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Bush's Climate Charade

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, October 1, 2007; 1:50 PM

The novelty of President Bush appearing to take climate change seriously seems to have worn off, leaving journalists to examine what he actually proposed last week. It wasn't much.

Today Bush finds himself in an increasingly familiar position: Isolated, discredited, mistrusted and mocked.

John M. Broder writes in the New York Times: "President Bush said Friday that the nations that contribute most to global warming should all set goals for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. But he did not specify what those goals should be and repeated his stand that nations should not be held to mandatory targets for capping carbon dioxide emissions.

"At the close of a two-day meeting here of 16 major carbon-emitting nations, Mr. Bush also proposed an international fund to help developing nations benefit from clean energy technology. He instructed the Treasury Department to begin work on the proposal, but the administration offered no details. . . .

"The delegates to the conference listened impassively to Mr. Bush's 20-minute address, interrupting him with applause only once, when he pledged that the United States would participate in global warming negotiations overseen by the United Nations. . . .

"Mr. Bush quickly left the auditorium after delivering his remarks, which ended 15 minutes ahead of schedule. Some of the delegates, representing the major industrialized nations plus Brazil, China, India and South Africa, said they were less than impressed."

Peter Baker and Juliet Eilperin write in The Washington Post: "The conference represented the most serious effort Bush has made to play an international leadership role on climate change."

And yet, "[t]he much-anticipated speech disappointed critics looking for more tangible proposals. Daniel J. Weiss, an analyst at the liberal Center for American Progress, said Bush essentially was relying 'on waving a magic technology wand' with measures that 'won't make a dent in global warming.' John Passacantando, executive director of Greenpeace USA, said Bush's speech underscored 'his do-nothing approach to global warming' and proved that 'his position is a lie' that no one believes.

"'The president says his goals are aspirational, but his goals are really procrastinational,' said Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of a new House committee on global warming. 'The U.N. is saying the planet is urgently sick, and the Bush administration is saying, "Take two aspirin and call me when I leave office." '"

Deborah Zabarenko and Jeff Mason write for Reuters: "Some of the world's biggest greenhouse polluters took aim at President George W. Bush on Friday, calling him 'isolated' and questioning his leadership on the problem of global warming. . . .

"'It is striking that the (Bush) administration at the moment in the international conversation seems to be pretty isolated,' said John Ashton, Britain's climate envoy. 'I think that the argument that we can do this through voluntary approaches is now pretty much discredited internationally.'"

Ewen MacAskill writes in The Guardian: "George Bush was castigated by European diplomats and found himself isolated yesterday after a special conference on climate change ended without any progress.

"European ministers, diplomats and officials attending the Washington conference were scathing, particularly in private, over Mr Bush's failure once again to commit to binding action on climate change. . . .

"Britain and almost all other European countries, including Germany and France, want mandatory targets for reducing greenhouse emissions. Mr Bush, while talking yesterday about a 'new approach' and 'a historic undertaking', remains totally opposed.

"The conference, attended by more than 20 countries, including China, India, Britain, France and Germany, broke up with the US isolated, according to non-Americans attending. One of those present said even China and India, two of the biggest polluters, accepted that the voluntary approach proposed by the US was untenable and favoured binding measures, even though they disagreed with the Europeans over how this would be achieved.

"A senior European diplomat attending the conference, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the meeting confirmed European suspicions that it had been intended by Mr Bush as a spoiler for a major UN conference on climate change in Bali in December.

"'It was a total charade and has been exposed as a charade,' the diplomat said. 'I have never heard a more humiliating speech by a major leader. He [Mr Bush] was trying to present himself as a leader while showing no sign of leadership. It was a total failure.'"

Here's the text of Bush's remarks. And for some context, here's my column from June 1, 2006, Bush's Climate-Change Feint.

The Road to War (Second Edition)

Seymour M. Hersh, the investigative reporter who has been doggedly documenting the ongoing military planning -- and operations -- in support of a possible attack on Iran, has another blockbuster in this week's New Yorker.

"In a series of public statements in recent months, President Bush and members of his Administration have redefined the war in Iraq, to an increasing degree, as a strategic battle between the United States and Iran," Hersh writes.

"The President's position, and its corollary -- that, if many of America's problems in Iraq are the responsibility of Tehran, then the solution to them is to confront the Iranians -- have taken firm hold in the Administration. This summer, the White House, pushed by the office of Vice-President Dick Cheney, requested that the Joint Chiefs of Staff redraw long-standing plans for a possible attack on Iran, according to former officials and government consultants. The focus of the plans had been a broad bombing attack, with targets including Iran's known and suspected nuclear facilities and other military and infrastructure sites. Now the emphasis is on 'surgical' strikes on Revolutionary Guard Corps facilities in Tehran and elsewhere, which, the Administration claims, have been the source of attacks on Americans in Iraq. What had been presented primarily as a counter-proliferation mission has been reconceived as counterterrorism.

"The shift in targeting reflects three developments. First, the President and his senior advisers have concluded that their campaign to convince the American public that Iran poses an imminent nuclear threat has failed (unlike a similar campaign before the Iraq war), and that as a result there is not enough popular support for a major bombing campaign. The second development is that the White House has come to terms, in private, with the general consensus of the American intelligence community that Iran is at least five years away from obtaining a bomb. And, finally, there has been a growing recognition in Washington and throughout the Middle East that Iran is emerging as the geopolitical winner of the war in Iraq. . . .

"At a White House meeting with Cheney this summer, according to a former senior intelligence official, it was agreed that, if limited strikes on Iran were carried out, the Administration could fend off criticism by arguing that they were a defensive action to save soldiers in Iraq. If Democrats objected, the Administration could say, 'Bill Clinton did the same thing; he conducted limited strikes in Afghanistan, the Sudan, and in Baghdad to protect American lives.' The former intelligence official added, 'There is a desperate effort by Cheney et al. to bring military action to Iran as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the politicians are saying, "You can't do it, because every Republican is going to be defeated, and we're only one fact from going over the cliff in Iraq." But Cheney doesn't give a rat's ass about the Republican worries, and neither does the President.'"

Talking to CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Hersh raised another disturbing point, that "inside the intelligence community, the notion that Iran is doing as much as the president says is not accepted. I mean, there's a great debate about how deeply involved Iran really is."

Meanwhile, Tim Shipman writes in the Telegraph: "American diplomats have been ordered to compile a dossier detailing Iran's violations of international law that some fear could be used to justify military strikes against the Islamic republic's nuclear programme.

"Members of the US secretariat in the United Nations were asked earlier this month to begin 'searching for things that Iran has done wrong', The Sunday Telegraph has learnt.

"Some US diplomats believe the exercise -- reminiscent of attempts by vice-president Dick Cheney and the former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld to build the case against Saddam Hussein before the Iraq war -- will boost calls for military action by neo-conservatives inside and outside the administration."

Ros Taylor writes for the Guardian: "John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the United Nations, told Tory delegates today that efforts by the UK and the EU to negotiate with Iran had failed and that he saw no alternative to a pre-emptive strike on suspected nuclear facilities in the country."

Added Bolton: "If we were to strike Iran it should be accompanied by an effort at regime change. . . . The US once had the capability to engineer the clandestine overthrow of governments. I wish we could get it back."

Harry Shearer blogs for Huffingtonpost.com: "Is Bolton just a wondrously goofy free-lancer? Or, in taking him semi-seriously, do the Brits perceive something we don't, that he's the unrestrained, uninhibited id of the Bush administration, wishing for what his brethren still in power are planning?"

Freedom's Watch's Next Campaign

Don Van Natta Jr. writes in the New York Times: "Freedom's Watch, a deep-pocketed conservative group led by two former senior White House officials, made an audacious debut in late August when it began a $15 million advertising campaign designed to maintain Congressional support for President Bush's troop increase in Iraq.

"Founded this summer by a dozen wealthy conservatives, the nonprofit group is set apart from most advocacy groups by the immense wealth of its core group of benefactors, its intention to far outspend its rivals and its ambition to pursue a wide-ranging agenda. Its next target: Iran policy.

"Next month, Freedom's Watch will sponsor a private forum of 20 experts on radical Islam that is expected to make the case that Iran poses a direct threat to the security of the United States, according to several benefactors of the group. . . .

"The idea for Freedom's Watch was hatched in March at the winter meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition in Manalapan, Fla., where Vice President Dick Cheney was the keynote speaker, according to participants."

Jim Kuhnhenn writes for the Associated Press about the group: "Many in its inner circle of strategists and donors are close to Vice President Dick Cheney or held high posts at the White House. . . .

"The group's donors include Mel Sembler, a friend of Cheney's and longtime Republican fundraiser. Sembler was chairman of the legal defense fund for I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, Cheney's former chief of staff who was convicted of lying and obstruction of justice in the investigation into the leak of a CIA operative's identity. Another donor is Kevin E. Moley, a former U.S. ambassador to international organizations in Geneva and a senior aide to Cheney during the 2000 presidential campaign."

Cheney's Secret Talk

Robert Gehrke writes in the Salt Lake Tribune that Vice President Dick Cheney "addressed some of the most influential leaders of the conservative movement Friday in Salt Lake City, but their speeches, like the group itself, remain cloaked in secrecy.

"The Council for National Policy is a shadowy group comprising leaders in the family values, national defense and 'decency' movements, dubbed ' Sith Lords of the Ultra-Right' by the liberal blog DailyKos.

"Members are told not to discuss the group, reveal the topics discussed in the closed-door meetings, or even say whether or not they are members of the organization. . . .

"But for all the mystery, it was pretty mundane, according to those who were inside.

"Cheney stuck with a well-rehearsed message on his most familiar topic: staying the course in Iraq.

"'For liberty around the world, losing in Iraq is not a good thing,' summarized Utah Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert.

"Cheney answered questions from the group, fielding questions on immigration enforcement and Iran policy. Cheney said the regime in Iran is hostile to the United States and its allies and that poses a threat in its continual efforts to develop nuclear weapons, according to a source who attended the speech, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the council's strict confidentiality rules."

Zinsmeister Stirs Up the Sociologists

Bush's controversial and secretive chief domestic policy adviser made a rare public appearance at Harvard University on Friday, stirring up a gathering of social scientists with his proposed solution to the problems of the underclass: More marriage counseling.

Karl Zinsmeister was the keynote speaker at a conference exploring the legacy of the Moynihan Report, a 1965 report by then-assistant secretary of labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan that launched a still-simmering debate about the sources of poverty in the black community and the role played by unwed childbearing.

Lamenting the "very rapid spread of the family decay virus," which he said was "dragging down entire communities," Zinsmeister on Friday expressed hope that the federal government could help. How? "I still think there's a big upside potential in the effort to strengthen marriages," he said.

Specifically, he urged more counseling to provide guidance before marriage and remediation before divorce. Marriage, as an institution based on "the male-female dyad," accomplishes the critically important goal of "rechanneling sexual energy into less self-interested activities," he said.

In a question-and-answer session, however, members of the audience suggested to Zinsmeister that marriage counseling was unlikely to make as much of an impact on the vicious cycle of poverty as, say, better schools or more accessible child care.

Zinsmeister, who worked briefly in Moynihan's Senate office more than two decades ago, got his West Wing job after Claude Allen resigned in disgrace. Before his appointment, he chalked up quite a record of inflammatory comments on social policy. Peter Baker wrote about some of Zinsmeister's statements in The Washington Post in June 2006: "As Zinsmeister sees it, racial profiling by the police makes sense; the military, if anything, treats terrorist suspects too gently; and casual sex has led to wrecked cities, violence and 'endless human misery.'"

I took note of Zinsmeister in my June 16, 2006, column, White House Hotheads.

In one particularly notable sequence of events, exposed by Josh Gerstein of the New York Sun, Zinsmeister altered his own quotes in a Syracuse New Times profile of him when he re-posted it on the Web site of the magazine he edited for the American Enterprise Institute.

One of the key quotes Zinsmeister changed was this one: "People in Washington are morally repugnant, cheating, shifty human beings."

Here's the "Zinsmeistered" version: "I learned in Washington that there is an 'overclass' in this country stocked with cheating, shifty human beings that's just as morally repugnant as our 'underclass.' "

Was that really any better? I was at the Harvard conference, and asked Zinsmeister how he had come to decide the underclass was morally repugnant and how it affected his work at the White House.

He insisted he had only used the phrase in a discussion of upper-class parents' tolerance of drug use by their children. As for "my experience with the underclass. . . . I have lots of it," he said, explaining that he had once lived across the street from a Washington D.C. housing project ravaged by the crack epidemic.

The Washington Post's Michael A. Fletcher appears to have been given copy of Zinsmeister's prepared remarks, and has a story with the unfortunate headline: "White House Aide Channels a Democrat on Fixing Nation's Social Ills."


Gail Russell Chaddock writes in the Christian Science Monitor: "President Bush heads into only the fourth veto of his presidency with most of America's health establishment and nearly two-thirds of the Congress arrayed against him.

"A 12-year-old boy delivered the Democratic response to Mr. Bush's radio address this weekend, and children pulling red wagons are expected to deliver 1 million petitions supporting renewal of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP) to the White House on Monday.

"Explaining a vote against healthcare for poor children is not the issue that Republicans wanted to take into the November 2008 elections. Last week, 18 Republicans in the Senate and 45 in the House broke with Bush to support the pending S-CHIP bill, and Democrats say they need to flip only 15 more House Republicans to give the Congress a veto-proof majority.

"But the White House and GOP leaders in both houses of Congress say this is a fight worth fighting on policy grounds -- and that it may do them some good in spending battles to come and even in next fall's elections."

The Washington Post editorial board offers "a fact-check of some of the administration's arguments against the measure."

For instance: "Claim: 'The administration strongly supports . . . SCHIP's original purpose of targeting health care dollars to low-income children who need them most.' -- statement of administration policy

"The administration's proposal, to increase spending by less than $5 billion over five years, would fall $14 billion short of what's needed to maintain existing coverage in SCHIP alone -- never mind adding the millions of eligible but uncovered children the president once said he was determined to sign up. Where's the commitment in that?"

Sebastian Mallaby writes in his Washington Post opinion column: "Politically, this is crazy. The bill that Bush is poised to veto has bipartisan backing, and two-thirds of the public say they like it. But in policy terms the veto looks a little crazy, too. The bill would extend the State Children's Health Insurance Program, a successful initiative that Bush himself supports. A veto would be based on misleading statistics and an exaggerated faith in markets."

Quote of the Week

White House Press Secretary Dana Perino at Friday's press briefing, asked if Bush might reconsider his veto threat: "The President does not have second thoughts."

Spending Watch

Jonathan Weisman writes in The Washington Post: "The White House, at the urging of congressional Republican leaders, is spoiling for a fight on Democratic spending. And GOP leaders are looking for any opportunity for confrontations on illegal immigration and taxation."

The New York Times editorial board writes: "If, as he says, President Bush is going to start withdrawing troops from Iraq, why on earth does he need vastly more money from Congress to wage war? The staggering, ever escalating numbers tell the real story: As long as it's up to Mr. Bush, the American presence in Iraq will be endless and ever more costly, diverting resources from other national priorities that are being ignored or shortchanged."

Legacy Watch, Part One

Hanna Rosin writes in a USA Today opinion piece: "The Bush administration has filled its junior staff positions with hundreds of young, hungry evangelicals. They are the executive assistants at the White House, junior press secretaries in the federal bureaucracy and interns of all sorts. Some are graduates of secular and even Ivy League colleges, but many come from the exploding number of Christian colleges."

The White house has "operated as a finishing school" for these young Republican activists, Rosin writes, and: "Like the Peace Corps generation, they'll be with us for years to come."

Legacy Watch, Part Two

Roger Cohen writes in his New York Times opinion column: "The unpopularity of George W. Bush has led many to believe global America-hating will ebb once he leaves office on Jan. 20, 2009. That's a dangerous assumption. . . .

"The Iraq-linked damage to U.S. credibility is too severe to be quickly undone. The net loss of Western influence over the world means the ability of Bush's successor to shape events is diminished."

Federal Government Incompetence Watch

John Solomon and Juliet Eilperin write in The Washington Post: "The Environmental Protection Agency's pursuit of criminal cases against polluters has dropped off sharply during the Bush administration, with the number of prosecutions, new investigations and total convictions all down by more than a third, according to Justice Department and EPA data.

"The number of civil lawsuits filed against defendants who refuse to settle environmental cases was down nearly 70 percent between fiscal years 2002 and 2006, compared with a four-year period in the late 1990s, according to those same statistics.

"Critics of the agency say its flagging efforts have emboldened polluters to flout U.S. environmental laws, threatening progress in cleaning the air, protecting wildlife, eliminating hazardous materials, and countless other endeavors overseen by the EPA."

Iacocca's View

Richard Johnson writes in the New York Post: "Lee Iacocca is no fan of President Bush. 'I campaigned for him because I knew his mother and dad for 30 years, and I figured he was from pretty good stock,' the auto-industry legend tells Details magazine. 'But Jeb was being groomed, too. They got the wrong kid. There's something wrong philosophically with how Bush's brain works. I feel sorry for him.'"

Jenna's Coming Out

Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes in the New York Times: "Just a few short years ago, she was a party-loving college girl, sticking her tongue out in view of photographers and giving her parents heartburn. Now Jenna Bush, 25, is sporting a diamond-and-sapphire ring, engaged to be married -- though probably not at the White House, her mother says -- and heading out on a book tour.

"America is meeting this new, grown-up Jenna -- twin sister of Barbara, daughter of George W. and Laura -- this weekend with the publication of her book, 'Ana's Story.' It is a chronicle of Ana, 17, an H.I.V.-positive single mother in Panama whom Ms. Bush encountered while an intern there for Unicef, the international children's advocacy group."

The media blitz "began Friday evening, with Ms. Bush's first-ever television interview, an hour-long sit-down with Diane Sawyer of the ABC News program '20/20."

Sawyer pointed out that some observers have asked if the twins should be fighting in Iraq. The response: "I don't think it's a practical question. I think if people really thought about it, they know that we would put many people in danger. But I understand the point of it."

Lorraine Ali writes in Newsweek: "Safe sex is encouraged throughout her new book, even though the Bush administration's hotly contested HIV-prevention campaign was built around a staunch 'abstinence only' message. 'In Africa my dad's policies are pretty much in line with mine, but not domestically,' says Bush, referring to her father's ABC (abstain, be faithful, use a condom) policy in Africa. 'But it's a personal decision. All of us want our kids to be safe, and there's no doubt that condoms make our kids safe. And many girls don't have the choice -- they are exploited sexually. It's important they stay protected and protect others.'"

Bob Thompson interviews the First Twin for The Washington Post and gets her to acknowledge that she's not pregnant.

Late Night Humor

Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert on Bush's courageous stand against SCHIP: "He wants what's best for our children, and in this case that means not giving them health care. . . .

"If we really care for our kids, we should deny them government health insurance now, to immunize them against expecting it as adults. . . . Mr. President, you must kill that bill. It's not just a veto, it's a vaccination."

Cartoon Watch

Mike Luckovich, Pat Oliphant and Dan Wasserman on SCHIP.

Luckovich on Bush's audiences; Ann Telnaes on Bush at the U.N.; Tom Toles on the cost of the war; Jim Morin on Bush's numbers; and John Sherffius on Bush and climate change.

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