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What Is Mainstream?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, February 27, 2007; 12:48 PM

It's a landslide.

In stark contrast to the indecision and hesitation on Capitol Hill and among the Washington media elite, the American people have made up their mind about Iraq. They want out, and they want Congress to do something about it.

According to the results of the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, disapproving of President Bush's Iraq policy is not just the majority view; it is the sentiment of two out of every three members of the American public.

Support for a troop withdrawal -- and, specifically, for Congress to stay Bush's hand -- is not the domain of the antiwar left. It is the view of a solid majority of Americans.

Consider some of these findings, listed in order of how strongly those views are held. (And I'm only including those with over 55 percent support):

* 67 disapprove of the way Bush is handling Iraq.

* 67 percent oppose sending additional troops to Iraq.

* 66 percent support reducing U.S. military and financial support for the Iraqi government if the Iraqis fail to make progress toward national unity and restoring civil order.

* 64 don't think the war with Iraq was worth fighting.

* 58 percent want Congress to limit the number of troops available for duty.

* 56 percent feel the U.S. should withdraw its military forces from Iraq in order to avoid further U.S. military casualties, even if that means civil order is not restored there.

And in an somewhat related finding:

* 63 percent feel they cannot trust the Bush administration to honestly and accurately report intelligence about possible threats from other countries.

Dan Balz and Jon Cohen write about the poll in The Washington Post; Gary Langer for ABC News.

A new Gallup Poll finds that 65 percent of Americans see the British troop withdrawal announcement as a sign that things are going poorly in Iraq, rather than well -- contrary to the White House spin.

Another Gallup Poll, this one on the U.S. role in the world, finds that a record 73 percent of Americans say they don't think leaders of other countries around the world have respect for Bush, and 61 percent are dissatisfied with the position of the United States in the world today.

Cheney Unhurt in Suicide Bombing

Howard Schneider writes for The Washington Post: "Vice President Cheney was shuttled into a bomb shelter at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan this morning after a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the main gate in an attack Taliban officials say was aimed at the vice president.

"Cheney was uninjured and in no real danger from the blast, which killed four people, including a U.S. soldier, at the gate of the Bagram Airfield.

"Although the vice president heard what he described as a 'loud boom' at around 10 a.m. Afghan time, the explosion occurred far from the building where Cheney had spent the night awaiting a meeting with Afghan President Hamad Karzai. . . .

"[C]oming near the end of an unannounced trip whose itinerary was closely guarded, the incident highlighted some of the same concerns about resurgent Taliban activity in the area that Cheney had traveled to the region to address.

Here is the transcript of Cheney's brief remarks to the travel pool: "It seems to me I think it was about 10:00 a.m. this morning, I heard a loud boom. And shortly after that, the Secret Service came in and told me there had been an attack on the main gate, apparently a suicide bomber," he said.

"They moved me for a relatively brief period of time to one of the bomb shelters nearby, near the quarters I was staying in. And as the situation settled down, and they got a better sense in terms of what was going in, then I went back to my room. It was almost time to leave. . . .

"I think they clearly try to find ways to question the authority of the central government. Striking at Bagram with a suicide bomber, I suppose, is one way to do that. But it shouldn't affect our behavior at all."

Alisa Tang notes for the Associated Press that the attack "was the closest that militants have come to a top U.S. official visiting Afghanistan."

Holly Bailey writes for Newsweek: "The small group of journalists traveling with Cheney were waiting to board the plane en route to Kabul, when sirens suddenly erupted around the Bagram military base. Reporters saw plumes of smoke rise in the distance. A loudspeaker announced that the base was under attack--and Secret Service agents rushed the press to the plane.

"The vice president's office was careful to say that Cheney was never in any danger. . . .

"But tensions at the base were palpable. Cheney was supposed to have had a three-hour visit with Afghan President Hamid Karzai; the visit was cut to just an hour."

Security had been almost unprecedented, even before the attack.

Olivier Knox writes for AFP: "Security fears led US Vice President Dick Cheney to exchange his Air Force Two suite for a high-tech trailer chained to the floor of a cavernous military plane for his visits to Pakistan and Afghanistan. . . .

"Traveling reporters were given strict instructions before Cheney arrived first in Pakistan: No saying he was leaving from Oman, no saying he was flying on a C-17 transport aircraft rather than his usual Boeing, no saying when he arrived, no saying in Islamabad that he would fly on to Bagram, and so on.

"The journalists were only allowed to discuss the trip with their spouse or significant other and one superior at their news organisation, on penalty of seeing the entire media squad dropped from the visit."

Chicago Tribune reporter Mark Silva has been blogging the trip, and has more the military plane Cheney used for the flights into and out of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"This particular C-17, a hulking gray cargo jet out of Charleston, S.C., is dubbed The Spirit of Strom Thurmond, with the name painted decoratively in black above the front passenger door that Cheney boarded," Silva writes.

In another blog post, Silva writes: "The vice president spent an unexpected rainy and chilly night inside a reportedly comfortable special VIP container at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, having been snowed and rained in the night before, causing his planned meeting Monday with Afghan President Hamid Karzai to be delayed."

The pool reporters, meanwhile, had to make do in some fairly inhospitable army barracks.

Pakistan Watch

David E. Sanger writes in the New York Times: "Just hours after Vice President Dick Cheney delivered a stiff private message to President Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan, the Pakistani government lashed out Monday with a series of statements insisting that 'Pakistan does not accept dictation from any side or any source.'

"The unusual outburst, later toned down, revealed the depth of tensions between General Musharraf and Washington over what administration officials say have been inadequate efforts by Pakistan in combating Al Qaeda and the Taliban. . . .

"The White House would say little on Monday about the message Mr. Cheney was sent to deliver, though it did not deny reports that it included a tough warning that American aid to Pakistan could be in jeopardy. . . .

"The sensitivities of Mr. Cheney's trip were particularly evident as the White House spokesman, Tony Snow, parried detailed questions about the vice president's message to Pakistan, a country that Mr. Bush has hailed as a close American ally.

"Referring to Mr. Cheney, Mr. Snow said that 'the precise nature of his comments and the tenor of comments to the president would be the sort of things that would be confidential,' He reaffirmed Mr. Bush's confidence that General Musharraf was committed to fighting terrorism."

Liberal bloggers, including Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, were reveling yesterday in their interpretation of Cheney's mission to Pakistan: "Democrats are forcing the Bush Administration to do its job on terrorism."

Flip Flop?

Could this be as enormous a reversal as it sounds? Or as bizarre?

I wrote in yesterday's column about Seymour Hersh's article in the New Yorker, in which he asserts that Cheney has succeeded in redirecting Bush administration policy in the Middle East to supporting Sunnis at the expense of Iranian-backed Shiites.

By contrast, Robin Wright and Peter Baker wrote in The Washington Post as recently as December that Cheney was pushing for an Iraq plan that "would concentrate political attention on supporting the majority Shiites and abandon U.S. efforts to reach out to Sunni insurgents. . . .

"On the political front, the administration is focusing increasingly on variations of a 'Shiite tilt,' sometimes called an '80 percent solution,' that would bolster the political center of Iraq and effectively leave in charge the Shiite and Kurdish parties that account for 80 percent of Iraq's 26 million people and that won elections a year ago.

"Vice President Cheney's office has most vigorously argued for the '80 percent solution,' in terms of both realities on the ground and the history of U.S. engagement with the Shiites, sources say. A source familiar with the discussions said Cheney argued this week that the United States could not again be seen to abandon the Shiites, Iraq's largest population group, after calling in 1991 for them to rise up against then-President Saddam Hussein and then failing to support them when they did. Thousands were killed in a huge crackdown."

As Andrew Sullivan blogs: "Not so long ago, we were told that Cheney favored a pro-Shiite solution in Iraq and the region. Now, we're told he's decided to vest American interests and young American lives into supporting the Sunni side of a growing regional war, even if that means that the Saudis are funding terror groups that have close ties to al Qaeda."

Cheney's Power

White House Watch reader Joseph Britt of Sun Prairie, Wis., writes in response to yesterday's column about Cheney's omnipresence: "It's interesting that very expansive claims of Presidential authority have over the last few years been made on behalf of a President so weak that he has done what none of his 42 predecessors ever did -- assign vast responsibilities for making and implementing policy to the one official he cannot fire. . . . I wonder that this aspect of the Bush administration has been so little remarked on; one would think that something that had never happened in over two centuries would attract more notice."

Benchmarks Watch

Remember that poll result I mentioned above -- that 66 percent of Americans support reducing U.S. military and financial support for the Iraqi government if the Iraqis fail to make progress toward national unity and restoring civil order?

So one could reasonably conclude that the American public cares about whether or not the Iraqis are meeting their benchmarks.

And as it happens, the White House yesterday was inviting media attention to the good news concerning one of the key early benchmarks that officials had set for the Iraqis.

The White House in January identified three such key benchmarks: The arrival of three new Iraqi brigades in Baghdad by mid-February, political reforms that would allow Baath Party members to serve in the government, and agreement about how to distribute oil revenues.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, it is that last one that is more or less on course.

Joshua Partlow and Ernesto Londoño write in The Washington Post: "Iraq's cabinet approved draft legislation Monday that would enable the government to manage the country's vast oil resources and distribute revenue throughout the country, a step toward meeting a U.S. demand that the country's parliament pass such a law. . . .

"The draft oil law, approved by Iraq's cabinet after months of intense negotiations, must still be approved by parliament. Ministers agreed to a goal of enacting the legislation by May, a senior Iraqi official said on condition of anonymity."

Edward Wong writes in the New York Times: "The law also grants regional oil companies or governments the power to sign contracts with foreign companies for exploration and development of fields, opening the door for investment by foreign companies in a country whose oil reserves rank among the world's three largest. . . .

"Since last year, senior Bush administration officials and top American commanders here have said a new oil law is crucial to the country's political and economic development, and they have pressured Iraqi leaders relentlessly to make passage of the law a priority."

Christian Berthelsen and Tina Susman write in the Los Angeles Times: "Iraqi parliament members were cautious about the plan Monday night, noting that no details had been released. . . .

"Some analysts say the law also will be viewed dimly as another way for the U.S. to get its hands on the country's oil.

"Antonia Juhasz, an analyst at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington who has written extensively on the economic aspects of the invasion of Iraq, said throwing open the oil industry to foreign investment -- which no doubt would include U.S. interests -- would only heighten Iraqis' distrust of the United States. . . .

"'Most people in Iraq assume the U.S. invasion was about oil. When the people of Iraq learn that the majority of their oil fields are being turned over to foreign private production . . . it worries me."

And how about those other benchmarks?

As for those three brigades due last week, Joshua Partlow wrote in Monday's Washington Post: "The first brigade of 2,700 American reinforcements is patrolling the capital, bringing the total U.S. troop presence in Baghdad to 40,000, and members of three additional Iraqi military brigades have entered the city, though not at full strength. . . .

"Many people in Baghdad express deep reservations about the Iraqi security forces' ability and desire to battle their fellow citizens. U.S. soldiers say their Iraqi counterparts are swayed more by the anti-American speeches of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr than by the public appeals of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for even-handed enforcement."

And as for that political reform, Paul Richter wrote in Monday's Los Angeles Times: "Serious new divisions have emerged between the Bush administration and its Iraqi allies over the Baghdad government's refusal to enact a reform that the White House considers crucial to its new strategy for bringing the country's violence under control.

"In spite of a commitment by Iraq's prime minister to its passage, legislation that would ease rules barring former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party from government service has been blocked by the country's Shiite-dominated parliament. . . .

"One U.S. official said the reform, far from advancing as promised, was 'moving backward' and 'almost dead in the water."

Diplomacy on the Horizon?

David Ignatius writes in PostGlobal: "The Bush administration has agreed to sit around a negotiating table with official representatives of Iran and Syria next month -- as part of a planned regional conference in Baghdad to discuss ways to stabilize Iraq.

"In joining the Baghdad conference, the administration is tiptoeing into what has become one of the most contentious issues in the roiling Iraq debate. Critics for months have been urging the administration to end its diplomatic isolation of Iran and Syria and begin a constructive dialogue with them about how to stabilize Iraq. . . .

"Though it will bring together American, Syrian and Iranian representatives, the Baghdad meeting doesn't signal a direct U.S. diplomatic engagement with Iran and Syria. A senior State Department official said Monday night that it wasn't likely there would be separate bilateral meetings with Iran or Syria. Rather, the planned Baghdad meeting is an extension of the administration's current policy of using the Iraqi government as the channel for discussions with Iran and Syria about Iraqi security."

Bush and the Governors

Robert Pear writes in the New York Times: "Governors clashed with the White House on Monday over the future of the popular Children's Health Insurance Program, an issue that some members of both parties said was as important as money for the Iraq war.

"In the session at the White House, when President Bush reported on progress of the war, governors pressed him to provide more money so they could guarantee health insurance for children. In response, administration officials said states should make better use of the money they already had. . . .

"In his budget this month, Mr. Bush said he wanted to return the program to its 'original objective' of covering children with family incomes less than twice the poverty level. . . .

"Having successfully expanded the health insurance programs in their states, some governors now suggest that the Bush administration is pulling the safety net out from under many children."

David Nitkin writes in the Baltimore Sun: "[Maryland] Gov. Martin O'Malley sat tight-lipped through a White House meeting with President Bush yesterday and later criticized the president, saying he spent more time defending the administration's Iraq policy than addressing concerns about health care and immigration raised by the nation's governors. . . .

"Only the association's chairwoman, Gov. Janet Napolitano, an Arizona Democrat; and the vice chairman, Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican from Minnesota, questioned Bush directly.

"'President Bush answered each of them, and went back to vamping for about 15 or 20 minutes as to why he is exactly right in what he is doing with the decisions he has made to get us into Iraq and to escalate the war,' O'Malley said."

Libby Watch

Carol D. Leonnig and Amy Goldstein write in The Washington Post: "The jury considering whether I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby is guilty of perjury lost one of its members after nearly three days of deliberation yesterday, but the presiding judge ordered the panel to continue working to reach a decision.

"U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton dismissed the juror, an art curator in her 70s, after she disclosed to her peers that she had come in contact over the weekend with information about the case of Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff. . . .

"According to courthouse sources, the woman sought information that led her to material about the case over the weekend and realized yesterday morning that it was inappropriate to do so. Courthouse officials said Walton instructed the dismissed juror not to talk to the media until the case concludes."

Neil A. Lewis writes in the New York Times: "Theodore V. Wells Jr., Mr. Libby's lead defense lawyer, said that to add a new juror and restart deliberations would be prejudicial to his client. 'It would be inappropriate and unfair' to discard the deliberations thus far, Mr. Wells argued.

"Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the chief prosecutor, said that the government believed a replacement juror should be seated and that there was no doubt the 11 remaining jurors would follow the judge's instructions to begin their deliberations anew.

"But Judge Walton said he did not want to 'throw away' the time the jury had already spent considering the case. . . .

"The decision by Mr. Libby's defense team to urge that the trial proceed without a new 12th juror seemed to be counter to conventional wisdom in such situations, lawyers said.

"Because a unanimous jury is needed for a guilty verdict, a defendant need convince only one juror of his innocence to avoid a conviction. As a result, lawyers said, defense lawyers prefer to have as many sitting jurors as possible to increase the chances of having someone who refuses to vote for a guilty verdict."

But Richard B. Schmitt writes in the Los Angeles Times: "One observer said the lawyers' opposing views on the size of the jury suggested each was seeking a tactical advantage. 'At the very least, it probably means that Fitzgerald liked the alternates and Wells did not,' said Guy Singer, a Washington lawyer and former Justice Department prosecutor.

"The dismissed juror had demonstrated an independent streak, which could have assisted the defense.

"When the trial was about to resume on Valentine's Day, jurors paraded into Walton's courtroom with red shirts marked with white hearts. The only one to abstain from the sartorial statement was the former curator, who worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

"A conviction would require that all jurors find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt; the woman's lack of participation suggested she might not be inclined to go along with the pack."

Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts write in The Washington Post: "With a massive snowstorm canceling Sunday flights out of Chicago, how did Very Special Prosecutor (and former People mag 'Sexiest Man Alive' runner-up) Patrick Fitzgerald make it to the Scooter Libby trial at 9:30 yesterday morning? 'Alternate means,' he told our colleague Carol Leonnig, meaning: He drove. All 15 hours or whatever! Whatta guy."

Iran and Iraq

David Zucchino writes in the Los Angeles Times: "In the latest attempt to link the deadliest form of roadside bombs in Iraq to components manufactured in Iran, U.S. Army officers Monday displayed plastic explosives they said were made in Iran and uncovered during a raid Saturday in violence-racked Diyala province.

"An Army explosives expert said the C-4 plastic explosives were used to make bombs the military calls EFPs -- explosively formed projectiles. . . .

"The cache was part of what was believed to be the first EFP manufacturing site found in Iraq, officers said. They had previously assumed that most EFPs were assembled outside the country.

"Officers said they did not know where the copper plates were manufactured, or by whom. They also said they could not prove who supplied the materials or who was building the EFPs.

"The briefing was the third in two weeks in which U.S. military officials put forth evidence that they said showed Iran's hand in Iraq's violence. In contrast with previous sessions, officers at Monday's display were careful not to accuse the Iranian government of involvement. U.S. officials have had to backtrack from previous assertions of direct involvement by Iran's top government officials."

Laura Bush Watch

Larry King interviewed Laura Bush on CNN last night. She finds the war "wearying" but blames the media for discouraging people.

"KING: Has the war -- I don't know if it's a good term -- worn you down? I mean, the public, obviously the -- more people disapprove than approve. It's hurt the standing of the presidency.

"What has it done to you?

"BUSH: Well, of course, it's wearing, wearying. There's no doubt about it. And I understand how the American people feel and that they feel like things aren't going like we want them to there.

"On the other hand, I know how important it is for us to continue to help the Iraqis and that to leave now would be a serious mistake. And I really agree with the president on that, that the Iraqi government needs to get up and running as fast as they can.

"And, of course, we want our troops to come home. Nobody wants war. No one's pro-war. We want the -- to be able to have a democracy there, to have the people in Iraq, who have been oppressed by a dictatorship for all these years, to be able to build a good government that represents everyone. And I think it'll happen.

"KING: Is it going to be fast?

"BUSH: No. And we never expected it to be fast.

"KING: So it's going to be going on when you leave office?

"BUSH: Probably. I mean I have no idea and there's no way I could predict. But I hope not. I hope that they can build their government and reconcile with each other and build a country. This is their opportunity to seize the moment, to build a really good and stable country. And many parts of Iraq are stable now. But, of course, what we see on television is the one bombing a day that discourages everybody."

The liberal ThinkProgress Web site points out it's not just one bombing a day: "According to the latest Brookings Institution Iraq Index, as of November 2006, there were approximately 185 insurgent and militia attacks every day."

And I would add: We rarely see even one a day on television. Particularly when it comes to visuals, we continue to be shielded from the horror.

Ask the White House

White House Internet and e-communications director David Almacy will host " Ask the White House" Thursday afternoon to discuss the newly redesigned White House Web site.

Almacy told me yesterday that the redesign was an attempt to make the site look a bit cleaner and to call more attention to RSS feeds and podcasts.

"We've not removed any content," Almacy said, in response to some blogospheric conspiracy theories. Various items some bloggers are complaining were scrubbed from the site were never there to start with.

Cartoon Watch

Tony Auth on the wrong mouse hole; John Sherffius on Bush and Osama; Garry Trudeau continues his week-long look in "Doonesbury" at Iraqi troop readiness; and Ann Telnaes, who is trying her hand at animated cartoons, on Cheney Antoinette.

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