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White House Briefing: Dan Froomkin

Bush Speech: Resolute or Clueless?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, September 22, 2004; 12:04 PM

In a soaring, eloquent, upbeat speech from the marble podium at the United Nations, President Bush yesterday put forth the purest distillation yet of his foreign policy views.

And depending on your own world view, I'm betting you either loved it or hated it.

Was he strong, resolute, unyielding, unapologetic? Undeniably so. And in the view of his supporters, enough said.

But viewed in the context of how things have worked out, particularly in Iraq, his critics -- including many in the audience of world leaders yesterday -- found him misguided, simplistic, imperious and trigger-happy.

If the whole speech was a litmus test, this one sentence was the clincher:

"We know that dictators are quick to choose aggression, while free nations strive to resolve differences in peace," Bush said.

Some people see irony there. Others don't.

The Coverage

Glenn Kessler writes in a news analysis for The Washington Post: "Bush's speech struck such a different tone than the speeches of other leaders Tuesday that as the day wore on the gulf between the Bush administration and the rest of the world appeared as wide as ever."

Bush "sketched out a stark, almost apocalyptical view of the world, a battle between good and evil that will end only in the destruction of terrorists."

Kessler writes that Bush "describes almost all issues through the prism of terrorism, giving short shrift to concerns such as world poverty, globalization and a growing divide between rich and poor that were often the focus of other leaders and that some argue are the root causes of terrorism. . . .

"Balanced against the focus on terrorism is Bush's fervent belief that freedom and democracy will eventually emerge in the most autocratic states, thus smothering the aspirations of terrorists."

But Kessler notes: "Bush's own actions have sometimes undercut his rhetoric. He has repeatedly expressed his admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin, even as Putin has slowly strangled democratic institutions. He also remains a strong supporter of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who took power in a coup."

Dana Milbank and Colum Lynch write in The Washington Post: "President Bush brushed aside concerns about violence and disorder in Iraq and told world leaders assembled here on Tuesday that the country is making progress against insurgents.

"Bush's upbeat assessment of world affairs in general and Iraq in particular contrasted sharply with assessments of diplomats and world leaders gathered for the annual meeting of the U.N. General Assembly. While others lamented spreading violence and a breakdown of the rule of law, Bush asserted that times have improved. . . .

"Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry on Tuesday said that Bush 'needs to live in the world of reality, not in a world of fantasy spin.' "

Rick Klein writes in the Boston Globe: "The speech welcoming UN representatives to New York City is an annual tradition for American presidents, but this year it came at a crucial time in Bush's reelection campaign. Six weeks before Election Day, the president is facing a chorus of critics domestically and abroad who are challenging his decision to oust Hussein and decrying the turmoil that has wracked Iraq since then. In addition, the failure to find stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or to detect significant links between Hussein and Al Qaeda have done little to help his case. Senators from Bush's own Republican Party have been voicing concerns about the president's handling of military and reconstruction efforts.

"Still, Bush looked confident and relaxed appearing before an organization that has rebuffed him in the past -- and one that Bush's political allies have mocked on the campaign trail."

Here is the text of the United Nations speech.

Here also is the text of an exchange of toasts at lunch, and the text of Bush's short speech at an evening reception.

Annan's Dissenting View

Warren Hoge writes in the New York Times: "Secretary General Kofi Annan opened the annual United Nations debate of world leaders on Tuesday with a plea for greater observance of international law and a reminder of his misgivings about the legality of the American-led war in Iraq.

" 'Those who seek to bestow legitimacy must themselves embody it, and those who invoke international law must themselves submit to it,' he told the audience of delegates in the General Assembly hall, which included President Bush and Ayad Allawi, the interim Iraqi prime minister."

Other World Leader Reaction

Maura Reynolds and Maggie Farley write in the Los Angeles Times: "Leaders such as interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who depend heavily on U.S. support, lauded Bush's remarks. Leaders of Germany and Spain sided more with Annan.

" 'Peace is a task that demands more determination, more heroism than war,' said Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who pulled his country's troops out of Iraq after winning election in March. . . .

"German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said: 'I think it's very important what Kofi Annan said about the rule of law in the 21st century, so I don't want to go more into the details because this would be very unpolite.' "

The Allawi Gambit

Elisabeth Bumiller writes in the New York Times: "The Bush administration began an intensive campaign this week to present Prime Minister Ayad Allawi of Iraq as the face of his nation and a symbol of progress, even as the violence in the country has been mounting and doubts have been growing that elections can be held there in January.

"Dr. Allawi, on his first visit to the United States as the Iraqi prime minister, is to address a joint meeting of Congress and appear with President Bush at a White House news conference on Thursday."

Dismissing CIA Worries

Bush took three questions from reporters during his photo-op with Allawi. Here's the text. One of the questions was about the recent CIA report predicting serious troubles ahead for Iraq.

Ken Fireman writes for Newsday: "President George W. Bush yesterday brushed aside a bleak CIA assessment of Iraq's future, saying the agency was 'just guessing' in forecasting that the country may descend into civil war."

Milbank and Lynch write that Bush "played down the significance of a CIA report forecasting more difficulty in Iraq. 'The CIA laid out several scenarios and said life could be lousy, life could be okay, life could be better, and they were just guessing as to what the conditions might be like,' he said.

"The confidential August report to policymakers, according to an administration official who described it yesterday, outlined three scenarios over the next 18 months: a period of 'tenuous stability,' a time of 'further fragmentation and extremism' or a period of 'trending to civil war.' "

Okay, so let me see if I get this straight. "Trending to civil war" I gather would be "lousy." But does that mean Bush sees "further fragmentation and extremism" as "okay"? And "tenuous stability" as "better"?

Loss of Confidence?

David E. Sanger writes in the New York Times: "Until the past few days, Mr. Bush's team insisted that any day spent debating Iraq was a good day for the president, because even given bad news, Americans would get the message that this was no time to gamble on an untested commander in chief."

But now, Sanger writes, "the president's political team is no longer so sure how the argument will play out. The campaign leadership was shaken by recent assertions by three senior Republican senators -- Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Richard G. Lugar of Indiana and John McCain of Arizona -- suggesting that the United States is facing deep trouble in Iraq, and that the White House may be in denial about the need for a new approach."

Editorial Roundup

New York Times: "Mr. Bush might have done better at wooing broader international support if he had spent less time on self-justification and scolding and more on praising the importance of international cooperation and a strengthened United Nations. Instead, his tone-deaf speechwriters achieved a perverse kind of alchemy, transforming a golden opportunity into a lead balloon."

Los Angeles Times: "Bush offered a finely crafted speech and admirably hopeful phrases. Unfortunately, kind words can't erase past slurs -- or current ones out on the campaign trail -- against the U.N. and 'Old Europe,' and hope is not enough to change the disaster on the ground."

Boston Globe: "If Bush had wanted to tell the truth at the UN, he would have acknowledged that his blinkered statecraft, as Kerry put it, has 'divided our friends and united our enemies.'"

Washington Times: "In sum, the president made a tough-as-nails case that promoting democracy and ousting corrupt despots goes hand-in-hand with fighting terrorism and curbing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction."

New York Post: "If even just half of the 'esteemed' VIPs at the United Nations shared the values espoused by President Bush in his speech to them yesterday, the world would be immensely safer -- and better. Alas, they don't."

Today's Calendar

Scott Lindlaw writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush straddled the worlds of diplomacy and re-election politics Wednesday, meeting Pakistan's leader before hitting the road for Pennsylvania, a state at the top of his campaign wish list."

Bush is to talk about education and health care later today in King of Prussia, Pa., a Philadelphia suburb. Then, he'll survey flood damage in Allegheny County, and end the day with a re-election rally in Latrobe

Maura Reynolds of the Los Angeles Times filed a pool report on this morning's photo-op with Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf: "Another newsless photo op. Your pool was held in a hallway of the Waldorf before being hustled into a meeting room where the two presidents, in nearly matching navy suits and red ties, were already shaking hands for the cameras. Both smiled; neither appeared prepared to utter a word.

"As we were being hustled out, an indignant Pakistani journalist piped up with a plea for a question, saying he had traveled a thousand miles from Islamabad and couldn't he get just one? President Bush chuckled and eventually said, 'Sounds like Laidlaw,' using his nickname for AP's Scott Lindlaw. The president was apparently referring to AP's frequent requests for more questions during such photo ops."

In fact, Bennett Roth of the Houston Chronicle reported from the pool yesterday that in Bush's photo-op with Karzai, Lindlaw "suggested that maybe a question was in order. Bush at first said nothing but then quipped, 'What will it be so I can warm up.' A short while later we were escorted into hotel room with Bush, Karzai and Pakistani president Musharraf. Again just a photo op, no talk. Bush appeared happy."

Cheney Watch

More proof that Vice President Cheney's handlers just aren't as diligent as the president's at keeping away the tough questioners at bay.

James Gerstenzang writes in the Los Angeles Times from Lansing, Mich.: "Imam Sayed al Hassan Qazwini had some questions for Vice President Dick Cheney on Tuesday, and he didn't let the fact that he wasn't a handpicked guest at Finleys American Grill stop him."

Here's the text of Cheney's remarks.

In response to a separate question, about hunting, Cheney made this joke: "I get in trouble for that every once in a while. (Laughter.) When I go duck hunting with Nino Scalia, for example. (Laughter.)"

Senior Administration Official Watch

So, a "senior administration official" has now briefed reporters twice in the past two days on Bush's meetings with Asian leaders.

Ever wonder who those "senior administration officials" are? Ever wish, they would just sort of simply tell you?

Here's a line from the transcript of last night's background briefing, after the official was asked to provide details about Bush's proposal for a Democracy Fund.

"SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I can't. That's not really my brief. I'm the Asia director."

I don't know for sure, that sure sounds like it's the new special assistant to the president and senior director for Asian affairs with the National Security Council, Michael J. Green.

Here's a recent bio.

Incidentally, the official acknowledged that Bush has been talking politics with world leaders.

For instance, Bush told Indian Prime Minister Mammohan Singh "how important continuity in U.S. foreign policy is," the official said.


Howard Kurtz writes in The Washington Post: "The White House pounced yesterday on the disclosure that a CBS producer put the source of discredited documents about President Bush's National Guard service in touch with a senior adviser to John F. Kerry, saying this shows 'coordination' between the Democratic nominee's campaign and the '60 Minutes' report.

"Joe Lockhart, the Kerry aide who called CBS's source, former Texas Guardsman Bill Burkett, dismissed the charge as 'a smear campaign' by Republicans. . . .

"White House communications director Dan Bartlett said that 'the coordination between the Kerry campaign and Burkett is highly troubling. . . . The idea that a top-level political operative like Mr. Lockhart had no conversation about the essence of the [Guard] story with either the producer or Bill Burkett is shocking to believe.' "

The Air Force Times weighs in with an assessment of Bush's guard tenure, and William H. McMichael finds it wanting. "From most accounts, Bush appears to have received preferential treatment to get into the Air National Guard and avoid the draft after he graduated from Yale University in 1968," McMichael writes. "And for significant chunks of time, Bush did not report for duty at all. His superiors took no action, and he was honorably discharged in 1973, six months before he should have been."

Kitty Kelley Watch

Edward Wyatt writes in the New York Times: "A Texas man who is quoted in Kitty Kelley's new book about the Bush family as saying that the first lady, Laura Bush, smoked and sold marijuana in her college days, said on Tuesday that his remarks were taken out of context. He said he had no firsthand information about any drug-related activity by Mrs. Bush."

Protester Watch

Chris Hedges profiles Sue Niederer in the New York Times. She's the protester who heckled Laura Bush the other day.

"As Mrs. Bush was lauding her husband's war on terror, Mrs. Niederer slipped on [a] shirt, which bore a photo of the lieutenant and the words 'President Bush killed my son.' Standing at the back of the crowd, she interrupted Mrs. Bush, shouting that if the war was warranted, 'Why don't your children serve?'

" 'She did not answer,' Mrs. Niederer said. 'She looked stunned.'

"Suddenly, Mrs. Niederer recalled, she was surrounded by 'men in dark suits with little earpieces' as well as angry Bush supporters. She was escorted from the hall, and as she tried to speak with reporters outside, she was arrested, handcuffed, taken to the Hamilton police station and charged with trespassing. She was released soon afterward, and prosecutors later dropped the charge."

Jonathan M. Katz writes in Slate that behind the rash of arrests of presidential protesters is "an arcane 1970 Secret Service provision -- Title 18, Section 1752(a)(1)(ii) of the U.S. Code -- which makes it a federal crime to 'knowingly and willfully' enter an area restricted by the Secret Service during a presidential visit. The law was originally drafted by legislators scarred by the assassinations of the 1960s, in the hopes of preventing the next attempt on the life of a president. Turns out the law can be used to prevent criticism as well."

Asked and Answered, Online

Edwin Chen writes in the Los Angeles Times about Dan Bartlett's appearance on "Ask the White House" yesterday.

"Bartlett's appearance featured a barrage of pointed questions from the likes of 'Marilee from Denver' and 'Josef from Tennessee,' probably the toughest grilling that any administration official had encountered since 'Ask the White House' was launched in April 2003."

Fact Checking Watch

Nick Anderson in the Los Angeles Times provides "context for some of the claims and charges" by both campaigns.

Macho Contest

Jill Lawrence and Judy Keen write in USA Today: "Political analysts say they've never seen anything quite like the tough-guy competition between President Bush and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry."

Late Night Humor

From "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" via the Associated Press: "President Bush spoke to the United Nations. The bad news, the nations are united against us!"

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