Increasingly accused of turning a blind eye to the realities on the ground in Iraq, President Bush this week will engage in an all-out effort to persuade American voters that things are getting better.
This afternoon in New Hampshire, tomorrow at the United Nations, and later this week from the Rose Garden with Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi at his side, Bush will be ferociously on message: This is no time for a change of course.
But the president's plan for the week is not without peril.
Unlike his typical, hand-picked crowds, Bush's audience at the United Nations is not friendly.
Even some key Republican allies are saying Bush needs to accept that his mission in Iraq is in deep trouble.
And the headlines from Iraq continue to controvert his optimism.
Dan Balz and Jim VandeHei write in The Washington Post: "Iraq has shaped the presidential debate through the year and will assume center stage again this week, with Bush addressing the United Nations on Tuesday and welcoming Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi at the White House on Thursday. Kerry will be in New York on Monday and Tuesday, and advisers were working this weekend on plans for a retooled message that will accuse Bush of failure since the initial invasion of Iraq ended in the spring of 2003."
Is this relentless focus going to be good or bad for the White House?
On the one hand, Balz and VandeHei write: "Bush has tried to emphasize Iraq's progress toward democracy, but events there have undermined that message in a week that has included car bombs, kidnappings and more U.S. casualties."
On the other hand: "White House communications director Dan Bartlett said that when the public compares Bush and Kerry on Iraq, they consistently put their faith in the president. As such, Bartlett said, the White House welcomes any attacks Kerry plans to launch. 'We believe each day that we're debating the war and debating Iraq, it's an advantage to us,' he said."
Greg Hitt and Jacob M. Schlesinger write in the Wall Street Journal: "President Bush is moving to control the Iraq debate with a weeklong effort that signals U.S. resolve to see through that country's chaotic experiment in democracy while tapping the power of incumbency for his re-election campaign. . . .
"Despite difficulties in Iraq, polls continue to show that voters trust Mr. Bush more than Mr. Kerry to handle the situation there, a big reason why Mr. Bush currently leads Mr. Kerry in the race. That is in part because Mr. Bush's campaign has been far more successful than the challenger's in shaping the Iraq debate, keeping much of the attention on Mr. Kerry's complex past on the topic."
Hitt and Schlesinger caution the White House: "Through Thursday's planned appearance with the prime minister, Mr. Bush risks repeating the 'Mission Accomplished' episode by again appearing to take credit for successes that haven't materialized."
The Week in Detail
Bob Deans writes for Cox News Service: "After weeks on the campaign trail, where his stump speeches draw reliable applause and cheers from Republican audiences, Bush heads into a diplomatic lion's den when he addresses delegates at the opening of this year's U.N. General Assembly. . . .
"U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan set the tone Thursday, accusing Bush of waging an illegitimate war that lacked the backing of the U.N. Security Council."
Steve Holland writes for Reuters: "Two years after he made a case against Iraq over unconventional weapons that were never found, U.S. President George W. Bush faces global critics at the United Nations this week to argue it is essential that war-ravaged Iraq become a stable democracy.
"Before getting to New York, Bush will attend a campaign rally on Monday in Derry, New Hampshire, where Bush campaign officials said he will step up attacks on Democratic challenger John Kerry's Iraq policy, taking advantage of what the campaign calls Kerry's shifting positions. . . .
"Bush will attack Kerry for a policy of 'defeat and retreat,' campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel said. He will also launch a new advertisement on cable television promoting the president's proposals to create a national terrorism center and transform the U.S. military to fight terrorism."
The Associated Press looks at Bush's date book. "At the annual U.N. General Assembly opening session in New York, Bush meets Tuesday with Allawi, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
"On Wednesday, Bush meets President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan.
"Bush will sit down with Allawi in the White House on Thursday, to be followed by questions from reporters. Bush has not answered questions publicly since he talked to reporters at his Texas ranch on Aug. 23."
Paul Richter writes in the Los Angeles Times: "White House officials insist that Allawi's congressional appearance is not part of Bush's reelection effort, maintaining that it was organized by congressional leaders. One GOP congressional aide said leaders invited Allawi after consulting the White House."
Doubts Inside the GOP
Josh White writes in The Washington Post: "Republican senators lobbed criticisms of President Bush's Iraq war policies during yesterday's news talk shows, arguing that the U.S. military needs more troops on the ground and should move without haste to turn the tide against a deadly and persistent insurgency.
"Following a recent spate of attacks that have killed scores of American soldiers and Iraqi citizens, some senators said yesterday that U.S. policy has been misdirected and needs to be refocused. As the presidential election nears, the Republicans blasted what they called a sometimes stubborn administration and called on military leaders to launch attacks on insurgent strongholds sooner rather than later."
'Pleased With the Progress'
After quite a drought, the president is intending to answer at least some questions from reporters on Thursday. He also spent 20 minutes on Friday doing a phone interview with John DiStaso of the Manchester, N.H., Union Leader.
That generated three stories in the Union Leader.
The story on Iraq reads: "President George W. Bush remains steadfast in his view that the United States is on the right course in Iraq, despite rising casualties. He downplayed a recently released national intelligence report painting a bleak picture of the future of the embattled nation. . . .
"Bush said he was not disappointed in the status of the war. . . .
" 'And I'm pleased with the progress. It's hard. Don't get me wrong. It's hard because there are some in Iraq who want to disrupt the election and disrupt the march to democracy, which should speak to their fear of freedom.' "
The story on al Qaeda reads: "In an interview with The Union Leader on Friday, the President would not say if the United States is any closer to capturing or killing the al-Qaida leader than it was a week after the 9/11 attacks."
And the story on his National Guard service reads: "Asked about a controversial CBS report that he received preferential treatment while in the Air National Guard 30 years ago, President George W. Bush said, 'Let the truth come out.' . . .
"Bush would not say if he believed the key documents on which CBS based its report were forgeries. He did say, 'There are a lot of questions about the documents and they need to be answered.' . . .
"The President said, as he has in the past, that after flying more than 570 hours in the Guard, he asked permission to work on a political campaign. 'I was granted permission by my superiors,' he said. 'I did everything they asked me to do and met my requirements and was honorably discharged. I'm proud of my service in the Guard.' "
Mike Allen and Dan Balz write in The Washington Post: "The campaigns of President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry have tentatively settled on a package of three face-to-face debates that both sides view as a potentially decisive chance to sway huge audiences ahead of the Nov. 2 election, Democrats and Republicans said yesterday."
Susan Page, Judy Keen and Jill Lawrence write in USA Today: "Bush, who has begun rehearsals at his Texas ranch, Camp David and the White House, could seal the deal with wavering voters who have concerns about his stewardship of the economy and the war in Iraq.
"Kerry, who has been reading Bush's campaign speeches to find potential lines of attack, could use the debates as an opening to make the case to those same voters that he offers a trustworthy alternative."
National Guard Watch
Yet more questions are being raised about Bush's National Guard service -- questions that have nothing to do with the disputed CBS document. The issue now is whether Bush may have received credit -- and maybe even payment -- for drills he didn't perform.
In the New York Times, Sara Rimer takes a long look at 1972, "the year George W. Bush dropped off the radar screen."
Rimer writes that "a review of records shows that not only did he miss months of duty in 1972, but that he also may have been improperly awarded credit for service, making possible an early honorable discharge so he could turn his attention to a new interest: Harvard Business School."
Rimer writes: "Payroll records released by the White House show that in addition to being paid for attending a drill in Alabama the last weekend in October, Mr. Bush was also paid for a weekend drill . . . on Nov. 11 and 12, and for meetings on Nov. 13 and 14.
"But there are no records from the 187th indicating that Mr. Bush, in fact, appeared on those days in October and November, and more than a dozen members of the unit from that era say they never saw him. The White House said last week that there were no records from the Alabama unit because Mr. Bush was still officially part of the Texas Guard. But Mr. [Bobby W.] Hodges, the former Texas commander, said the 187th 'should have a record of his drills.' "
Similarly, Rimer writes: "Documents released by the White House show that he was paid for drills in January, April and several days in early May 1973. . . . But Mr. Bush had been authorized to drill in Alabama only from September through November 1972."
Eric Boehlert writes in the liberal online magazine, Salon: "His public records paint a portrait of a Guardsman who, with the cooperation of his Texas Air National Guard superiors, simply flouted regulation after regulation, indifferent to his signed obligation to serve. . . .
"One serious question is whether some of Bush's superiors may have played an active role in hiding Bush's shoddy record -- pressured perhaps by powerful politicians -- by crediting him with crucial makeup training days that appear dubious in nature."
Meanwhile, G. Robert Hillman writes in the Dallas Morning News: "President Bush's mother defended her son's service in the Texas Air National Guard, saying 'the truth was, he served.' "
Drip, Drip, Drip
Richard W. Stevenson and Raymond Bonner write in the New York Times: "Two days after completing his basic training for the Texas Air National Guard in 1968, George W. Bush drew special attention from one of his commanders in the form of a letter praising him to his father, then a member of Congress from Texas, a document released late Friday by the Pentagon shows. . . .
"Mr. Bush's response . . . suggested that the younger Mr. Bush, 22 and a few months out of Yale University, had received considerable attention from military leaders who were well aware of his family connections."
Dana Milbank writes in Sunday's Washington Post: "The latest document dump came on -- when else? -- Friday night. The release of undesirable news late on a Friday had been a cliché even before the Bush administration, but now it's downright tired and hackneyed."
Howard Kurtz writes in The Washington Post: "CBS News plans to issue a statement, perhaps as early as today, saying that it was misled on the purported National Guard memos the network used to charge that President Bush received favored treatment 30 years ago."
Peter Wallsten of the Los Angeles Times tracked the first allegation that the CBS memos were forged, by a blogger named "Buckhead," to Harry W. MacDougald, an Atlanta lawyer with strong ties to conservative Republican causes.
"The vice president travels on Air Force Two. . . . But there is not a seat for me," writes Rick Lyman
of the New York Times, in a weekend story headlined "Desperately Seeking Dick Cheney."
"Frankly, there are some colleagues who suspect that antipathy toward the newspaper may be behind it. Anne Womack, the vice president's chief spokeswoman, says such suspicions are baseless. There simply are not enough seats for all of the press, and other publications got their names on the list before us. If someone drops out, they'll let me know.
"So, I stalk: Flying commercial, I hopscotch around the country, booking my own flights, trying to keep one step ahead of Mr. Cheney. . . .
"All I have are little images, most of them from afar, of a man who's essentially all business, who feels a little uncomfortable in the spotlight, who is happier and looser when his wife is with him, who laughs more frequently than his reputation suggests but usually at unkind jokes aimed at Democrats shouted from the crowd. He barely raises his voice, even when punching home an applause line in a speech."
Lisa Rein writes in The Washington Post: "While President Bush campaigns with an upbeat message that a second Bush administration will keep Americans safer, Cheney speaks like Darth Vader, as the ticket's voice of fear. The world changed on Sept. 11, 2001, and Americans should be afraid, he tells voters in flat, brooding tones. Terrorists could strike again at any moment. . . .
"To critics, the Cheney message amounts to scare tactics."
Jeff Mapes and Alice Tallmadge writing in the Oregonian on Saturday, note this incident: "One protester who made his way into the Eugene rally shouted, 'Stop the war, bring home the troops,' several times before he was tackled by Springfield resident Arthur Briga, a senior citizen and former Marine. Security officers then escorted the demonstrator from the hangar. Cheney urged the crowd to treat the protester 'with kindness.' "
Here are the texts of Cheney's talks Friday in Oregon City and Eugene. Cheney also spoke Saturday in Dekalb, Ill.
Robert O'Harrow Jr. writes in The Washington Post: "Details about the genesis of . . . secret contracts have become part of an intensifying election-year effort by Democrats in Congress and the presidential campaign of Sen. John F. Kerry to question whether Halliburton became one of the Defense Department's favorite contractors because Cheney is vice president.
"No one has presented evidence that Cheney made as much as a phone call on behalf of his former company in the run-up to the war, or since. But Halliburton's repeated missteps and legal troubles, the surge in its government business, and apparent contradictions in statements by Cheney and other administration officials have kept the issue alive."
You may recall from Friday the story of this
photo, showing three-year-old Sophia Parlock crying while seated on the shoulders of her father, Phil Parlock, after having their Bush-Cheney sign torn up by Kerry-Edwards supporters in West Virginia.
Jim Ross writes in the Huntington, W. Va. Herald-Dispatch: "Republican supporters all over the Internet on Friday were saying Parlock was merely a Republican exercising his First Amendment rights, set upon by Democratic thugs.
"Meanwhile, Democratic bloggers questioned whether Parlock staged the event that sent Sophia into tears as a news photographer captured her distress. Some even called him a serial protester and a bad parent for putting his daughter in harm's way."
Brian Farkas writes for the Associated Press that the incident "became the subject of intensely partisan Internet chatter on Friday."
Well, President Bush either doesn't know about the controversy -- or doesn't care.
Paul Bedard writes in U.S. News's Washington Whispers column: "After seeing the picture of the tearful Sophia on her father's shoulders, aides said the president was sending her a little note Friday along with a signed campaign poster and an autographed photo of the prez and his dog. 'Dear Sophia,' Bush penned, 'Thank you for supporting my campaign. I understand someone tore up your sign. So I am sending you a new sign and a signed picture. Please give my best to your family. Sincerely, George W. Bush.' And on the picture, he inked: 'To Sophia, Best wishes from me and Barney.' "
Oh Wait! The Issues!
There has been some coverage of those, as well.
Ceci Connolly writes in The Washington Post about Medicare: "President Bush promised Congress that his Medicare prescription drug benefit would cost no more than $400 billion over 10 years, but once the legislation was enacted, federal actuaries boosted the estimate to $534 billion. Now, Bush administration projections indicate that the cost could be considerably higher."
Robin Toner and David Rosenbaum write in the New York Times about Social Security: "President Bush's vision of an 'ownership society' is built, as much as anything else, on a sweeping promise: that he will transform Social Security so younger workers can divert some of their payroll taxes into private investment accounts. . . .
"But . . . Bush has never proposed a specific plan to reach his goal -- and, critics say, for good reasons. With the budget already running large annual deficits, recent estimates of typical plans for private accounts show they would cost as much as $2 trillion over the first 10 years."
Janet Hook and Warren Vieth write in the Los Angeles Times about the Bush domestic agenda in general: "From his proposal to overhaul Social Security to his commitment to fighting terrorism and his initiatives on health, education and job training, the agenda Bush is spelling out in speeches and campaign documents calls for the robust use of government money.
"All this comes from the same candidate who promises to cut the federal budget deficit in half by 2009 and whose Cabinet agencies are preparing for some serious belt-tightening of domestic programs if he is reelected. . . .
"Unlike Bush's 2000 campaign platform -- whose major elements of tax cuts, school accountability and prescription drug subsidies for the elderly were enacted -- his 2004 promises may have to be sharply scaled back or abandoned if he wins a second term."
David E. Rosenbaum in the New York Times does a little fact checking: "At almost every campaign stop, President Bush accuses Senator John Kerry of having voted repeatedly for higher taxes on the middle class and of proposing more than $2 trillion in spending the country cannot afford.
"There is a kernel of truth in both statements. But like many charges the candidates exchange, they are exaggerated to the point of distortion."
And David Wessel in the Wall Street Journal asks a probing question: "How much control does any U.S. president have over the economy, the stock market and consumer costs? Not as much as many voters might think."
George Rush and Joanna Molloy write in the New York Daily News: "First it was his military service. Now Dubya's record as a former boozehound is being impugned. A group calling itself 'Pleasure Boat Captains for Truth' charges in a series of anti-Bush commercials that Bush, far from being a party animal, was 'Unfit for Cancun.' "