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Four More Months?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, May 8, 2007; 1:04 PM

After four years of perpetually kicking the can down the road, President Bush may finally be facing a deadline in Iraq that he can't ignore. This one is from his own party. It would force him to either show signs of success in Iraq in four months -- or admit failure. And unlike so many of the previous, ever-shifting deadlines, this one has a proper noun associated with it: September.

For many American politicians and pundits, "the next several months" have always been make or break in Iraq. But the actual moment of truth never seemed to come around.

The ubiquity of those ever-postponed reckonings has even led some bloggers to use the term "Friedman Unit" to represent a six-month period. Liberal blogger Duncan Black (Atrios) coined the phrase about two Friedmans ago, inspired by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting's revelation that New York Times columnist and talking head Thomas L. Friedman had been making six-month do-or-die forecasts about Iraq ever since November 2003. dKosopedia has a list of other's use of the Friedman unit.

But this timetable could be for real.

Jonathan Weisman and Thomas E. Ricks write in The Washington Post: "Congressional leaders from both political parties are giving President Bush a matter of months to prove that the Iraq war effort has turned a corner, with September looking increasingly like a decisive deadline. . . .

"'Many of my Republican colleagues have been promised they will get a straight story on the surge by September,' said Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.). 'I won't be the only Republican, or one of two Republicans, demanding a change in our disposition of troops in Iraq at that point. That is very clear to me.'

"'September is the key,' said Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), a member of the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds defense. 'If we don't see a light at the end of the tunnel, September is going to be a very bleak month for this administration.' . . .

"House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who has taken a hard line in Bush's favor, said Sunday, 'By the time we get to September, October, members are going to want to know how well this is working, and if it isn't, what's Plan B.' . . .

"'There were always two debates in the debate over timelines to end the war,' said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.). 'George W. Bush is hellbent on January 20, 2009, when he walks out of the door, leaving a box stamped 'Iraq' for the next president. The Republicans are hellbent on not going through the next election with Iraq tied to their ankles. All Boehner said publicly was what Republicans have been saying privately for months.'"

What's so special about September? As Weisman and Ricks explain, "political pressures in Washington will dovetail with the military timeline in Baghdad. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commanding general in Iraq, has said that by then he will have a handle on whether the current troop increase is having any impact on political reconciliation between Iraq's warring factions. And fiscal 2008, which begins Oct. 1, will almost certainly begin with Congress placing tough new strings on war funding."

In the meantime, Carl Hulse writes for the New York Times: "House Democrats may push ahead this week with a new war spending bill that would provide money for combat operations through midsummer, with the rest of the funds sought by President Bush withheld until commanders in Iraq provide a report on conditions there. . . .

"Aides and other officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the proposal was still being vetted, said it would provide about $40 billion of the $95 billion sought by the administration. The proposal would require Mr. Bush to report to Congress in July on events in Iraq.

"Congress would then vote a second time and could presumably put new conditions on the remaining money if lawmakers were not satisfied."

The Cost of War, Part I

Lori Montgomery writes in The Washington Post: "The global war on terror, as President Bush calls the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and related military operations, is about to become the second-most-expensive conflict in U.S. history, after World War II.

"Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Congress has approved more than $609 billion for the wars, a figure likely to stand as lawmakers rework their latest spending bill in response to a Bush veto. Requests for $145 billion more await congressional action and would raise the cost in inflation-adjusted dollars beyond the cost of the wars in Korea and Vietnam.

"But the United States is vastly richer than it was in those days, and the nation's wealth now dwarfs the price of war, economists said. . . .

"And this time, the war bill is going directly on the nation's credit card. Unlike his predecessors, Bush is financing a major conflict without raising taxes or making significant cuts in domestic programs. Instead, he has cut taxes and run up the national debt. The result, economists said, is a war that has barely dented the average American's pocketbook and caused few reverberations in the broader economy."

The Cost of War, Part II

Nancy A. Youssef writes for McClatchy Newspapers: "With much of their equipment in Iraq and Afghanistan, state National Guards face profound shortages in responding to natural disasters, particularly as they get ready for the hurricane season, which begins June 1. . . .

"The potential impact of the equipment shortages became apparent over the weekend when a tornado devastated Greensburg, Kan. Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said Monday that the state's National Guard couldn't respond as quickly as it should have because much of its equipment is overseas. . . .

"'Fifty percent of our trucks are gone. Our front loaders are gone. We are missing Humvees that move people,' Sebelius told NBC's 'Today' show. 'We can't borrow them from other states because their equipment is gone. It's a huge issue for states across the country to respond to disasters like this.'"

Jennifer Loven writes for the Associated Press that White House press secretary Tony Snow said this morning that Sebelius was to blame.

The Cost of War, Part III

Maria Cheng writes for the Associated Press: "The chance that an Iraqi child will live beyond age 5 has plummeted faster than anywhere else in the world since 1990, according to a report released Tuesday, which placed the country last in its child survival rankings.

"One in eight Iraqi children died of disease or violence before reaching their fifth birthday in 2005, according to the report by Save the Children."

Monica Goodling Watch

Dan Eggen writes in The Washington Post: "The Justice Department cleared the way yesterday for a limited immunity deal between House investigators and Monica M. Goodling, a former top Justice aide who has refused to answer questions about her role in last year's firing of eight U.S. attorneys.

"The move means that Goodling is likely to testify in front of the House Judiciary Committee on a broad range of questions about the firings that she helped coordinate, including the extent of involvement by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and the White House, officials said. . . .

"The Justice Department's inspector general, Glenn A. Fine, and H. Marshall Jarrett, head of the Office of Professional Responsibility, have begun a joint inquiry into the prosecutor firings. They indicated in a letter to Conyers that they 'intend to take the investigation wherever it leads.'"

Talking Points Memo has a copy of the letter, which states that "after balancing the significant congressional and public interest against the impact of the Committee's actions on our ongoing investigation, we will not raise an objection or seek a deferral."

Michael Isikoff writes for Newsweek: "Two government officials (not ID'd when talking about an ongoing probe) told Newsweek the [internal Justice Department] inquiry began after Jeff Taylor, the interim U.S. attorney in D.C., complained that Goodling tried to block the hiring of a prosecutor in his office for being a 'liberal Democratic type.'

Carol D. Leonnig writes in The Washington Post: "Taylor ultimately gained permission from the Justice Department to bypass Goodling and hire prosecutors without her review. He hired the civil rights lawyer, who is scheduled to start work on Monday."

Schlozman Watch

Greg Gordon and David Goldstein write for McClatchy Newspapers: "The Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday asked a former acting Justice Department civil rights chief to answer accusations that he was a central figure in a broad Republican strategy to suppress the votes of Democratic-leaning minorities.

"The committee, which has been investigating the firings of eight U.S. attorneys, asked Bradley Schlozman to appear voluntarily and describe his activities as a senior civil rights official and later as a U.S. attorney for Kansas City, Mo. Schlozman was a U.S. attorney there for one year. . . .

"A person familiar with the congressional inquiry, who insisted upon anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the information, described Schlozman as a central figure because he ties together 'all of the threads' of the investigation."

Here's the letter to Schlozman from Sens. Patrick Leahy and Arlen Specter, which explains that "the Committee has learned that the concerns of some in the Administration about voter fraud may have played a significant role in the consideration of U.S. Attorneys for possible dismissal." The letter also notes that White House political guru Karl Rove "talked to the Attorney General about concern with voter fraud in districts in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and New Mexico."

The Royal Visit

"Bush meets the Queen - and she ages 200 years," says the headline over Rupert Cornwell's story in the Independent about Queen Elisabeth II's visit to the White House.

"After 55 years on the throne and having met US presidents stretching back to Dwight Eisenhower, the 81-year-old monarch by any standards is one of the most permanent fixtures on the international scene. But even she was not around in Philadelphia 231 years ago, as Mr Bush almost implied.

"'The American people are proud to welcome your majesty back to the United States, a nation you've come to know very well,' he said in front of 7,000 notables and not-so-notables assembled on the South Lawn of the White House on a sunny, spring morning. 'After all you've dined with 10 US presidents. You've helped our nation celebrate its bicentennial in 17 - in 1976,' he said.

"Of course, it was 1776 when representatives of the original 13 colonies issued the Declaration of Independence from the Britain of her distant ancestor George III. Only two centuries later did the present monarch travel here, to participate in the lavish bicentennial celebrations.

"As he realised his error, America's current King George looked somewhat sheepishly at her. She looked back at him from under her hat. Whether she was amused or not was impossible to say. But Mr Bush rescued himself with deft self-deprecation: 'She gave me a look only a mother could give a child,' he said to much laughter."

Here's the transcript.

William Lowther of the Daily Mail, however, observed what appeared to be Bush's highly inappropriate follow-up to his verbal slip: "When you've just made it sound like the Queen is more than 200 years old, there may be a few ways of recovering from the gaffe.

"But turning to her and giving her a sly wink is probably not included in any book of royal etiquette.

"That's what happened yesterday after George Bush mangled his greeting to the Queen on her state visit to the U.S."

And yes, the Daily Mail does have a photo.

Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post: "In the days before yesterday's state visit, the talk was all about how the regular-guy president disliked all the pomp that comes with a royal function. Don't believe it. As they say in Texas: Balderdash and poppycock. . . .

"The queen would not bicker with him about the Baghdad security plan, and there would be no prickly news conference in which he would be asked about the Newsweek poll putting his support at 28 percent, equal to Jimmy Carter's in 1979. Yesterday gave Bush a chance to put aside the messiness of being head of government and enjoy the trappings of being head of state: cannons on the Ellipse, an Army fife-and-drum corps, a troop review and red geraniums on the South Portico. . . .

"The informal Bush enjoyed the formality so much that he even took time out to torment an underdressed photographer. After his walk with the queen after lunch, Bush got the photographer, Newsweek's Charles Ommanney, to agree that it was 'a special day' at the White House. 'Then why,' the president asked, 'didn't you wear something other than hand-me-down clothes?'"

The Big Dinner

Neely Tucker and Roxanne Roberts write in The Washington Post: "The most elegant Washington evening in a decade, last night's state dinner for Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, took place on a velvet-smooth night that made Washington appear more beautiful, a little softer around the edges, than it might actually be.

"President Bush, who his wife said had to be talked into hosting his first white-tie dinner, appeared to love it.

"He stepped onto the front portico of the White House in the early dusk, jovial and laughing, the first lady at his side. A casual man, bedeviled by the lowest presidential approval ratings in a generation, he appeared, for once, to revel in the pomp and ceremonial trappings of the office."

Another Gaffe?

Here is the transcript of the toasts at the dinner. Bush's was generous. The queen's was sweeping, historic -- even moving.

In between, however, came a classic Bush move. In joint press availabilities with other world leaders, Bush often goes to some length to make it clear who's calling the shots. Last night, he actually told the queen of England when to talk.

"HER MAJESTY QUEEN ELIZABETH II: Thank you very much, indeed.

"PRESIDENT BUSH: Your turn, Your Majesty."

More Than You Want to Know

Available on the White House Web site's royal visit page, the guest list for the dinner, the menu, and much more.

As for the guests, it's no wonder ABC's Robin Roberts was so excited interviewing Laura Bush yesterday. (Here's the video and the transcript.)

"The excitement continues to build . . . And I'm telling you, what a delight. . . . I mean, truly, everyone is buzzing around here," Roberts told Bush.

Roberts was one of four journalists invited to the dinner, the others being David Gregory of NBC; Steve Holland of Reuters, and Richard Wolffe of Newsweek.

Will Bunch blogs for the Philadelphia Daily News: "The kind of people you won't find on a list like this are everyday Americans, plumbers and accountants and bus drivers and secretaries, the folks who pay the taxes and raise the young men and women who are fighting and dying to support the U.S. (and British) gambit in Iraq. Those who do attend these affairs, on the other hand, are the closest that America comes to producing its own royalty.

"That said, why in the name of God are four working journalists among those attending this state dinner -- not as reporters with a notebook or a camera but as guests munching on Dover sole and dancing into the night with America's own brand of dukes and earls? . . .

"Reporters -- whether they work in Washington, D.C. or a small mountain town in Washington State -- ought to be the voice of the kind of people who don't get invited to white-tie affairs, the handymen and school teachers, not the politicians and billionaires."

Wolfowitz Watch

Steven R. Weisman writes in the New York Times: "Leading governments of Europe, mounting a new campaign to push Paul D. Wolfowitz from his job as World Bank president, signaled Monday that they were willing to let the United States choose the bank's next chief, but only if Mr. Wolfowitz stepped down soon, European officials said.

"European officials had previously indicated that they wanted to end the tradition of the United States picking the World Bank leader. But now the officials are hoping to enlist American help in persuading Mr. Wolfowitz to resign voluntarily, rather than be rebuked or ousted. . . .

"European officials did not disclose details of how they were communicating with the Bush administration, but they said the suggestion that Mr. Wolfowitz resign in return for having an American successor was first raised with Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. in mid-April. . . .

"Several European officials said they believed that Mr. Paulson was in favor of Mr. Wolfowitz leaving, but that Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were insisting on standing up for him."

Richard Adams writes in the Guardian: "In a sign that Mr Wolfowitz's authority may be waning, one of his closest lieutenants abruptly announced on Monday that he is to resign. Kevin Kellems, a former spokesman for US vice president Dick Cheney, was hand-picked by Mr Wolfowitz to join him at the bank. . . .

"Mr Kellems was regarded with hostility by some bank staff for his role as Mr Wolfowitz's enforcer. . . .

"The news of Mr Kellems' departure sparked a flurry of celebrations and speculation inside the bank's Washington headquarters. 'That is the sound of a rat leaping off a sinking ship,' said one staff member."

Cheney's Trip

Vice President Cheney leaves today for a weeklong trip to the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan -- and who knows where else?

Tom Raum writes for the Associated Press: "Vice President Dick Cheney is reaching out to moderate Arab leaders for help in bringing stability to Iraq, a mission that will include pleas for postwar support for minority party Sunnis. . . .

"But Cheney's influence there is waning, suggested Aaron David Miller, a former State Department adviser on Mideast issues to both Republican and Democratic administrations.

"'No visit by Dick Cheney with 18 months to go in the Bush administration can serve to either supplement or somehow make policies ... any more effective,' said the former career diplomat. 'I spent 25 years going on trips with secretaries of states and presidents, and I'll tell you one thing: One trip doesn't make much of a dent, even if the circumstances weren't as grim as they are.'

"No longer is the United States seen as 'tough, powerful and credible,' said Miller. 'We are perceived to be failing. And, at some point, those leaders out there -- personal relations with Cheney notwithstanding -- are going to begin to make their own plans for the end of the Bush administration.'"

Accompanying Cheney on the trip: His daughter, Liz. A former principal deputy assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs, Liz Cheney has been a staunch public defender of her father's policies. But technically speaking, she has no official role at the moment -- or does she?


Matthew Lee writes for the Associated Press: "As rancor in the nation rises over handling of the war in Iraq, at least 20 senior aides have either retired or resigned from important posts at the White House, Pentagon and State Department in the past six months."

Poll Watch

Susan Page writes in USA Today: "Americans by nearly 2-1 disapprove of the job President Bush is doing, according to a new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll. He scores a net disapproval rating in every area of the survey, including the economy and terrorism.

"His lowest ratings -- 30% approval, 67% disapproval -- were for his handling of the situation in Iraq. . . .

"However, Bush hasn't dropped to his lowest ratings ever, as he did in a Newsweek Poll released over the weekend. That survey, taken Wednesday and Thursday, put his approval rating at 28%.

"Bush hit his previous nadir in the Gallup Poll precisely a year ago, at 31% in a survey taken May 5-7, 2006.

"Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of the Gallup Poll, cautioned against comparing one firm's survey to another, noting that Newsweek's polls generally have pegged Bush's job approval lower than other organizations."

There is one record-breaker in the Gallup results, however: "Bush has entered his eighth month below 40% approval -- the longest stretch of such low ratings for any modern president except Harry Truman during the Korean War and Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal."

Matt Towery, writing in Human Events, reports that an InsiderAdvantage/Majority Opinion poll found that 39 percent of Americans support the impeachment of Bush and Cheney, compared to 55 percent who oppose it.

That's not a majority, certainly, but it's still a lot of people. Towery concludes that "the astounding public sentiment expressed in this poll illustrates just how far Bush and Cheney may have set their party back."

And a new Harris Poll finds that of the 61 percent of Americans who have heard about the trial of former vice presidential chief of staff Scooter Libby, 54 percent think Libby is protecting the vice president; 20 percent think Libby is mainly to blame; 26 percent aren't sure.

Author Watch

Gary Kamiya writes in Salon about Sir Alistair Horne, author of the classic account of the 1954-1962 Algerian War, "A Savage War of Peace." Bush recently read the book and was so impressed that he invited Horne to come to the White House for tea and a talk last Thursday.

"Horne declined to go into details about what they talked about, saying their conversation was off the record. 'He was extremely courteous, very cheerful, loves jokes and he couldn't have been more charming. I was very honored,' Horne said. 'He was very determined. 'We're not going to give up, we're not going to give up,' he repeated from time to time. He was very interested in my book, had obviously read it most thoroughly, as he had my other book, 'The Price of Glory' [about the WWI battle of Verdun]. He had put in a lot of work. Where he finds the time I don't know. We discussed the book in depth. We disagreed about a few points. I didn't entirely agree with his admiration for Tony Blair, but that was a matter of personal predilection.'"

As Kamiya write: "That 'A Savage War of Peace' is on the Bush administration's must-read list is one of the more remarkable intellectual ironies in recent years. Horne's book recounts the inevitable defeat of a colonialist power at the hands of a small but determined group of insurgents, the National Liberation Front, who effectively used terrorism to win their nation's freedom -- not exactly the sort of book you would expect Bush and his inner circle to curl up with. . . .

"Bush officials are looking for clues that will allow them to prevail over a stubborn insurgency, or failing that, find a viable exit strategy. But there do not appear to be many useful lessons in Horne's book for Bush except 'don't.'"

North Korean Humor

Reuters reports: "As military chiefs from both sides of the Korean peninsula met on Tuesday for talks, a general from the North started proceedings by telling a joke at George W. Bush's expense.

"'I recently read a piece of political humour on the Internet called 'saving the president',' Lieutenant-General Kim Yong-chol was quoted as saying in pool reports from the talks.

"He then retold the old yarn about Bush who goes out jogging one morning and, preoccupied with international affairs, fails to notice that a car is heading straight at him.

"A group of schoolchildren pull the president away just in time, saving his life, and a grateful Bush offers them anything they want in the world as a reward.

"'We want a place reserved for us at Arlington Memorial Cemetery,' say the children.

"'Why is that?' he asks.

"'Because our parents will kill us if they find out what we've done.'"

Late Night Humor

Jay Leno, via U.S. News: "The Queen of England, Queen Elizabeth, met with President Bush over the weekend. You know, I thought this was nice of President Bush. Did you hear what he did? He took the time to learn a little bit of English so he could speak with her. . . .

"Anyway, the Queen was welcomed with a 21-gun salute. Well, 22 if you count Cheney's gun that went off accidentally."

Cartoon Watch

Tom Toles on benchmarks.

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