing political commentary from a Web site designed for people to show their support for U.S. forces serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. . . .

"Last month the Wall Street Journal reported that two antiwar messages had disappeared from the site, but at the time the site had no posted policy on political statements."

Now the site has taken down some overtly pro-Bush messages as well, and a policy posted on the site last week now warns that political speech will be barred.

Still unclear: What was the nature of the 60,000-plus messages that never made it to the site in the first place?

Judgment in Question?

William Douglas writes for Knight Ridder Newspapers about the fallout from Bush's expression of support for Baltimore Orioles slugger Rafael Palmeiro after he tested positive for steroids.

"Bush's loyalty to his friends extends from the baseball diamond to the White House, where he's backed beleaguered Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, who's mired in an investigation over who leaked the name of an undercover CIA officer, and to John Bolton, whom Bush appointed ambassador to the United Nations despite Senate reservations.

"But the president's quick and unequivocal defense of Palmeiro -- who's now the subject of a congressional investigation -- has raised questions about whether Bush's loyalty undercuts his political judgment.

" 'It seems that President Bush is falling into the Nixon trap -- his administration can do no wrong. His allies and people who support him can do no wrong,' said Robert Dallek, a presidential historian 'Palmeiro is above suspicion, Rove is not to be questioned, John Bolton is a stand-up guy.

" 'The danger is he divorces himself from public reality, political reality, and it erodes his ability to lead the country,' Dallek said.

"Several analysts said the Palmeiro situation illustrates that point."

Novak Watch

Syndicated columnist Robert Novak, a central figure in the criminal investigation into who leaked a CIA agent's identity, uttered an obscenity and stalked off the set of CNN's "Inside Politics" show yesterday -- and was later suspended.

Novak was talking to former Clinton political strategist James Carville about another topic altogether when Carville started to needle him.

Carville: "He's got to show these right-wingers that he's got a back bone, ya know? Wall Street Journal editorial page is watching. You show 'em you're tough."

Novak: "You know I think that's bullshit. And I hate that. Just let it go."

Novak then got up, removed his microphone, and walked off the set.

Carville and anchor Ed Henry continued like nothing had happened. But later, Henry added: "Thanks, James Carville. And I'm sorry as well that Bob Novak obviously left the set a little early. I had told him in advance that we were going to ask him about the CIA leak case. He was not here for me to be able to ask him about that. Hopefully we'll be able to ask him about that in the future."

A CNN spokeswoman later called Novak's behavior "inexcusable and unacceptable" and added: "We've asked Mr. Novak to take some time off."

Media Matters has the video ; CNN has the transcript .

George Rush and Joanna Molloy write in the New York Daily News: "Novak told us later: 'He said I was trying to please the editorial writers of The Wall Street Journal. I thought that was an unacceptable questioning of my integrity. I overreacted.

" 'I've gotten into a lot of shouting matches with James when I'm unable to outshout him. I just got a little frustrated.'

"CNN host Ed Henry said on the air that he'd hoped to ask Novak about the grand jury inquiry into his column revealing the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame, but Novak denied that's why he bailed out.

" 'I knew what he was going to ask,' he told us, 'and I knew the answer I was going to give.' "

The FishbowlDC blog reports that "after stalking off the set, Novak confronted anchor Ed Henry and D.C. bureau chief David Bohrman off-air, furious that Henry's post-walk-off statement that he intended to ask about the Plame investigation might lead viewers to believe Novak was upset over that."

The Washington Post reports: "Reached by the Post's John Maynard shortly after the incident, Novak said Carville 'was questioning my motives. . . . I would hope he was just trying to be funny and I took it the wrong way. I shouldn't have done what I did, but I did and I apologize.'

Jacques Steinberg reports in the New York Times: "Asked last night in a telephone interview why he thought Mr. Novak had acted as he did, Mr. Carville said, 'Bob's probably got a lot going on in his life.' "

The bloggers are captivated.

Slate blogger Mickey Kaus speculates about the big reddish-brown book sitting in front of moderator Henry. It was "Who's Who in America, of course! . . .

"Perhaps Henry, who says he told Novak he was going to ask about the Plame case, wanted to clear up . . . whether Novak really found out Plame's maiden name from the book."

Bush in Texas

Jim VandeHei writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush said Thursday that the United States will not be bullied by this week's killings of 25 service members in Iraq or what he called the 'dark, dim, backwards' views propagated by al Qaeda's number two commander, Ayman Zawahiri, and other terrorists.

"Speaking shortly after Zawahiri broadcast a new taped warning that the United States and its allies would suffer thousands of deaths if it did not pull out of Iraq, Bush struck a defiant tone, saying the United States will stay on the offensive to 'complete the job in Iraq.' "

Bush took two questions after remarks with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who was visiting him on his Texas ranch.

Here is the text of those remarks. Said Bush: "The comments by the number two man of al Qaeda make it clear that Iraq is a part of this war on terror, and we're at war. In other words, he's saying, leave."

Edwin Chen writes in the Los Angeles Times about the Uribe visit: "President Bush urged Congress to continue supporting Colombia's efforts to combat narco-terrorism Thursday even as he warned visiting Colombian President Alvaro Uribe that the United States expected Uribe's government to honor its stated commitment to human rights."

Upcoming Press Conference

The White House is promising a news conference -- the first one since May -- at the ranch on Tuesday. Bush will start with some remarks about the economy and then take questions from the pool.

'Sources Close to the White House' -- Unmasked!

Remember how false rumors led many reporters to believe that Bush had settled on Edith Brown Clement as his Supreme Court nominee?

Ryan Lizza writes in the New Republic how that "episode underscores how much reporters now rely on GOP operatives outside the White House to tell them what's going on inside of it. These sources and their ilk fed the frenzied, daylong speculation that Bush would pick Clement, and they now shape the coverage of every major White House story. Whether they are called 'sources close to the White House' or 'Bush advisers' or 'GOP strategists familiar with White House thinking,' their role in Washington is the same. They act as an essential lubricant in the daily clash between the White House and its press corps."

So who are these people?

Writes Lizza: "As a service to readers, and in an effort to demystify the anonymous source phenomenon, I asked 15 of the finest Bush White House reporters to help assemble a guide to the secret society of sources close to the White House. Despite the swelling ranks of scttwh, interviews revealed that there is indeed a core membership that might be called the Usual Suspects: a cadre of lobbyists, congressmen, ex-officials, and other hangers-on who seem to be programmed into every cell phone on the White House beat."

Among them: Ed Gillespie, Ken Mehlman, Charles Black, Ken Duberstein, Vin Weber, Matthew Dowd, Mark McKinnon, Mary Matalin and Stuart Stevens.

You'll have to read Lizza to learn more about them.

He concludes: "At least one reporter recently granted a White House official the cover of a SCTTWH. Reporters say that this practice of officials inside the White House trying to disguise themselves as outsiders is becoming more common. Which means there's a whole new category of sources close to the White House: liars."

The Saudi Visit

Dominic Evans reports for Reuters: "Vice President Dick Cheney and former President Bush offered condolences on Friday to Saudi Arabia's new ruler King Abdullah over the death of King Fahd, a close U.S. ally during his 23-year rule."

Bush Honors Killer

Kim Curtis writes for the Associated Press: "Convicted murderer Stanley ' Tookie ' Williams has received an award for his good deeds on death row, complete with a letter from President Bush praising the notorious gang founder for demonstrating 'the outstanding character of America.'

"Williams, co-founder of the notorious Crips street gang, has been an anti-gang activist during his many years on death row at San Quentin State Prison, where he was sent after being convicted in 1981 for killing four people. He's authored 10 books, mostly warning young people to stay away from gangs. . . .

"It was doubtful that the president, who oversaw 152 executions during his six years as Texas governor, knew that Williams had received a congratulatory letter bearing his signature."

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