War Mom vs. Peace Mom

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, August 25, 2005; 12:51 PM

Stung by the ability of one grieving mother to inspire a growing antiwar movement, the White House has found a mom to call its own.

An obviously delighted President Bush introduced her to a boisterous invitation-only audience mostly made up of military families in Idaho yesterday -- then sent her out to talk to the press.

"There are few things in life more difficult than seeing a loved one go off to war," Bush said in his speech yesterday. "And here in Idaho, a mom named Tammy Pruett -- (applause) -- I think she's here -- (laughter) -- knows that feeling six times over. (Applause.) Tammy has four sons serving in Iraq right now with the Idaho National Guard -- Eric, Evan, Greg and Jeff. Last year, her husband Leon and another son, Eren, returned from Iraq, where they helped train Iraqi firefighters in Mosul.

"Tammy says this -- and I want you to hear this -- 'I know that if something happens to one of the boys, they would leave this world doing what they believe, what they think is right for our country. And I guess you couldn't ask for a better way of life than giving it for something that you believe in.' America lives in freedom because of families like the Pruetts. (Applause.)"

Peter Wallsten writes in the Los Angeles Times: "By invoking Tammy Pruett of Pocatello, Idaho, Bush's speech to Idaho National Guard members and Air Force personnel marked the latest effort by the White House to respond to growing antiwar protests being led largely by relatives of fallen troops. . . .

"Pruett, a 46-year-old administrative assistant, was in the audience with her husband, Leon, and received a kiss on the cheek from Bush after the speech. The couple, who were featured this year on CNN, said they received a call about a week ago from the White House requesting their presence at Wednesday's event."

Here's the original CNN story about the Pruetts, which dates back to June. Here's a White House photo showing Pruett acknowledging the applause of the crowd yesterday; note Bush's dramatic backdrop. Here's another White House photo showing Bush hugging Pruett after his speech.

As Dana Bash explained on CNN: "Knowing full well the antiwar movement is gaining attention with the leadership of one military mother, the president introduced the country to another. . . .

"Tammy's husband and one son are just back from Iraq. Four other sons are still serving. The White House invited the Pruetts and choreographed this moment with a family CNN first profiled more than a year ago. The president's goal: show support among military families, appeal to patriotism. . . .

"Setting aside past concerns about privacy or looking too political, the White House led reporters to Tammy Pruett."

Both Tammy and her husband, Capt. Leon Pruett, were on CNN with Paula Zahn yesterday:

"ZAHN: There are so many things that must keep you awake at night. What is your chief concern as your son[s'] service continues over there?

"T. PRUETT: My greatest concern is that we stand firm, that we stand behind the president, that we continue this battle until it's done and we bring all of our boys and women home safely, but not until it's ready."

The Message

Sam Coates and Mike Allen write in The Washington Post: "White House officials said they viewed the speech, the second of three he plans to give in the two weeks before Labor Day, as a crucial opportunity for Bush to show both compassion and resolve when his conduct of the war is increasingly being publicly questioned, and polls of public support are flirting with Vietnam War-era depths. . . .

"Bush's aides said they realize that the death toll in Iraq -- at least 1,867 at the time Bush spoke -- will soon reach 2,000, a milestone that will provide a major platform for his critics. Against this backdrop, the aides said the speech was designed to portray a stark choice between completing the mission in Iraq and showing weakness to terrorists who are prepared to strike in the United States -- suggesting dire consequences at home from a hasty withdrawal abroad. . . .

"Asserting that 'the stakes in Iraq could not be higher,' Bush contended that the nation is 'achieving our strategic objectives in Iraq.' It is that last contention -- that the United States is moving purposely toward its goals and an accompanying exit from Iraq -- that has been subject to growing skepticism by Democrats."

And Bush did not say what those strategic objectives are, either.

Ken Herman writes for Cox News Service: "Repetition of the message is crucial, especially for a president operating in the current universe of neverending news cycles and a dizzying array of interest groups seeking to challenge the Bush message on the war, said White House communications expert Martha Kumar of Towson University."

William Douglas writes for Knight Ridder Newspapers: "Bush's speech Wednesday had the trappings of a campaign event designed to bolster his image as commander-in-chief. A drum corps played the theme of each of the armed forces as the flags of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard passed in review. Bush stood before a group of soldiers in fatigues. They stood ramrod straight in front of a giant red, white and blue backdrop with photos of soldiers, police officers, firefighters and rescue workers and the words 'Honoring America's Heroes,' creating a visual link between the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the war in Iraq."

Middle East Pullout?

Bush yesterday repeated a misleading assertion that he first made Tuesday: That critics of the war in Iraq are also calling for an immediate withdrawal of troops from the broader Middle East.

"An immediate withdrawal of our troops in Iraq or the broader Middle East, as some have called for, would only embolden the terrorists and create a staging ground to launch more attacks against America and free nations," Bush said.

Yesterday morning, three news organizations -- Agence France Presse, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times -- called attention to this mischaracterization. See yesterday's column for links.

But today, several news organizations -- including The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Associated Press and Knight Ridder -- published Bush's assertion unchallenged.

Only AFP noted, again: "It was not clear how many protesters, if any, want the United States to retreat from the Middle East entirely."

Remember Last Summer?

From his speech yesterday: "I don't know if you know this or not, but 19 individuals have served both as Guardsmen and as President of the United States. And I'm proud to have been one."

Meetings With Families

After his speech, Bush met for three hours with 68 members of 19 families who have lost loved ones in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The Idaho Statesman reports: "Bill and Ann Thurber left their private session with President Bush on Wednesday believing that he feels their pain.

"The Thurbers, who recently moved to Mountain Home from Florida, lost their son Dec. 8. Army Staff Sgt. Arthur Williams IV was killed in Iraq by a sniper.

" 'The president made me feel like he cares,' Ann Thurber said. 'My son wasn't just lost in the numbers for him. He felt our grief the way we do.'

" 'I think he feels it every time a soldier dies,' her husband added. 'A little of him dies with them. It's like they're his kids, too.' "

Bush also talked to the Thurbers about fishing.

Also from the Statesman: "De Ann, Rachel and Tanna Isenberg of Moscow said they left a private meeting Wednesday feeling that George W. Bush genuinely felt their family's loss.

"Sgt. Benjamin Isenberg died in Taji, Iraq, in September after an explosive device detonated near his Humvee. Isenberg was a member of the Oregon National Guard's 162nd Infantry.

" 'The president walked right in with Mrs. Bush behind him -- with smiles and tears,' said De Ann, Benjamin's mother."

Poll Watch

After reporting yesterday that Bush's job-approval rating in the latest Harris Poll is down to an all-time low of 40 percent (see yesterday's column ), the Wall Street Journal is back today with more findings.

This chart (subscription required) shows: "Since October 2003, Harris has asked 'Do you favor keeping a large number of U.S. troops in Iraq until there is a stable government there or bringing most of our troops home in the next year?' The telephone poll from Aug. 9-16, 2005, shows 61% favor bringing troops home in the next year. That's little changed from a survey two months ago, but still much higher than when Harris first began asking the question. Thirty-six percent of Americans feel troops should remain until a stable Iraqi government is established."

This article (subscription required) says: "Half of U.S. adults now believe insurgents are getting the upper hand in Iraq, a recent Harris poll finds, compared with 41% who felt that way in a June 2005 survey."

Richard Wolffe and Holly Bailey write in Newsweek.com: "For a White House that professes to not care about polls, Bush's advisers are concerned, which is why the public will see more of the president than usual during the final weeks of his month-long Texas sojourn. There will be slight tweaks in Bush's language about the war, administration officials say, including a more somber message on the enemy the U.S. faces."

Sheehan Returns to Crawford

Julie Mason writes in the Houston Chronicle: "With singing and tears, protest mom Cindy Sheehan returned to her vigil near President Bush's ranch Wednesday, less than a week after leaving to care for her ailing mother. . . .

"Asked later how it felt to be back at 'Camp Casey,' Sheehan gave two thumbs up. Her supporters, who have dwindled significantly in numbers during her absence, are hoping that Sheehan's return will rejuvenate their anti-war effort by bringing more attention back to Crawford."

Joyce Howard Price writes in the Washington Times: "Military families disturbed by a sea of crosses erected by anti-war protesters near President Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, have removed crosses bearing the names of their fallen children and transferred them to another site to show support for American troops in Iraq."

Republican Support Solid

John Harwood writes in the Wall Street Journal that Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska's recent "intraparty blast at President Bush's policy . . . raised the question of whether the lame-duck president's bulwark of Republican support is about to crumble over the Iraq war's mounting toll.

"The answer: not likely. National security remains a potent unifying issue for Mr. Bush's political coalition, he retains overwhelming personal popularity among Republicans, and the party's leading candidate to succeed him strongly backs the nation's continued presence in Iraq.

" 'We can't afford to lose,' says Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a maverick on other issues, but a Bush ally on Iraq. While 'there's nervousness' among Republicans, he says 'I do not see any significant erosion or inclination to jump ship.' "

Plame Watch

Tom Hamburger and Sonni Efron have a big story in the Los Angeles Times today bringing readers up to speed on the Valerie Plame CIA leak case.

"Beyond the whodunit, the affair raises questions about the credibility of the Bush White House, the tactics it employs against political opponents and the justification it used for going to war.

"What motivated President Bush's political strategist, Karl Rove; Vice President Cheney's top aide, I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby; and others to counter Wilson so aggressively? How did their roles remain secret until after the president was reelected? Have they fully cooperated with the investigation?

"The answers remain elusive."

Hamburger and Efron explain how an "ingrained antipathy toward the CIA may help explain the hostile reaction to [Ambassador Joseph] Wilson's public claim that he and others had debunked the reported Iraqi interest in uranium from Niger. . . .

"When the disclosure of Wilson's CIA mission to Niger put the White House on the defensive, one administration official said it reminded a tightknit group of Bush neoconservatives of their longtime battles with the agency and underlined their determination to fight.

"Many of those officials also were members of the White House Iraq Group, established to coordinate and promote administration policy. It included the most influential players who would represent two elements of the current scandal: a hardball approach to political critics and long-standing disdain for CIA views on intelligence matters.

"The group consisted of Rove, Libby, White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr., then-national security advisor Condoleezza Rice and her deputy, Stephen Hadley, and Mary Matalin, Cheney's media advisor. All are believed to have been questioned in the leak case; papers and e-mails about the group were subpoenaed."

Hamburger and Efron offer examples of Libby's important role in the run-up to war, and they remind readers of another unsolved mystery in the case: The origin of the forged documents that U.S. officials provided the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog arm to support the assertion that Iraq had tried to acquire uranium ore from Niger.

They also write about why Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper's testimony was delayed nearly a year, well after Bush's reelection.

"Cooper did not ask Rove for a waiver, in part because his lawyer advised against it. In addition, Time editors were concerned about becoming part of such an explosive story in an election year.

"Rove's attorney, meantime, took the view that contacting Cooper would have amounted to interfering with the ongoing court battle between reporter and prosecutor."

Constitution Watch

Bush said yesterday that Iraqis "will come up with a system that respects the traditions of their country and guarantees the rights of all their citizens."

Well maybe, maybe not.

Robin Wright writes in The Washington Post: "The Bush administration endorsed Iraq's proposed new constitution yesterday, but analysts warned that some provisions can be interpreted to undermine everything from the distribution of political power to a secular judiciary, from women's rights to fair distribution of oil revenue."

Edward Epstein writes in the San Francisco Chronicle: "Congressional advocates for Iraqi women pressed President Bush on Wednesday to do more to ensure that the constitution nearing completion in Baghdad doesn't erode women's rights by adopting strict Islamic law."

And blogger Billmon points out this quote in a Reuters story by Andrew Hammond about a women's rights campaigner's concerns: "When we came back from exile, we thought we were going to improve rights and the position of women. But look what has happened -- we have lost all the gains we made over the last 30 years. It's a big disappointment."

Who's the speaker? None other than Safia Souhail, now Iraq's ambassador to Egypt -- who back on Feb. 2 served as a poignant, living prop for Bush's State of the Union speech. After thrusting her purple-stained finger in the air, Souhail embraced the mother of a soldier who died in Iraq.

See my Feb. 3 column for a trip down memory lane.

Roberts Watch

Tom Brune writes in Newsday: "A dispute widened yesterday over whether Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts should have removed himself as a judge from a significant case challenging military tribunals because the White House was interviewing him as he considered the case.

"Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) yesterday asked Roberts to explain before his confirmation hearings start Sept. 6 why he did not recuse himself in the case, Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, as three legal ethicists said he should have in an article in Slate, an online magazine."

Jim VandeHei writes in The Washington Post: "After the release of about 60,000 documents detailing the work of Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr., Democratic senators are setting their sights on what was not in the huge cache of papers: more than 2,100 memos and letters that have been withheld by government archivists working in concert with the Bush White House."

Intel Watch

John Diamond and Judy Keen write in USA Today: "The classified intelligence briefings President Bush gets daily have been revamped to include divergent opinions from more sources, incorporate the latest terrorism threats and reduce the role of the CIA."

Among the key changes: "The brief can be a dozen to 30 pages in length and amounts to a classified newspaper. It includes articles written by analysts with expertise in regions or subject areas such as terrorism or weapons proliferation. The WMD Commission criticized the CIA for producing a document with 'snappy' headlines whose 'brevity leaves little room for doubts or nuance.'"

What a Gas

Jennifer Loven of the Associated Press takes an unusual approach to the story of the president and high gas prices: "Getting President Bush from here to there consumes an enormous amount of fuel, whether he's aboard Air Force One, riding in a helicopter or on the ground in a heavily armored limousine. The bill gets steeper every day as the White House is rocked by the same energy prices as regular drivers. Taxpayers still foot the bill."

Flying Air Force One -- which Bush does a lot -- now costs $6,029 per hour in fuel costs alone, according to the Air Force.

"So far this year, he has made 73 domestic and foreign trips, including crisscrossing the country on a 60-day, 60-city tour to promote his Social Security plan."

Live Online

I was Live Online yesterday. As usual, it was a lively discussion.

Biking Watch

Brad Hem writes in the Idaho Statesman: "Bush pedaled 16 miles on a mountain bike Tuesday morning during a one hour and 45 minute ride with Tamarack CEO Jean-Pierre Boespflug, Gov. Dirk Kempthorne and Secret Service agents on sections of the Koestrel, Culebra Loca (Spanish for Crazy Snake), Sandhill and Eagle trails. . . .

" 'He gave me a backhanded compliment,' Boespflug said. 'He said you're a good rider, Jean-Pierre, for someone with a potbelly.' . . .

"Joey Klein, the resort's trail designer, said the trails Bush rode were mostly for an intermediate level rider, though he did some more advanced rides, too."

In other resort news, Bush, who caught no fish on Tuesday, also didn't tip his fishing guide.

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