No Regrets, Even About Genocide

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, February 20, 2008; 12:33 PM

President Bush doesn't have second thoughts. It's just not his style.

Though at times he's been forced to admit problems during his presidency, he never suggests that he should have taken a different approach.

And so he remains largely at peace with himself -- even in the face of a genocide that continues years after he called it by that name.

Hundreds of thousands of people have died in the Darfur region of Sudan since government-armed militias began burning villages, raping women and executing villagers 2003.

Bush's decision not to intervene more forcefully hung heavy over his visit yesterday to Rwanda, where he toured of a memorial to the victims of that country's genocide in 1994.

As Peter Baker writes in The Washington Post, the president was obviously affected by his Rwandan visit: "'This is a moving place that can't help but shake your emotions to your very foundation,' Bush said after touring the museum to the 1994 genocide, built on grounds that include mass graves with more than 250,000 bodies. 'It reminds me that we must not let these kind of actions take place.'

"But unlike Bill Clinton, who came here in 1998 to admit he should have done more to stop the Rwanda genocide, Bush said he feels no guilt and harbors no regret over Darfur -- except regret that others have not done what he has pressed them to do. He opted not to send U.S. troops unilaterally into Sudan and instead has tried to help assemble an international peacekeeping force that has yet to fully deploy. . . .

"'I'm comfortable with the decision I made,' he said. 'I'm not comfortable with how quickly the response has been.' . . .

"Yet activists say it has not been enough. 'There is a lot about Darfur that all of us, the president included, should regret now,' said Jerry Fowler, president of the Save Darfur Coalition. . . .

"So far, just 9,000 peacekeepers are on the ground and major military powers have yet to come up with needed helicopters. China has blocked sanctions at the U.N. Security Council. And Sudan continues to defy the international community as militias renew violence and burn down villages. 'How can anyone have a clear conscience about what's happening in Darfur?' Fowler asked."

James Gerstenzang writes in the Los Angeles Times: "The issue of Sudan government's brutal suppression of a rebellion in Darfur has shadowed Bush during his five-nation trip to Africa, even as the president has sought to focus on political progress and the fight against diseases on the continent. . . .

"Since 2003, at least 200,000 people are believed to have died from violence, hunger and disease as the Sudanese government, often using militias as proxies, sought to suppress a rebellion in the region. Some Darfur activists have put the toll as high as 450,000. The Sudanese government says 5,000 have died."

Lesson Learned?

After the Rwandan genocide, it was clear that the United States, the United Nations and others were tragically and unforgivably wrong not to intervene.

Bush seemed to get a hint of that yesterday, explaining at his joint news conference with the Rwandan president that "one of the lessons of the genocide in Rwanda was to take some of the early warnings signs seriously."

But then he went on: "Secondly, a clear lesson I learned in the museum was that outside forces that tend to divide people up inside their country are unbelievably counterproductive. In other words, people came from other countries -- I guess you'd call them colonialists -- and they pitted one group of people against another. And an early warning sign was -- and it's hard to have seen it, I readily admit, but I'm talking earlier than 1994, and earlier than the '90s -- was the fact that it become a habit to divide people based upon -- you know, in this case, whether they were Tutsi or Hutu, which eventually led to exploitation."

As a result, he said: "I would tell my successor that the United States can play a very constructive role. I would urge the President not to feel like U.S. solutions should be imposed upon African leaders. I would urge the President to treat our -- the leaders in Africa as partners. In other words, don't come to the continent feeling guilty about anything. Come to the continent feeling confident that with some help, people can solve their problems."

It was an obvious attempt to defend his decision not to send U.S. troops into Darfur -- but it's a perversion of the lesson of Rwanda.

The lesson of Rwanda is the need to act.

AIDS in Africa

Craig Timberg writes in The Washington Post: "Five years after President Bush vowed to 'turn the tide against AIDS' in Africa, he is traveling across a continent where the government's $15 billion investment has extended the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and eased the sense of certain doom once experienced by millions of others.

"But in the worst-hit areas, clustered mainly on Africa's southern tip, the tide has decidedly not turned. The epidemic continues to spread at a torrid pace that shows little sign of easing, with people contracting HIV much faster than sick ones can be put on crucial antiretroviral drugs, research shows.

"Bush's initiative, the President's Emergency Program for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, has not found a way to prevent a significant number of the estimated 1.7 million new cases of HIV each year in Africa. Nearly half of today's 15-year-olds in South Africa, one of the biggest beneficiaries of the program, will contract the virus in their lifetimes at current infection rates, estimates show.

"'They've turned the treatment tide in a fundamental way,' said Francois Venter, president of the Southern African HIV Clinicians Society, who works on several programs that receive PEPFAR funding, referring to administration officials. 'In terms of prevention, they haven't. . . . It's quite clear that [South Africa's] prevention programs have failed completely.' . . .

"Studies have shown that family planning could avert far more infections than antiretroviral drugs because many women, especially those with HIV, want fewer children. Critics say [that restrictions on family planning advice], along with PEPFAR's emphasis on untested abstinence programs, exists mainly to win support from conservative congressional Republicans, undermining the full potential of a program that the White House bills as one of the biggest humanitarian ventures in history."

Columbia University Africa expert Josh Ruxin writes for NiemanWatchdog.org that Bush has allowed ideology to triumph over science: "Under the current policy, as much as one third of the money allocated to HIV prevention goes to abstinence-only campaigns. For many, the lack of information about sex and how to prevent HIV/AIDS, coupled with little or no access to condoms only increases the risk of transmitting HIV/AIDS.

"A November report by the United Nations estimated that of the 2.5 million children in the world with HIV, nearly 90 percent live in sub-Saharan Africa and the overwhelming majority of those acquired the infection from their mothers. Yet funding for family planning has fallen in spite of recent studies showing it is more effective in limiting the number of HIV positive children."

A Ghanaian reporter confronted Bush on that issue at today's press conference: "President Bush, we know that your support for the fight against HIV/AIDS has been driven by promoting sexual abstinence and fidelity to each other's partner. In African societies, we know that this doesn't really strike a chord because multiple sexual relationships or partner relationships is the reality, though it's not spoken of in public. So how realistic an approach would you want to be adopted in fighting HIV/AIDS within this particular context? Thank you."

Bush insisted that the program, as it exists, is working just fine. "I monitor the results. And if it looks like it's not working, then we'll change," he said. "But thus far I can report, at least to our citizens, that the program has been unbelievably effective. And we're going to stay at it."

Bush Calls Bull

Ben Feller writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush said Wednesday that talk of the United States building new military bases in Africa to expand its influence is 'baloney.'

"The Defense Department created Africa Command last October to consolidate operations that had been split among three other regional commands, none of which had Africa as a primary focus.

"Several African countries, including Libya, Nigeria and South Africa, have expressed deep reservations, fearing the plan signals an unwanted expansion of American power on the continent or is a cover for protecting Africa's vast oil resources on the United States' behalf."

Bush brought up the subject himself in his joint press conference with Ghanaian President John Kufuor today: "[T]he purpose of this is not to add military bases," he said. "I know there's rumors in Ghana, 'All Bush is coming to do is try to convince you to put a big military base here.' That's baloney. (Laughter.) Or as we say in Texas, that's bull. (Laughter.) Mr. President made it clear to me, he said, look, we -- you're not going to build in any bases in Ghana. I said, I understand; nor do we want to. Now, that doesn't mean we won't develop some kind of office somewhere in Africa. We haven't made our minds up. This is a new concept."

Pakistan Watch

Helene Cooper writes in the New York Times: "The Bush administration was scrambling Tuesday to pick up the pieces of its shattered Pakistan policy after the trouncing that the party of President Bush's ally, President Pervez Musharraf, received in parliamentary elections.

"The United States would still like to see Pakistan's opposition leaders find a way to work with Mr. Musharraf in some kind of power-sharing deal, administration officials said, but that notion appears increasingly unlikely given how poorly Mr. Musharraf's party did in the elections, against strong showings by the Pakistan Peoples Party of the late Benazir Bhutto and the party of Nawaz Sharif, a former prime minister. . . .

"[A]dministration officials say Mr. Musharraf remains the administration's preferred Pakistani leader, considering his record of cooperation with American-led counterterrorism operations. Until the day of the elections, administration officials were still hoping that Mr. Musharraf's party would eke out enough votes to allow the power-sharing plan to go forward."

Ben Feller writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush said Wednesday that Pakistani elections have been judged as 'fair' and that the opposition parties' win is a 'victory in the war on terror.'

"'There were elections held that have been judged as being fair, and the people have spoken,' Bush said at a news conference in Ghana. . .

"Bush says he sees the Pakistani elections as part of the victory in the war on terror.

"'After all, the ideologues can't stand . . . free societies -- that's why they try to kill innocent people,' Bush said. 'That's why they tried to intimidate people during the election process.'

"He said he was pleased that Musharraf followed through on his promise to remove emergency rule and hold free elections."

Gosh, that sounds just like this morning's Wall Street Journal editorial: "The results of Pakistan's parliamentary vote are being billed as a repudiation not only of Pervez Musharraf, but also of President Bush, who has mostly supported the Pakistani strongman over the past seven years. We're more inclined to see the elections as a vindication of both."

But Juan Cole has a different view in Salon: "Although George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have built their war on terrorism on a close alliance with Musharraf, that entire hollow pillar of Bush administration policy has been dealt a severe, perhaps fatal, blow.

"The new civilian Pakistani government on the verge of forming may be far less amenable to the hard-line, militaristic policies of the Bush-Cheney war on terror. That remains to be seen. But what is clear is that the administration's coddling of Musharraf -- lavishing him with billions of dollars in aid while turning a blind eye to his egregious assault on nascent Pakistani democracy -- has achieved precious little in the way of U.S. national security goals. Vietnam-style search-and-destroy missions, whether carried out at U.S. insistence by the Pakistani military in that country's northwest frontier, or by U.S. troops across the border in Afghanistan, appear only to have grown a new militant Taliban movement on both sides of the border. In the midst of this fundamentalist resurgence in the Pushtun tribal areas, Osama bin Laden remains at large."

Cuba Watch

Michael Abramowitz writes in The Washington Post: "Those hoping for a new U.S. policy toward Cuba have waited nearly 50 years for Fidel Castro to step down. But they will have to wait at least one more year, after President Bush leaves office, to see any possibility of change in the hard-line U.S. position that has transcended nine administrations.

"Bush and his top advisers made it clear yesterday that they do not intend to relax the trade sanctions and other policies aimed at isolating the Cuban government."

The New York Times editorial board writes that "the post-Fidel era is clearly at hand, and the Bush administration has done almost nothing to prepare for it.

"Cuba is a closed, repressive society. But the administration has gone out of its way to ensure that it has no chance of influencing events there. In the name of tightening the failed embargo, it has made it much harder for academics, artists and religious people to travel to Cuba and spread the good word about democracy, and much harder for Cubans to visit here. Rather than probing the ongoing political transition, the White House has dismissed it in advance as insignificant. . . .

"If President Bush wants to get the message of democracy across, he should loosen restrictions on cultural and academic exchanges and open the way for serious diplomatic contacts with Mr. Castro's successors."

Wiretapping Watch

David G. Savage writes in the Los Angeles Times: "The Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed a challenge to President Bush's order authorizing the interception of some phone calls and e-mails within the United States, dealing another defeat to civil libertarians who say the president violated the law.

"The court's refusal to hear the case is a victory for the White House and the president's bold use of his powers as commander in chief. Though not a ruling on the legality of Bush's wiretapping policy, it all but forecloses a successful legal attack on it before the president leaves office early next year. In the meantime, Congress and the White House are negotiating new rules for electronic eavesdropping. . . .

"Bush's lawyers successfully invoked two legal doctrines making it difficult to challenge the government's anti-terrorism policies.

"First, they said, challengers must show that they had their phone calls or e-mails intercepted. Otherwise, they have no 'standing' to sue because they have no injury to complain of. Second, the government said, the entire program was secret, and under the 'state secrets privilege,' plaintiffs cannot obtain information on whether they were targeted for surveillance. When combined, the two doctrines make it almost impossible for most challengers to win a hearing in court.

"'They say you need certain information to proceed. And that is exactly the information the government won't give you,' said Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU's National Security Program. 'If you accept these doctrines, this program is entirely immune from judicial review. It's hard to be optimistic today.'"

Bob Egelko writes in the San Francisco Chronicle: "The U.S. Supreme Court's refusal Tuesday to hear a lawsuit challenging President Bush's electronic surveillance program left a critical balance-of-powers question - whether judges can decide the legality of the secretive program - in the hands of two federal courts in San Francisco. . . .

"One case, now before the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, is a suit by AT&T customers who accuse the telecommunications company of illegally giving the government access to their messages and records without a warrant. A former AT&T employee has said in a court filing that the company maintained a room in a San Francisco office where e-mails were copied and shared with federal agents.

"Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker has refused to dismiss the suit, saying the program and AT&T's role have been publicly acknowledged by the Bush administration and company officials. Congress could short-circuit the suit, however, if it grants the president's request to shield AT&T and other companies from liability for any past cooperation with the surveillance program. The Senate has approved such legislation, but a comparable bill cleared the House without the immunity provision."

Via the Crooks and Liars blog, here is Jonathan Turley talking to MSNBC's Keith Olbermann about the Supreme Court's decision: "[W]e know there's an NSA program; we know that it's illegal. There's been no showing nor is no showing possible that the President had the authority to order what he did. This is a crime, defined under federal law. So there's no mystery to the program, there's not a particular debate to its illegality. The only issue is standing: the ability of someone to come in and say, 'I can show I was individually harmed." And they can't do that because the Courts won't give them the information they need and Congress will do nothing to force out into the public the information needed to get this type of relief. And as you noted, the Congress is going further in the opposite direction; they're trying to extinguish suits against telecom companies that have been successful.

Glenn Greenwald blogs for Salon: "In a minimally functioning Republic, when our political leaders are accused of concealing wrongdoing, Congress investigates, uncovers what happens, and informs the American people. When political leaders are accused of breaking the law, courts decide whether that occurred. None of the branches of government do that any longer. They do the opposite: they not only fail to perform those functions, but they affirmatively act to block investigations, help the conduct remain concealed, and ensure that there is no adjudication. When it comes to ensuring that the NSA spying scandal specifically remains forever uninvestigated, secret, and unexamined, telecom amnesty will be the final nail in this coffin, but it is merely illustrative of how our political culture now functions."

Star Wars Watch

Marc Kaufman and Walter Pincus write in The Washington Post: "The Bush administration's attempt to shoot down an out-of-control spy satellite as early as this evening will help the military advance its anti-missile and anti-satellite planning and technology, according to space weapons experts and analysts. Both fields are of high interest to the military and of high concern for many other nations. . . .

"To accomplish this week's task, for example, the Navy has modified its Aegis anti-missile radar system for satellite tracking, making clear that a system designed for missile defense can be transformed into an anti-satellite system in a short time. . . .

"The attempt will further provide an unscripted opportunity to see whether ship-based missiles can blow up the satellite just as it reenters Earth's atmosphere -- a key moment in any attempt to intercept an intercontinental missile that might someday be launched against the United States. . . .

"The Pentagon now spends more than $12 billion annually to develop weapons capable of shooting down missiles entering or leaving space, but it has no dedicated U.S. anti-satellite weapons program in its latest unclassified budget. The military has also worked on a laser project in New Mexico that could have anti-satellite capabilities, and has launched two small satellites that independent experts speculate could be modified to attack, or defend, larger spacecraft. . . .

"David Wright, a senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said 'there's a real concern among people here and in other nations that the U.S. is trying to develop space weapons in the guise of other systems.' The plan to shoot down the satellite, he says, 'fuels the flames for those who think we want to build anti-satellite capabilities.' Both China and Russia have criticized the planned satellite intercept."

Bush's Magic Trick

Tom Engelhardt writes for Tomdispatch.com: "Think of the top officials of the Bush administration as magicians when it comes to Iraq." His point: they've made Iraq "almost entirely disappear from view in the U.S.

"Of course, what they needed to be effective was that classic adjunct to any magician's act, the perfect assistant. This has been a role long held, and still played with mysterious willingness, by the mainstream media. There are certainly many reporters in Iraq doing their jobs as best they can in difficult circumstances. When it comes to those who make the media decisions at home, however, they have practically clamored for the Bush administration to put them in a coffin-like box and saw it in half. Thanks to their news choices, Iraq has for months been whisked deep inside most papers and into the softest sections of network and cable news programs. Only one Iraq subject has gotten significant front-page attention: How much 'success' has the President's surge strategy had?"

And what else has vanished? "[S]omewhere between 57% and 64% of Americans, according to Rasmussen Reports, want all U.S. troops out of Iraq within a year," Engelhardt writes.

"Americans may not have noticed, but the policy that a large majority of them want is no longer part of polite discussion in Washington or on the campaign trail. The spectrum of opinion in the capital, among presidential candidates, and in the mainstream media ranges from Senator McCain's claim that even setting a date for withdrawal would be a sure recipe for 'genocide' -- and that's the responsible right -- to those who want to depart, but not completely and not very quickly either."

Impeachment (Non) Watch

Lauren R. Dorgan writes in the Concord (N.H.) Monitor: "Activists from as far away as Michigan and as close as Warner clutched their pocket-sized U.S. Constitutions and crowded into a State House hearing yesterday on a proposed resolution that would request Congress to begin impeachment proceedings against President Bush and Vice President Cheney. . . .

"The resolution was proposed by Rep. Betty Hall, a Brookline Democrat. It lays out a case that Bush and Cheney violated treaties 'by invading Iraq without just cause or provocation' and misled American lawmakers to make their case. It claims that the federal government's warrantless wiretapping, detentions of 'enemy combatants' at Guantanamo and use of torture on terrorism suspects are due cause to impeach Bush. . . .

"About 100 people crammed into a State House hearing yesterday, many of them gray-headed, most of them appearing in favor in the bill. There were a few opponents. Rep. David Hess, a Hooksett Republican, said he spoke for his party's leadership in opposition to the bill.

"'I have never seen a document more vitriolic and more inflammatory,' Hess said."

Say Buh-Bye

Farewell Mr. President is a new Web site where anyone can upload their own farewell message to Bush. Greg Olliver, the founder, explains.

Initial signs are that the sarcasm will be heavy. Here, for instance, are some messages from Times Square. "Thanks for messing up our country," one young man says. "Thanks for sending our troops to Iraq for no reason."

Cartoon Watch

Joel Pett on Bush's Africa trip; Nick Anderson on Bush's Musharraf problem; Ann Telnaes on how the war profiteers.

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