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Checking Out

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, August 8, 2006; 11:46 AM

A vacationing President Bush briefly suited up and faced the media hordes yesterday morning to outline his administration's vision for an eventual cessation of hostilities in Lebanon. Then he high-tailed it back to his sprawling country home, leaving Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to do the heavy lifting.

Bush was generous with the familiar talking points (see yesterday's column ), but didn't exactly give the impression of someone who feels any sense of personal urgency to stop the killing.

Nedra Pickler writes for the Associated Press: "Bush dressed in suit and tie for the press conference -- a departure from the casual dress and more restricted media access that are typical at the ranch. In part, the appearance was designed to show the president is engaged even when he is away from the White House. But Bush has left the negotiations to Rice and other diplomats and has not spoken with the prime ministers of Lebanon or Israel about the U.N. resolutions.

" 'Condi is handling those conversations, and she's doing a fine job of doing so,' Bush said."

Here is MSNBC's Keith Olbermann talking to Newsweek's Howard Fineman last night:

Olbermann: "Is it more than a cheap shot to say the president is on vacation? Is it even possible to stop Israel and Hezbollah without the president at least giving the appearance of being involved in the process?"

Fineman: "I don't think it's a cheap shot, although the White House is trying to tell everybody that this is a much shorter vacation than he has taken in the past. But the key thing is not how many days he spends in Crawford, it's what he does or doesn't do when he's there.

"Unfortunately for him, his Crawford record of vigilance is not that terrific politically or substantively. . . .

"Now you've got the combination of him being down in Crawford while at the same time saying that he's not talking to the two most important leaders in the Middle East conflict right now, the leaders of Israel and Lebanon."

Olbermann: "Does anybody there believe in history? Would somebody say to Mr. Bush, 'Hey, you know, it would mean something, at least symbolically, if you delayed this trip even by a couple of days if there was some sense that it was not business as usual'?"

Fineman: "There may be some people who might say that to him. They're not in his inner circle. Some measure of August vacation in Crawford is sacrosanct with George W. Bush. They think they've made a big sacrifice; he thinks he's made a big sacrifice by having it only be about 10 to 11 days and not the nearly month that he sometimes takes and would prefer to take."

Meanwhile, in Lebanon

Tom Perry writes for Reuters: "Israeli air raids and ground battles with Hizbollah guerrillas convulsed south Lebanon on Tuesday amid diplomatic wrangling over how to end a four-week-old war that has killed more than 1,000 people."


Here's Mike Allen writing in The Washington Post in August of 2001, as Bush's first long Crawford vacation wrapped up: "The length of the trip revived old questions about Bush's work ethic. . . . The White House, suddenly defensive, took every opportunity to show Bush on the go and even created a 'Western White House' logo for the briefing room at Crawford Elementary School."

Of course no one knew at the time that Bush had, during the first week of his vacation, waved off the now-famous memo specifically for the president titled " Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US ." According to author Ron Suskind, Bush heard his CIA briefer out -- then told him, "All right. You've covered your ass, now."

And as Dana Milbank and Mike Allen wrote in The Post in April 2004: "President Bush was in an expansive mood on Aug. 7, 2001, when he ran into reporters while playing golf at the Ridgewood Country Club in Waco, Tex.

"The day before, the president had received an intelligence briefing -- the contents of which were declassified by the White House Saturday night -- warning 'Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US.' But Bush seemed carefree as he spoke about the books he was reading, the work he was doing on his nearby ranch, his love of hot-weather jogging, his golf game and his 55th birthday."

The Politics of War

Peter Wallsten writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Some Republican candidates are distancing themselves from President Bush in fear of voter discontent with the war in Iraq. But a new GOP strategy memo argues that the war could prove to be an advantage for many Republican candidates, citing it as one of the most effective issues that will excite the party base in November.

"The memo, based on a Republican National Committee poll of GOP voters and obtained by the Los Angeles Times, lists Bush's handling of 'foreign threats' as the No. 1 motivator of the Republican base, specifically citing his leadership on Iraq. . . .

"The memo underscores the belief among top White House and GOP strategists that the war, despite the rising death toll and mounting public anxiety, could be the party's biggest advantage in the fight to retain control of Congress in the November elections."

The Lieberman Effect

Today, however, the politics of war are playing out in a very different way in Connecticut, where incumbent Sen. Joseph Lieberman could lose the Democratic nomination based on his closeness to Bush.

The single Lieberman statement that may have most infuriated members of his own party came when he scolded them for undermining Bush's credibility. Here's that speech : "It is time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge that he will be Commander-in-Chief for three more critical years, and that in matters of war we undermine Presidential credibility at our nation's peril."

But as Philadelphia Inquirer blogger Dick Polman points out, Lieberman's remark implied "that any Democratic dissent will hurt Bush's credibility -- whereas, in reality, the factual record demonstrates that it is Bush and his war planners who have hurt their own credibility."

Dan Balz writes in The Washington Post: " 'The stance that, for a senator, politics ought to stop at the water's edge makes sense if and only if the president isn't playing politics with foreign policy,' said William A. Galston of the Brookings Institution, who has often sided with Lieberman on intraparty battles but disagrees with him on the war.

" 'But this president and this administration manifestly have played politics with foreign policy, and their chief political adviser has been totally frank about that,' he added."

Jeanne Cummings writes in the Wall Street Journal: "Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman's political fate will be decided Tuesday in the state's Democratic primary, but the race's focus on public opposition to the Iraq war and President Bush has put other incumbents on notice that a voter revolt could be in the making.

"The 18-year incumbent's battle reflects a trend this year: An anti-incumbent mood is striking hardest against politicians aligned with the president, regardless of their party. "

Poll Watch

Peter Baker and Claudia Deane write in The Washington Post: "Most Americans describe themselves as being in an anti-incumbent mood heading into this fall's midterm congressional elections, and the percentage of people who approve of their own representative's performance is at the lowest level since 1994, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. . . .

"In a small boost for Bush, his approval rating inched up to 40 percent, two percentage points higher than in June and seven higher than in May, suggesting he may have arrested a slide that deeply unnerved Republican lawmakers and strategists. But Bush's standing remains weak for a president in a midterm election year and problematic three months before Election Day."

Here are the poll results .

Joseph Carroll writes for the Gallup News Service: "By a wide margin, Americans continue to say the war in Iraq should be the top priority for the president and Congress right now, according to a recent Gallup Panel survey."

A Contradiction

Glenn Greenwald writes for Salon: "According to the president, American security is threatened when anti-U.S. resentment grows in the Middle East and the region is awash in violence. Our goal, then, is to bring about a new Middle East where the U.S. is viewed as a force for good and peace and freedom can take hold. That is the essence of the neoconservative worldview."

But the effect of Bush policy, Greenwald notes, is this: "The U.S. is perceived as an occupying force in Iraq and as the primary enabler of, if not an outright participant in, the Israeli bombing campaign in Lebanon. The more war we wage in the Middle East, the more violence we create and the more anti-U.S. resentment we spawn, and thus the further away we move from the president's claimed objectives.

"Amazingly, the neoconservatives' response to the patent failure of their warmongering approach is to urge more of the same, just with more intensity and with less restraint. . . .

"That is the inescapable incoherence that lies at the core of neoconservatism. It claims as its goal the transformation of 'hearts and minds' but the only instruments it knows are air raids and ground invasions. This approach is no different than trying to extinguish a fire with gasoline, and unsurprisingly, the flames that for decades were simmering are now raging, with no limits and no end in sight."

The Report (Almost) Nobody Cares About

Liberal blogger Steve Benen wrote on Sunday: "It's been about 48 hours since Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee issued a sweeping indictment of the Bush administration's casual approach to law-breaking in a report called, ' The Constitution in Crisis .' How's the media reaction been?

"Using Lexis-Nexis and Google News, it appears that the only mainstream media outlet -- literally, the only one -- to even mention the release of the report was CNN, when Jack Cafferty devoted 200 words to the subject late last week."

Byron York , writing in the National Review, sees the report as "a detailed road map for the impeachment of George W. Bush, ready for use should Democrats win control of the House of Representatives this November. And [Rep. John] Conyers, who would become chairman of the House Judiciary Committee -- the panel that would initiate any impeachment proceedings -- is the man who could make it happen."

Civil War This

At yesterday's news conference , Bush had this to say on the topic of civil war in Iraq: "You know, I hear people say, well, civil war this, civil war that. The Iraqi people decided against civil war when they went to the ballot box. And a unity government is working to respond to the will of the people."

White House Briefing reader Larry Mack was one of several e-mailers who found Bush's airy dismissal particularly ironic given the books that, as I reported yesterday, are ostensibly on his summer reading list.

Writes Mack: "It is interesting that you note the history books President Bush has taken with him to read, particularly the two about Abraham Lincoln, in the same article where you note President Bush's quote. . . . I guess those books will inform the President that the American people decided against civil war at the ballot box in 1860. Should be a comfort to him, and to all of us."

Richard Cohen is Shrill

Richard Cohen writes in his Washington Post opinion column: "Whatever the case, we now have to understand that uttering the word 'Iraq' does to Bush administration officials what a touch of tequila does to Mel Gibson."

Cuba Watch

Bush was asked one question about Cuba yesterday:

"Q Mr. President, I don't think we've heard from you since Fidel Castro has fallen ill. Can you give us what you know of his current condition, what your administration's contingency plans are for his death, and how they address the desire of Cuban exiles in this country to eventually go home and reclaim their property?

"THE PRESIDENT: First of all, Cuba is not a very transparent society, so the only thing I know is what has been speculated. And that is that, on the one hand, he's very ill, and on the other hand, he's going to be coming out of a hospital. I don't know. I really don't know.

"And, secondly, that our desire is for the Cuban people to be able to choose their own form of government, and we would hope that -- and we'll make this very clear -- that as Cuba has the possibility of transforming itself from a tyrannical situation to a different type of society, the Cuban people ought to decide. The people on the island of Cuba ought to decide. And once the people of Cuba decide their form of government, then Cuban Americans can take an interest in that country and redress the issues of property confiscation. But first things first, and that is the Cuban people need to decide the future of their country."

Eric Lipton writes in the New York Times: "With the fate of Fidel Castro still unclear, the Bush administration is looking for ways to prevent a possible surge in illegal immigration from Cuba while perhaps easing the way for some Cuban-Americans to bring their relatives to the United States.

Lara Jakes Jordan writes for the Associated Press: "The draft plans, still under debate, seek to discourage a mass migration from Cuba over choppy waters -- a journey that violates current immigration law and risks lives. But administration officials said they also hope the relaxed rules will prompt Cubans to push the Castro regime for official permission to head to the United States."

Halliburton Watch

Stephanie Kirchgaessner writes in the Financial Times: "Halliburton, the Texas oil services company whose political connections reach the top tiers of the Bush administration, has become a lightening rod for critics of the Iraq war, who see it as a symbol of cronyism and much of what has gone wrong since the 2003 US invasion.

"The company, which was run by the vice-president, Dick Cheney, from 1995 to 2000, is a target of criticism in part because of its connections to Mr Cheney and his role in the war, but also because of widespread allegations of wasteful spending on billions of dollars in contracts -- from providing logistical support to troops on the ground, to restoring oil services in southern Iraq."

Political Cartoon Humor

Ben Sargent on the White House hangover; Stuart Carlson on the credibility gap; Steve Sack on turning the corner in Iraq; Mike Luckovich on fire in the Middle East.

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