The Sole of a Nation

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, December 15, 2008; 11:53 AM

Reality made a dramatic cameo appearance when President Bush's legacy tour touched down in Baghdad yesterday and a shoe-hurling Iraqi journalist refused to go along with the charade that the invasion of his country was something to celebrate.

Bush, as part of his series of carefully choreographed farewell statements, has been making every effort to suggest that victory is around the corner in the two unfinished wars he leaves behind him (one undertaken under false pretenses, both vastly more protracted and costly than expected). The implicit message is that if anything goes wrong from this point forward, it will be Barack Obama's fault.

But yesterday, one rebellious Iraqi reporter -- and two flying items of footwear -- punctured Bush's historical revisionism and offered a powerful metaphor for the counter-argument that the war was a disastrous mistake and is far from over.

Indeed, the White House spin on Iraq falls apart under close analysis. The security situation is undoubtedly improved over two years ago, but the fact that Iraqis aren't currently engaged in a massive bloodletting is a pretty low standard for success. There are few signs of genuine political reconciliation. And despite Bush's insistence yesterday that the war "is decisively on its way to being won," if victory means a peaceful, secular, democratic and pro-Western Iraq, we aren't necessarily close at all.

There is plenty of reason to suspect, for instance, that the timetable for troop withdrawal -- which Bush, in a humiliating reversal, recently agreed to under pressure from Iraq's government -- will also serve as a timetable for the resumption of a civil war between Sunnis and Shiites, both of whom have consolidated power during the relative lull.

And let's not forget one other piece of context: According to public opinion polls, a significant majority of Americans have long believed that the Bush administration deliberately misled the American public in the run-up to war, that the war was a mistake, and that it wasn't worth it.

The Coverage

Steven Lee Myers and Alissa J. Rubin write in the New York Times: "President Bush made a valedictory visit on Sunday to Iraq, the country that will largely define his legacy, but the trip will more likely be remembered for the unscripted moment when an Iraqi journalist hurled his shoes at Mr. Bush's head and denounced him on live television as a 'dog' who had delivered death and sorrow here from nearly six years of war.

"The drama unfolded shortly after Mr. Bush appeared at a news conference in Baghdad with Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to highlight the newly adopted security agreement between the United States and Iraq. The agreement includes a commitment to withdraw all American forces by the end of 2011.

"The Iraqi journalist, Muntader al-Zaidi, 28, a correspondent for Al Baghdadia, an independent Iraqi television station, stood up about 12 feet from Mr. Bush and shouted in Arabic: 'This is a gift from the Iraqis; this is the farewell kiss, you dog!' He then threw a shoe at Mr. Bush, who ducked and narrowly avoided it.

"As stunned security agents and guards, officials and journalists watched, Mr. Zaidi then threw his other shoe, shouting in Arabic, 'This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq!' That shoe also narrowly missed Mr. Bush as Prime Minister Maliki stuck a hand in front of the president's face to help shield him. . . .

"The shoe-throwing incident in Baghdad punctuated Mr. Bush's visit here -- his fourth -- in a deeply symbolic way, reflecting the conflicted views in Iraq of a man who toppled Saddam Hussein, ordered the occupation of the country and brought it freedoms unthinkable under Mr. Hussein's rule but at enormous costs.

"Hitting someone with a shoe is considered the supreme insult in Iraq. It means that the target is even lower than the shoe, which is always on the ground and dirty. Crowds hurled their shoes at the giant statue of Mr. Hussein that stood in Baghdad's Firdos Square before helping American marines pull it down on April 9, 2003, the day the capital fell. More recently in the same square, a far bigger crowd composed of Iraqis who had opposed the security agreement flung their shoes at an effigy of Mr. Bush before burning it."

Sudarsan Raghavan and Dan Eggen write in The Washington Post: "Arriving in Baghdad on Sunday for a surprise farewell visit, President Bush staunchly defended a war that has taken far more time, money and lives than anticipated, but he received a taste of local resentment toward his policies when an Iraqi journalist hurled two shoes at him at a news conference. . . .

"In Iraq, Bush said the conflict 'has not been easy' but was necessary for U.S. security, Iraqi stability and 'world peace.' He hailed a recently signed but still controversial security pact as a sign of impending victory.

"'There is still more work to be done. The war is not over,' Bush said, with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki next to him. 'But with the conclusion of this agreement . . . it is decidedly on its way to being won.'..

"On Sunday, Bush met with a series of Iraqi leaders about the recently completed security agreement, which calls for the withdrawal of U.S. forces by the end of 2011.

"After meeting with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani at Salam Palace, Bush hailed the security agreement as 'a reminder of our friendship and as a way forward to help the Iraqi people realize the blessings of a free society.'

"Bush's praise for the pact is particularly notable given that the U.S. administration spent years dismissing proposals for withdrawal timelines as dangerous admissions of defeat. The agreement came after months of hard bargaining by Iraqi leaders, who insisted on a firm date for the removal of U.S. troops.

"Although Bush and his aides characterize the agreement as a sign of improvement, it is still divisive and may not last. A national referendum on the pact is required in the summer; rejection by the Iraqi public could speed the withdrawal of U.S. troops. The country's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, has expressed concerns about the agreement. Opponents are railing against it."

Adam Ashton and Mohammed al Dulaimy write for McClatchy Newspapers: "George W. Bush made his last visit to Iraq as president on Sunday. But instead of highlighting progress from the 'surge,' it became a reminder that many Iraqis see him not as a liberator who freed them from Saddam Hussein but as an occupier who pushed their country into chaos."

Tina Susman and Caesar Ahmed write in the Los Angeles Times: "The Iraq war plays a key role in defining Bush's legacy and is largely responsible for the plunge in his public support to historically low levels. Yet, as he took this final lap, Iraq has become a relative bright spot in his foreign policy record. Although military leaders emphasize that the situation in Iraq could still revert to mayhem, it has nonetheless grown more stable. Daily attacks, which once numbered in the dozens, now average about four, U.S. officials say. Meanwhile, the administration's efforts in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and North Korea, along with Bush's campaign to promote Arab-Israeli peace, are deteriorating or gridlocked.

"The Baghdad visit comes in a month when the White House has been pressing a public campaign to advance its view that Bush is leaving behind a stronger record of accomplishment than widely thought. This month Bush delivered a speech in which he declared that he was leaving the Middle East a more hopeful place -- a judgment that many would dispute.

"'His wrong acts eventually divided the people of Iraq into sects, political entities and blocs, and as a consequence we are unable to reestablish our state,' said Usama Najafi, a lawmaker from the secular Iraqi National List coalition in parliament. He blamed Bush for Iranian interference in Iraq, saying the U.S. presence had given Iran an excuse to send weapons to anti-U.S. militias.

"'We cannot rebuild our country because of the fragile base which was formed on mistakes, and even President Bush is unable to convince the international community of the reasons behind his policy in Iraq,' Najafi said."

Robert H. Reid writes for the Associated Press: "Bush's whirlwind visit to Iraq was his ostensible victory lap for what often looked like a personal crusade.

"The president leaves behind a war that even he and his own generals acknowledge is not yet over -- and a devastated country whose divisions are far from healed.

"Certainly, Baghdad is safer than it was a year ago. Bush visited the Green Zone on Sunday without being hustled for cover from the rockets and mortars that rained down on the area only six months ago.

"But the country is far from safe by any normal standard. Nearly six years after the U.S. invasion, Iraq is a country of daily bombings, kidnappings and ambushes. . . .

"Suspicion among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds -- which fueled the war that erupted after Saddam Hussein's ouster -- still run deep.

"Nearly 150,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq -- more than when Bush ordered the 'troop surge'"

Alistair Lyon writes for Reuters: "The hurling of shoes at U.S. President George W. Bush on his farewell visit to Iraq strikes many in the Middle East as a fittingly furious comment on what they see as his calamitous legacy in the region.

"Arab and Iranian TV stations have gleefully replayed the clip, sometimes in slow motion."

Eric Owles blogs for the New York Times: "An American military patrol in Najaf on Monday was pelted by shoes thrown by supporters of Moktada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric. In Tikrit, journalists demonstrated in support of an Iraqi reporter who threw his shoes at President Bush during a news conference yesterday. And across Iraq, everyone seemed to have an opinion of the flying footwear incident. . . .

"Abu Ali, a 55-year-old laborer, said: 'It is a wedding of all Iraqis. Muntader's action is less than Bush deserves for killing, displacing and bloodletting Iraqis. I will blame the Iraqi government and American forces if anything wrong happens to Muntader.' . . .

"Dr. Qutaiba Rajaa, 58, said: 'Although that action was not expressed in a civilized manner, it showed the Iraqi feelings which refuse American occupation. Muntadhar expressed the real Iraqi feelings.' . . .

"'I swear by God that this man has freely expressed all Iraqis' opinions and brought their wishes to reality,' said Mudhar Adeeb, an engineer."

And Jasim Abdullah, a 29-year-old shopkeeper, told the Times: "I suggest having an auction to sell the shoe."

Comparative Trip Anatomy

On the way to Iraq, National security adviser Stephen Hadley bragged to reporters on Air Force One about how different this trip to Iraq would be, compared to past ones: "We're going to arrive in daylight. There will be an arrival ceremony -- I don't think we've seen one of those before."

Indeed, unlike his first trip, a two-and-a-half-hour visit to the Baghdad airport on Thanksgiving 2003, it wasn't entirely under the cover of night.

This time, as opposed to his five-hour visit in June 2006, Bush actually let the prime minister know he was coming ahead of time.

And unlike his most recent trip in September 2007, when he spent seven hours at a heavily fortified American outpost, he actually traveled through Baghdad and even briefly emerged outside the Green Zone.

But still, security was incredibly tight, with the White House using plenty of subterfuge to keep the trip a secret ahead of time. And Bush was on the ground for all of seven and a half hours, meaning that he has still spent less than 24 hours altogether in the country he has occupied for more than five and a half years.

In His Own Words

Here is the transcript of Bush's press availability with Maliki, where he insisted that his troop "surge" had paved the way for success: "Today, violence is down dramatically. Al Qaeda is driven from its safe havens. Sunnis, Shia, and Kurds are sitting together at the same table to part -- to peacefully chart the future of this country. There is hope in the eyes of Iraqis' young. This is a future of what we've been fighting for -- a strong and capable democratic Iraq that will be a force of freedom and a force for peace in the heart of the Middle East; a country that will serve as a source for stability in a volatile region; a country that will deny a safe haven to al Qaeda."

His conclusion: "There is still more work to be done. The war is not yet over -- but with the conclusion of these agreements and the courage of the Iraqi people and the Iraqi troops and American troops and civilian personnel, it is decisively on its way to being won."

As for the shoe incident: "So what if a guy threw a shoe at me?" Bush asked. "It's like driving down the street and have people not gesturing with all five fingers. It's a way for people to, you know, draw -- I don't know what the guy's cause is. But one thing is for certain -- he caused you to ask me a question about it. I didn't feel the least bit threatened by it."

Here's the transcript from Bush's speech to American troops at Al Faw Palace at the Army's Camp Victory, a concentrated eight minutes of revisionism: "Many said the mission was hopeless; many called for retreat. Retreat would have meant failure -- and failure is never an option. . . .

"So instead of pulling troops out, we sent more troops in -- called the surge. And because of you and because of your courage, the surge is one of the greatest successes in the history of the United States military. . . .

"Terrorists who once held safe havens across the country are being driven out of their strongholds. The political process that was once stalled is moving forward. Iraqi citizens once afraid to leave their homes are going back to school, and shopping in markets, and leading a more normal life. And American troops are returning home because of success."

Bush truly shot for the stars: "What you're doing in Iraq is as important, and courageous, and selfless as what American troops did in places like Normandy and Iwo Jima and Korea. Your generation is every bit as great as any that came before it. And the work you do every day will shape history for generations to come."

And then he made this emotionally loaded statement: "We think of those who have laid down their lives for freedom here in Iraq. Their children are growing up without a mom or a dad. But all of our children are growing up with something else -- the promise of a safer America and a better world. And that is the lasting memorial of all who have sacrificed here in Iraq. And thanks to you, that memorial will be achieved -- and their sacrifice will not be in vain."

But this is the ultimate example of Bush's using blind appeals to patriotism and support for the troops to make his dubious political case. There is no evidence this war has made America safer. As I wrote back in a December 2006 column, nobody wants to believe that soldiers have died in vain, but if they have, sending more soldiers to die after them doesn't make it better -- it only makes it worse.

Here's Bush in a roundtable interview with reporters on Air Force One, in between Iraq and Afghanistan. It's the first time I've seen "(Moans and groans)" in a White House transcript.

Bush: "Okay, my opening statement: I didn't know what the guy said, but I saw his sole. (Laughter.) You were more concerned than I was. I was watching your faces. . . .

"I'm pretty good at ducking, as most of you will know -- "

Q. "You were quick."

Q. " -- ducking --"

Bush: "I'm talking about ducking your questions. (Laughter.)"

Q. "So you weren't a lame duck. (Moans and groans.)"

Bush continued: "I don't think you can take one guy throwing shoes and say this represents a broad movement in Iraq. You can try to do that if you want to. I don't think it would be accurate.

Q. "Well, then, separately from him --"

Bush: "That's exactly what he wanted you to do. Like I answered on your question, what he wanted you to do was to pay attention to him. And sure enough, you did."

Frank James blogging for Tribune, characterizes as "odd" Bush's "complete refusal during his exchange with reporters on Air Force One to acknowledge any anger or unhappiness in Iraq or the Muslim Middle East with the invasion he ordered and its aftermath.

"The White House reporters didn't follow up, perhaps knowing too well by now they weren't going to get him to admit something if he didn't want to since this president is well known by now for his stubbornness.

"But the president's refusal to admit a reality fairly obvious to most observers, even in the 11th hour of his presidency, was clearly another bizarre Bush White House moment."

Talk About Ducking

Not long after the Baghdad press conference, Bush sat down for a quick interview with ABC's Martha Raddatz. The ducking continued. Here's the video.

After some shoe talk, the topic quickly changed to Bush's legacy, and Raddatz pushed back on several of the president's assertions.

Bush: "Clearly, one of the most important parts of my job because of 9/11 was to defend the security of the American people. There have been no attacks since I have been president, since 9/11. One of the major theaters against al Qaeda turns out to have been Iraq. This is where al Qaeda said they were going to take their stand. This is where al Qaeda was hoping to take -- "

Raddatz: "But not until after the U.S. invaded."

Bush: "Yeah, that's right. So what?"

So what? What do you say to that sort of answer?

Bush continued: "The point is that al Qaeda said they're going to take a stand. Well, first of all in the post-9/11 environment Saddam Hussein posed a threat. And then upon removal, al Qaeda decides to take a stand. And they're becoming defeated and I think history will say, one, the world was better off without Saddam, two, along with the Iraqi troops we have denied al Qaeda a safe haven because a young democracy is beginning to grow, which will be an important sign for people in the Middle East."

Raddatz let the al Qaeda issue drop, but brought up another important point: "Just let me go back because you brought this up. You said Saddam Hussein posed a threat in the post-9/11 world. They didn't find weapons of mass destruction."

Bush: "That's true. Everybody thought they had them."

Raddatz: "So what threat?"

Bush: "Saddam Hussein was the sworn enemy of the United States. He had been enriched by oil revenues. He was a sponsor of terror. I have never claimed like some said that he -- you know, oh, that he was directly involved with the attacks on 9/11, but he did support terrorists. And, uh, Saddam Hussein had the capability making weapons of mass destruction.

"I did not have the luxury of knowing he did not have them, neither did the rest of the world until after we had come and removed him."

Raddatz went for the jugular: "So would you have gone in anyway?"

But Bush ducked the question -- and furthermore, repeated his inaccurate charge that Saddam Hussein didn't allow UN inspections (see the "Inspectors, Redux" section of my December 3 column.)

Bush: "Excuse me for a minute. And finally we gave Hussein a peaceful way out. It was his choice. And when he refused to allow for inspections, when he refused to disclose or disarm, then a large coalition of troops took him out. . . .

"Now the question is are we going to stay and help this young democracy thrive."

The final question from Raddatz: "Did you ever imagine your presidency ending, and I know it's not over yet, without capturing Osama bin Laden?"

Bush: "We have done great damage to al Qaeda. We have denied them safe havens, a safe haven in Iraq. We are pursuing them in Pakistan. We have got them on the run. We're keeping the pressure on them full time. And do I wish we had brought Osama bin Laden to justice, sure. But he's not leading a lot of parades these days."

Winning in Iraq

Bush over the past few weeks has been edging closer and closer to declaring victory in Iraq.

At West Point last week, he said "the fight in Iraq nears a successful end."

In his Dec. 6 radio address, Bush said: "The war in Iraq is not yet over -- but thanks to these agreements and the courage of our men and women in Iraq, it is decisively on its way to being won."

Back on Nov. 25, he told troops at Fort Campbell: "The war in Iraq is not over. But we're drawing closer to the day when our troops can come home. And when they come home, they will come home in victory."

Credibility Watch

And here's a story that helps put the Bush administration's credibility in perspective.

James Glanz and ProPublica's T. Christian Miller write for the New York Times: "An unpublished 513-page federal history of the American-led reconstruction of Iraq depicts an effort crippled before the invasion by Pentagon planners who were hostile to the idea of rebuilding a foreign country, and then molded into a $100 billion failure by bureaucratic turf wars, spiraling violence and ignorance of the basic elements of Iraqi society and infrastructure. . . .

"It also concludes that when the reconstruction began to lag -- particularly in the critical area of rebuilding the Iraqi police and army -- the Pentagon simply put out inflated measures of progress to cover up the failures.

"In one passage, for example, former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell is quoted as saying that in the months after the 2003 invasion, the Defense Department 'kept inventing numbers of Iraqi security forces -- the number would jump 20,000 a week! "We now have 80,000, we now have 100,000, we now have 120,000."' . . .

"Among the overarching conclusions of the history is that five years after embarking on its largest foreign reconstruction project since the Marshall Plan in Europe after World War II, the United States government has in place neither the policies and technical capacity nor the organizational structure that would be needed to undertake such a program on anything approaching this scale.

"The bitterest message of all for the reconstruction program may be the way the history ends. The hard figures on basic services and industrial production compiled for the report reveal that for all the money spent and promises made, the rebuilding effort never did much more than restore what was destroyed during the invasion and the convulsive looting that followed. . . .

"Titled 'Hard Lessons: The Iraq Reconstruction Experience,' the new history was compiled by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, led by Stuart W. Bowen Jr., a Republican lawyer who regularly travels to Iraq and has a staff of engineers and auditors based here."

In Afghanistan

Here is Bush's speech to troops in Afghanistan.

Here is his press availability with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai.

Steven Lee Myers writes in the New York Times: "President Bush made a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Monday morning and asserted that the United States would not walk away from the conflict here despite rising violence and instability.

"Air Force One arrived in the predawn darkness, five-and-a-half hours after leaving Iraq, and the details of the Afghanistan trip were shrouded in even greater secrecy than before the first stop, in Baghdad. En route, Mr. Bush said that he wanted to pledge that the United States would not relent in the effort to strengthen Afghanistan, even as he steps down in 36 days."

Here's how Myers summed up the press conference in a pool report: "No news, but the president faced a pointed question form a reporter who said his slogans about Afghanistan were a lie and that the Taliban 'were laughing across the border.'"

That question didn't make the transcript, although Bush's response did: "I respectfully disagree with you."

NSA Watch

Michael Isikoff writes for Newsweek about Thomas M. Tamm, who in spring 2004 "had just finished a yearlong stint at a Justice Department unit handling wiretaps of suspected terrorists and spies. . . .

"While there, Tamm stumbled upon the existence of a highly classified National Security Agency program that seemed to be eavesdropping on U.S. citizens. The unit had special rules that appeared to be hiding the NSA activities from a panel of federal judges who are required to approve such surveillance. When Tamm started asking questions, his supervisors told him to drop the subject. He says one volunteered that 'the program' (as it was commonly called within the office) was 'probably illegal.' . . .

"[H]e picked up a phone and called The New York Times.

"That one call began a series of events that would engulf Washington -- and upend Tamm's life. Eighteen months after he first disclosed what he knew, the Times reported that President George W. Bush had secretly authorized the NSA to intercept phone calls and e-mails of individuals inside the United States without judicial warrants . . . President Bush condemned the leak to the Times as a 'shameful act.' Federal agents launched a criminal investigation to determine the identity of the culprit. . . .

"Tamm -- who was not the Times's only source, but played the key role in tipping off the paper -- has not fared so well. The FBI has pursued him relentlessly for the past two and a half years. . . .

"Exhausted by the uncertainty clouding his life, Tamm now is telling his story publicly for the first time."

And Daniel Klaidman writes for Newsweek with a possible answer to one of Washington's great mysteries: What exactly led to the Justice Department revolt of spring 2004?

It's a little appreciated fact that what we know as the "Terrorist Surveillance Program" was what was left over after that confrontation. So what was going on before? What did Bush agree to stop doing?

Klaidman writes: "Two knowledgeable sources tell Newsweek that the clash erupted over a part of Bush's espionage program that had nothing to do with the wiretapping of individual suspects. Rather, [Former deputy attorney general James] Comey and others threatened to resign because of the vast and indiscriminate collection of communications data. These sources, who asked not to be named discussing intelligence matters, describe a system in which the National Security Agency, with cooperation from some of the country's largest telecommunications companies, was able to vacuum up the records of calls and e-mails of tens of millions of average Americans between September 2001 and March 2004. The program's classified code name was 'Stellar Wind,' though when officials needed to refer to it on the phone, they called it 'SW.'"

Bailout Watch

Amit R. Paley writes in The Washington Post: "Congress wanted to guarantee that the $700 billion financial bailout would limit the eye-popping pay of Wall Street executives, so lawmakers included a mechanism for reviewing executive compensation and penalizing firms that break the rules.

"But at the last minute, the Bush administration insisted on a one-sentence change to the provision, congressional aides said. . . .

"Lawmakers and legal experts say the change has effectively repealed the only enforcement mechanism in the law dealing with lavish pay for top executives."

More on the Legacy Tour

Dan Eggen writes in Sunday's Washington Post: "The president who once dared militants to 'bring 'em on' is getting a bit misty in his final weeks, taking frequent opportunities to explore his sensitive side while discussing his legacy -- from the importance of his Christian faith to his conviction that, sometimes, all we need is love. . . .

"The wave of presidential emoting comes as part of an effort by Bush and his aides to highlight the positive side of his legacy as he nears his final month in office, while also bidding farewell to world leaders and longtime colleagues. Between boasts about vanquishing terrorists and succeeding in Iraq, many of his recent speeches and interviews have focused on social programs and initiatives -- such as anti-drug and anti-AIDS efforts -- that lend themselves to an emotional appeal. . . .

"Unfortunately for the president, the warm feelings are unrequited at the moment. A recent NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll found that 79 percent of Americans will not miss Bush once he is gone, and that nearly half think he will go down as one of the worst presidents in U.S. history. Senators from his own party revolted against him this week, shooting down a government bridge loan the White House had sought for foundering Detroit automakers.

"'Everything he's saying is soft and spiritual and considerate, yet if you consider the way he governed, it's the very antithesis of what he did in office,' said Thomas E. Mann of the Brookings Institution. 'He's a diminished figure. You can be angry about it, or you can be wistful; he's being wistful.' . . .

"Steven Pinker, a psychology professor at Harvard University and author of 'The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature,' argues that Bush's frequent invocation of love is intended as a 'dog whistle' to other Christian believers that obscures his failings. . . .

"'Having failed by every secular standard, Bush is trying to convince the remaining people who will listen that he has succeeded by an inscrutable divine one,' Pinker said in an e-mail."

Bush and the Mirror

Here's Bush's advice on Friday to graduates of Texas A&M University: "[D]evelop a set of principles to live by -- convictions and ideals to guide your course. There will be times when people tell you a different way is more accepted or popular. Remember that popularity is as fleeting as the Texas wind. Character and conscience are as sturdy as the oaks on this campus. If you go home at night, look in the mirror and be satisfied that you have done what is right, you will pass the only test that matters."

It seems to me that the mirror test is good enough for a lot of us. But for the president of the United States, it's reasonable to ask if the country has been well served. And on the key issues of the day -- Iraq and Afghanistan and the economy and Katrina -- the president has failed any test that doesn't involve a mirror.

Blair House Watch

Helene Cooper and Rachel L. Swarms write in the New York Times: "To the list of people having trouble finding somewhere in Washington to stay in early January, there can now be added one more entry: the Obama family.

"President Bush's aides have turned down a request from President-elect Barack Obama to move from Chicago into Blair House, the official guest residence across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House, in time for Mr. Obama's daughters to start school in Washington on Jan. 5.

"The Obamas were told that they could move into Blair House on Jan. 15, but no earlier, because it is booked, an Obama transition official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity...

"White House officials declined to disclose specifically who is using Blair House during that period, for what purpose or how they could take precedence over the president-elect of the United States when it came to government housing; one White House official would say only that it had been booked for 'receptions and gatherings' by members of the departing Bush administration. Those receptions, the official said, 'don't make it suitable for full-time occupancy by the Obamas yet.'"

Cartoon Watch

Morten Morland on Bush's farewell visit, Adam Zyglis on Bush's housewarming present, Jimmy Margulies on giving away the store and Ann Telnaes on Bush's tortured denials.

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