What's the Plan?

By Dan Froomkin
special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, August 22, 2005; 12:36 PM

President Bush emerges from his Texas compound this week to make two speeches about Iraq in an effort to restore sagging public support for his war and his presidency.

But news reports suggest it's unlikely that he will answer the many questions being raised by the country's increasingly vocal antiwar movement.

In a preview of his remarks, Bush used his Saturday radio address to reassert a connection between Iraq and the September the 11th, 2001, terrorist attacks and to suggest a parallel to earlier, more popular wars.

"The veterans of World War II defended America when ruthless foes threatened our freedom and our very way of life. And after winning a great victory, they helped former enemies rebuild and form free and peaceful societies that would become strong allies of America. The World War II generation endured great suffering and sacrifice because they understood that defeating tyranny in Europe and Asia was essential to the security and freedom of America.

"Like previous wars we have waged to protect our freedom, the war on terror requires great sacrifice from Americans."

(Vice President Cheney, as I wrote in Friday's column, tried casting the war in Iraq as a battle in the same great tradition as the Revolutionary War in a speech on Thursday.)

Former presidential adviser David Gergen tells Josh Getlin and Elizabeth Mehren of the Los Angeles Times that Bush's repeated insistence that the invasion of Iraq was necessary after the Sept. 11 attacks continues to be persuasive to some Americans.

" 'I think people are really worried that if we get out of Iraq the end result will be worse, because of the fear of terrorism,' Gergen said. 'That has sustained the president.' "

But at the same time, with protests at his Texas doorstep and a growing number of mainstream political figures asking him to explain his exit strategy, Bush's continued refusal to describe his Iraq plans in any detail carries increased political risk.

And Bush's "stay the course" message became more problematic yesterday after an influential member of his own party, Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, asserted on ABC News's This Week: "Stay the course is not a policy."

Hagel Watch

Josh Meyer writes in the Los Angeles Times: "As President Bush prepared to hit the road this week to bolster public support for his policies in Iraq, a senior Republican senator said Sunday that the United States needed to craft an exit strategy because its continued presence had created a potential Vietnam.

" 'We should start figuring out how we get out of there,' Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska said on ABC's 'This Week.' 'I think our involvement there has destabilized the Middle East. And the longer we stay there, I think the further destabilization will occur.'

"Hagel, the second-ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a prospective presidential candidate in 2008, was among several senators from both parties who used the Sunday talk shows to express mounting frustration over the administration's handling of the war and the occupation."

Grassroots vs. Establishment

Peter Baker and Shailagh Murray writes in The Washington Post: "Democrats say a long-standing rift in the party over the Iraq war has grown increasingly raw in recent days, as stay-the-course elected leaders who voted for the war three years ago confront rising impatience from activists and strategists who want to challenge President Bush aggressively to withdraw troops.

"Amid rising casualties and falling public support for the war, Democrats of all stripes have grown more vocal this summer in criticizing Bush's handling of the war. A growing chorus of Democrats, however, has said this criticism should be harnessed to a consistent message and alternative policy -- something most Democratic lawmakers have refused to offer."

Dick Polman writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer: "At a time when the Iraq war is draining President Bush's popularity, you might think that the Democrats would have a consensus plan of their own for ending the bloodshed and winning the peace.

"But no such plan exists - because the party's liberal grassroots base and the cautious Washington establishment are too busy warring with each other."

Conventional Wisdom?

Newsweek's "Conventional Wisdom" feature -- which calls itself "an informal distillation of the ever-changing thinking of Beltway pundits and the chattering classes" -- gives Bush a down-arrow this week: "His '9/11 link' pro-war offensive is getting offensive. What he's selling, America ain't buying."

Poll Watch

An American Research Group poll finds Bush's overall approval ratings down to 36 percent in August, from 42 percent in July.

War Analogies

Getlin and Mehren write in the Los Angeles Times: "There were few misgivings about the need to fight World War II because America had been attacked at Pearl Harbor. Most Americans also were eager to stop Hitler's Germany from taking over all of Europe.

"The same cannot be said of the Iraq war because of the debate over whether Saddam Hussein's regime had any link to the Sept. 11 attacks. The futile search for weapons of mass destruction also made skeptics of many on the home front.

" 'World War II had lots of discouraging moments, but almost everyone saw that it had to be carried out to its conclusion,' said historian Geoffrey C. Ward, whose 14 books include one on the Civil War.

" 'The difference here is that increasing numbers of people aren't sure it is worth it.'

"Vietnam may offer a better analogy, because the underlying argument for that conflict -- the need for the United States to fight communist expansion -- gradually gave way to a belief that the war was bogged down in a quagmire that was killing thousands of Americans a year. The public can rapidly lose faith in leaders if it does not think a conflict is winnable."

Utah Bound

Bush travels to one of the reddest states today to speak with one of the reddest groups around: The Veterans of Foreign Wars. But even in Salt Lake City, he is running into some opposition.

Glen Warchol writes in the Salt Lake Tribune: "Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson called for 'the biggest demonstration this state has ever seen' to protest President Bush's appearance Monday before a national veterans convention. . . .

"In an e-mail Wednesday to about 10 activist leaders, the maverick mayor of Utah's capital called for a diverse demonstration to greet Bush when he speaks to the Veterans of Foreign Wars at the Salt Palace Convention Center. The mayor plans to join the protesters. . . .

"The mayor's message drew a howl of outrage from Mike Parkin, senior vice commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Atomic Post 4355 in Salt Lake City.

" 'Excuse my French, but - that son of a bitch!' he said. 'It makes the mayor look very, very unpatriotic. It makes him look despicable.' "

Bob Bernick Jr. and Lisa Riley Roche write in the Deseret Morning News: "While his job approval ratings are suffering nationwide, Bush remains popular in Utah, which gave him his largest margin of victory of any state in 2000. A June 2 poll conducted for the Morning News and KSL-TV by Dan Jones & Associates found that 74 percent of Utahns like the job Bush is doing as president. Only 15 percent disapproved of Bush's job performance."

Caren Bohan writes for Reuters: "At a park near the VFW venue, Celeste Zappala, 58, the Philadelphia mother of a National Guardsman killed in Iraq, plans to lead a protest. Her son Sherwood Baker was killed in Iraq last year and she is part of anti-war mother Cindy Sheehan's group, Gold Star Families for Peace. . . .

"Sheehan's group is also airing television ads in Salt Lake City accusing Bush of having lied about Iraq. One station, an ABC affiliate, is refusing to air the ads."

Meanwhile at Camp Casey

Mike Allen writes in The Washington Post: "Camp Casey, which started with one mom and a grievance, mushroomed over the weekend into a massive settlement with a party tent for 2,000, a shuttle-bus service and an elaborate catering operation that deposited a 26-foot-long refrigerator truck, generators, and restaurant-quality ranges and warming ovens in a field next to President Bush's ranch. . . .

"The main camp -- featuring the white tent, which is so big it has eight peaks and is known to the White House press corps as the 'Cirque du Soleil' -- is just outside a Secret Service checkpoint at the back of Bush's ranch."

Elisabeth Bumiller writes in the New York Times: "Supporters of Ms. Sheehan, the mother of an American soldier killed in Iraq, are feeding hundreds of people each day at an elaborate new antiwar encampment abutting a Secret Service checkpoint less than a mile from the president's ranch. Mr. Bush, who went on a 17-mile bike ride on Saturday with the seven-time Tour de France winner, Lance Armstrong, is in his own presidential vacation encampment, and was largely focused last week on downtime and exercise."

Angela K. Brown writes for the Associated Press: "Iraq war protesters camping out near President Bush's ranch got some support Sunday night from a prominent figure in the anti-Vietnam war movement: folk singer Joan Baez.

" 'In the first march I went to (opposing Vietnam) there were 10 of us. This is huge,' Baez told relatives of fallen U.S. soldiers Sunday before performing a free concert just up the road from the ranch."

Revisiting the Sheehan Decision

Mike Allen writes in The Washington Post: "When Cindy Sheehan showed up outside President Bush's ranch on the fourth full day of his five-week working vacation to talk about a son who had been killed in Iraq, he declined to meet with her -- a decision that has been widely second-guessed, even by some Republicans. The way that choice was made, and the reasons for it, provide a vivid illustration of several hallmarks of Bush's style, including his insistence on protocol, his concern with precedent, his resistance to intrusions and his aversion to hand-wringing.

"According to the accounts of several advisers, Bush and his aides concluded that it would be a mistake to yield to Sheehan's demand for a second meeting with Bush to discuss the death of her son, Casey, who was killed in Iraq at the age of 24 last year when his Army battalion was attacked with rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire. The president had made it clear, going back at least to a California railroad swing during his 2000 campaign, that he does not care to meet with protesters or to reward them."

Lance Watch

Reuters reports: "Cycling superstar Lance Armstrong pressed President Bush to boost federal spending on cancer research during a visit to his ranch, but the two did not discuss the Iraq war, which Armstrong opposes. . . .

"The president, whose favorite sport is mountain biking, went with Armstrong on a 17-mile bike ride on Saturday through the sunflower fields and canyons of Bush's 1,600-acre (640-hectare) Texas ranch. They later went for a swim and had lunch. . . .

"In an indication that Armstrong did not overtake the president in the bike ride, a White House spokesman said the cycling champion was careful to respect 'the first rule of biking.' "

The New York Times noted that Armstrong "told USA Today last month: 'The biggest downside to a war in Iraq is what you could do with that money. What does a war in Iraq cost a week? A billion? Maybe a billion a day? The budget for the National Cancer Institute is $4 billion. That has to change. It needs to become a priority again.' "

Revolt of the Religious Right?

Newsweek's Howard Fineman tells NBC's Matt Lauer this morning that too much role for Islam in the Iraqi constitution would be "dangerous for the president politically . . . because his core support in the Republican party are religious conservatives, Christian activists, and I'm told that some leading Christian leaders here in the United States have told the administration . . . that if the constitution ends up being one that enshrines Islamic law, and lessens the possibility of religious freedom in Iraq, that American religious conservatives are going to be very upset with this president."

Dead Right

CNN's documentary " Dead Wrong, Inside an Intelligence Meltdown" on Sunday, hosted by David Ensor, was better at raising questions than offering answers.

" 'Dead wrong.' That's how the commission appointed by President Bush describes U.S. intelligence in the lead up to the Iraq War," Ensor said in his introduction.

"Despite public warnings before the war, no weapons of mass destruction have been found. But the commission's searing report left unanswered a critical question. Should anyone be held accountable?"

David Gregory, NBC's White House correspondent, is shown asking: "Did this commission not ask the tough questions? Did they not challenge some of these assumptions? And doesn't ultimate responsibility rest with the president of the United States?"

The documentary does suggest that intelligence analysts felt some pressure to give the "First Customer" intelligence that fit the White House's preconceptions, and that top policymakers chose to ignore evidence that didn't make their case.

Karen Hughes Watch

Steven R. Weisman writes in the New York Times: "For years, President Bush has called on Karen P. Hughes, his confidante from Texas, to help devise replies to attacks from political foes. Now Ms. Hughes, installed at the State Department, plans to set up 'rapid response' teams to counter bad news and defend administration policies around the globe."

Karl Rove Watch

U.S. News reports: "The recent controversy swirling around Karl Rove hasn't slowed him a bit. That's according to White House insiders who say Bush's political boy genius is as engaged as ever in high-level decision making despite all the attacks by angry Democrats alleging he improperly -- and possibly illegally -- outed a covert CIA operative. Rove was a key player behind the recently passed transportation and energy bills, and now he's planning Bush's fall agenda, which will include a renewed push for Social Security overhaul, changes in immigration law, and tax restructuring. Says a White House insider who talks to Rove regularly, 'He is as instrumental as he ever was.' "

Bushless San Francisco

Marc Sandalow writes in the San Francisco Chronicle: "Presidential visits to San Francisco have been a tradition since Rutherford Hayes lunched at the Cliff House in 1880.

"Presidents arrived by stagecoach and jet. One was shot at. Another died. In all, 20 presidents have visited the city, including every chief executive for the past 75 years.

"Except George W. Bush.

"Now in the fifth year of his presidency, Bush has yet to set a foot in the city that was home to his childhood baseball idol, Willie Mays, and shows no inclination to do so. The White House is planning a California visit by the end of the month, and San Francisco is not on the itinerary."

He's More Likely to Go to Libya

Agence France Presse reports: "Libya has opened a new phase in its journey from pariah state back to the international fold by calling for US President George W. Bush to visit and pledging action on human rights."

Chef Watch

Jose Antonio Vargas writes in The Washington Post about Cristeta Comerford.

"Her new position as the White House's top toque -- a uniquely high-profile and sought-after celebrity chef job -- is an affirmation, her former bosses and co-workers say, of the hard work, focus, imperturbable demeanor and culinary talent she has shown in the kitchen."

No word directly from Comerford yet. "The White House is planning a 'press event' in the first week of September to accommodate the hundreds of requests -- 'more than 500 so far and counting,' says an overwhelmed Susan Whitson, Laura Bush's press secretary -- to interview Comerford."

Vargas also spots an error: "She attended the University of the Philippines-Diliman, in Quezon City, and majored in food technology. Contrary to a news release issued by the White House, though, she didn't complete her degree."

Fitzgerald Watch

Shawn McCarthy writes in Toronto's Globe and Mail: "U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has prosecuted mobsters, terrorists and even journalists. He has investigated and charged state and city officials in this notoriously crooked state with pit bull tenacity.

"And always, he has methodically, inexorably pursued his investigations to target the man at the top of the organizational pyramid."

The Chicago Tribune weighs in with an editorial about Fitzgerald today.

"All summer long the question has brushed against the polished marble in Chicago's corridors of power. . . . Will some powerful someone in the Republican Party persuade the White House to promote, fire or otherwise remove Patrick Fitzgerald, the aggressive U.S. attorney in Chicago?"

But Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, speaking to the Tribune editorial board earlier this summer, "came close to saying Fitzgerald has the most untouchable stature in the Department of Justice. After all, Fitzgerald leads the ongoing investigation of who--was it someone at the White House?--outed CIA agent Valerie Plame. 'In light of [Fitzgerald's] role as special prosecutor,' Gonzales said, 'if there is talk in the White House about him, that is probably not very smart. That kind of talk would be foolish. I don't think it's happening.' "

Book Notes

Disregard what you may have read about Bush's highbrow reading list. (See my Aug. 16 column.)

Bumiller notes in the New York Times that Bush told a small group of reporters a week ago: "I'm reading an Elmore Leonard book right now."

Blowing His Own Cover

Dana Milbank and Peter Baker wrote in Saturday's Washington Post: "As it routinely does, the White House insisted that yesterday's briefing on North Korea be 'on background,' meaning that the Senior Administration Official was speaking 'on the condition of anonymity,' as the newspapers usually put it.

"To preserve that anonymity, the White House edits the public transcripts of such briefings to take out references to the Senior Administration Official's name. But the scrubbing has its limits."

Friday's would-be anonymous source mentioned three times that he used to work at the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. And if that wasn't enough, during a spirited argument with reporters about why the briefing was in fact anonymous, he outed himself.

The briefing was about Bush's choice for special envoy on human rights in North Korea.

From the transcript: "[O]n this question of why we're keeping this on background, it's really out of consideration for the position. The big news here is Jay Lefkowitz, the President's immediately former head of his -- Deputy Assistant for Domestic Policy, getting this job. The story isn't what Mike Kozak is saying about trying to find the office space for the office and that kind of thing. So I don't know how to characterize that, but that is the reason. It's not because we're giving you anonymous tips or something."

Michael G. Kozak, now a member of the National Security Council, is the former acting assistant secretary of the State Deparment's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. You can still see his bio on this cached version of a State Department page that suddenly vanished over the weekend.

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