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White House Briefing: Dan Froomkin

The Unnamed Enemy

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, August 12, 2004; 11:19 AM

In his brand new campaign ad, President Bush vows to "bring an enemy to justice before they hurt us again." (Here's the video. Here's the text.)

An enemy? Any enemy in particular?

Although there are certainly lots of enemies out there, public enemy number one is obviously al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

But Bush didn't mention bin Laden -- who, just six days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks Bush said he wanted "dead or alive," and who, almost three years later, is still at large.

Reader Frank Grunder e-mailed me a while back to ask: Just when was the last time Bush did actually speak about bin Laden explicitly?

So I did some research (using the very handy and highly recommended Compilation of Presidential Documents database.)

And what I found is that Bush treats bin Laden a lot like those wizards in the Harry Potter books treat He Who Must Not Be Named.

Since the beginning of 2003, in fact, Bush has mentioned bin Laden's name on only 10 occasions. And on six of those occasions it was because he was asked a direct question.

In addition, there were four times when Bush was asked about bin Laden directly but was able to answer without mentioning bin Laden's name himself.

Not once during that period has he talked about bin Laden at any length, or said anything substantive.

During the same period, for comparison purposes, Bush has mentioned former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein on approximately 300 occasions.

The last time Bush spoke protractedly about bin Laden was at a March 2003 news conference. Bush was asked then by Kelly Wallace of CNN why he so rarely mentioned bin Laden, and whether bin Laden was, in fact, dead or alive.

Bush's answer: "Well, deep in my heart, I know the man is on the run if he's alive at all. Who knows if he's hiding in some cave or not? We haven't heard from him in a long time. And the idea of focusing on one person is -- really indicates to me people don't understand the scope of the mission.

"Terror is bigger than one person. And he's just -- he's a person who's now been marginalized. His network is -- his host government has been destroyed. He's the ultimate parasite who found weakness, exploited it, and met his match. He is -- as I've mentioned in my speeches, I do mention the fact that this is a fellow who is willing to commit youngsters to their death, and he himself tries to hide -- if, in fact, he's hiding at all.

"So I don't know where he is. You know, I just don't spend that much time on him, Kelly, to be honest with you. . . . I truly am not that concerned about him."

Frank, in answer to your question, the very last time Bush mentioned bin Laden at all was in Illinois, on July 22, where, in passing, he noted that: "Here in Illinois, we convicted a man with a longstanding ties to bin Laden, who had been using a Chicago-area charity called the 'Benevolence International Foundation' to channel money to Islamic militants."

The last time Bush actually spoke about bin Laden -- although it was not by name -- was on July 14, at an event in Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin, where he took some questions from the audience. A woman in the audience asked: "Do you have an updates on the whereabouts or possible capture of Osama bin Laden?"

Bush replied: "Thank you for bringing that up. I tell you, if I knew, I wouldn't tell you. (Laughter.) I'd be telling our forces which are stationed over there. He's on the run. He is -- he's, best guess, in the remote regions of Pakistan or Afghanistan, up there in kind of the -- in the mountainous regions there, best guess. I really don't know."

I have all the data, and the quotes, here. Mike Snyder of washingtonpost.com contributed to the research.

More About the Ad

Liz Sidoti writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush vows in his latest campaign ad to 'bring an enemy to justice before they hurt us again' although Osama bin Laden remains at large and only one U.S. defendant, Zacarias Moussaoui, has been charged with crimes related to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks."

AFP writes that "Bush released a new campaign advertisement that invokes the September 11 attacks, drawing charges from his opponent that he is desperate."

Turning the Corner on a Mantra

Here's something else Bush isn't saying -- any more.

Dana Bash was on CNN yesterday explaining to Candy Crowley how Bush has ditched his mantra.

"Well, Candy, you know, the last day of the Democratic convention, Bush aides started to call reporters to pitch to them what the president's new themes would be, coming back out on the trail: That he would be talking about moving America forward. The 'Heart and Soul' tour -- that was on his bus. And that he would have a new refrain in his stump speech, and that is: 'We're turning the corner and we're not turning back.' And he said it over and over again."

She played some video clips, including a clip from a new, mocking Democratic National Committee ad.

"Now, Bush aides do privately tell CNN now that they do not expect to hear the president saying this very much, if at all anymore," Bash said. "We noticed looking at the president's speeches, that he's only used the phrase once this week.

"Essentially, Bush aides, privately again, [are] saying they get it. They get that it was probably a mistake to have the president use this phrase. They even admit that it does expose some of the internal debate -- the internal debate about the challenge that they have, being an incumbent president, talking about the fact that he understands things aren't necessarily as good as they should be, but wanting him to have an optimistic tone.

"One aide even said you can make people believe something and you can try to make them believe something as much as possible, but if they don't believe it, saying it over and over again probably won't change it. . . ."

The New Mantra?

Donald Lambro writes in the Washington Times: "With signs that the economic recovery may be cooling, President Bush and his advisers have decided to refocus his campaign on proposals he will champion under the banner of an 'ownership society,' said Republican strategists close to the White House. . . .

" 'If you know anything about [Bush political adviser] Karl Rove's strengths, one of them is a sense of timing. What you will see is a forthcoming vision for a second term,' said a key strategist who advises the White House on economic policy."

A Slip or a Hint?

Tom Raum writes for the Associated Press: "Administration officials on Wednesday denied that President Bush is considering a national sales tax, a day after the Republican incumbent created a stir by calling such a tax an interesting idea that we ought to explore seriously.'"

Raum reports that "two administration officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Bush was not considering a national sales tax."

But Edmund L. Andrews writes in the New York Times: "A debate is flaring anew over the idea, most recently addressed by President Bush at a campaign stop in Florida on Tuesday, that the United States ought to consider replacing income taxes with some sort of national sales tax. . . .

"At his appearance on Tuesday, Mr. Bush stopped well short of proposing anything specific. But White House officials were careful not to rule out the idea, noting that he had long been in favor of fundamental tax changes.

" 'The president has always believed in lower taxes and a simpler, fairer tax code,' the White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, said Wednesday. But Mr. McClellan added, 'There's nothing more to announce at this time.'

"At another point on Wednesday, when a second White House spokesman, Trent Duffy, was asked whether Mr. Bush was contemplating a dramatic new tax proposal at the convention, he replied, 'Stay tuned.' "

Here's the text of Bush's remarks from Niceville.

And here is McClellan, from the text of yesterday's gaggle.

"Q My question is, you say it's something that ought to be explored seriously. Is he exploring it seriously?

"MR. McCLELLAN: He said it's something that ought to be explored seriously, so --

"Q 'Yes' or 'no,' is he exploring it seriously?

"MR. McCLELLAN: You know what he's pursuing when it comes to making the tax code simpler and fairer, and what he's pursuing to keep taxes low. And if there's anything more to update you on then, obviously, we will. But what he said yesterday is where it stands, that it's something that ought to be seriously explored."

Message: Trust Us, Not Them

Dan Balz writes in The Washington Post: "This was supposed to be the month when President Bush began to outline his domestic agenda for a second term, but as he campaigns in advance of his national convention, his message remains elemental: He is the candidate who will keep the country safe. . . .

"As he put it on here on Wednesday, 'I know what I'm doing when it comes to winning this war, and I'm not going to be sending mixed signals.' "

Meanwhile, Balz reports: "Campaigning in Missouri on Wednesday, Vice President Cheney said he would not trust the four-term Massachusetts senator to make decisions about going to war. 'We don't want to turn that responsibility over to somebody who doesn't have deeply held convictions about right and wrong,' Cheney said. 'And I must say, I look at the record of our opponents. There is a lot of hesitation and uncertainty.' "

Campaign reporters have been given a sneak peek at Cheney's next salvo.

Laura Meckler writes for the Associated Press: "Vice President Dick Cheney is opening a new attack on John Kerry, saying America will not defeat its enemies by fighting a 'more sensitive' war on terror, as Kerry called for last week.

" 'America has been in too many wars for any of our wishes, but not a one of them was won by being sensitive,' Cheney said in remarks prepared for delivery Thursday. 'A sensitive war will not destroy the evil men who killed 3,000 Americans. . . . The men who beheaded Daniel Pearl and Paul Johnson will not be impressed by our sensitivity.' . . .

"A week ago, Kerry said: 'I believe I can fight a more effective, more thoughtful, more strategic, more proactive, more sensitive war on terror that reaches out to other nations and brings them to our side and lives up to American values in history.' "

David E. Sanger writes in the New York Times that Bush and Cheney's mocking of Kerry's explanation of his war voting record has succeeded in drowning out Kerry's message.

In Arizona and New Mexico

Jon Kamman writes in the Arizona Republic: "To the thunderous roar of 15,000 supporters chanting, 'Four more years,' President Bush on Wednesday promised Arizonans that his re-election would mean a safer nation, stronger economy and brighter future for all Americans. . . .

"Speaking with rolled-up shirt sleeves, Bush was flanked by a seating section in which supporters, dressed in red or white, were seated to create a huge red 'W.' Above them was a banner proclaiming, 'God loves you, President Bush.' "

Andy Lenderman writes in the Albuquerque Journal: "Bush took some wide-ranging questions and plenty of compliments from the overwhelmingly supportive crowd Wednesday after making his opening remarks.

"One man predicted Bush would win by a landslide; a woman said she prayed for him; and a boy asked to get his picture taken with the president.

"Another man introduced his mother and mother-in-law; one woman asked how the administration helped domestic violence victims; and a college student asked about how the disabled could be a part of the business community."

In fact, the woman who asked about domestic violence actually coached Bush on his answer, when he left something out.

"Q And what about the Family Justice Center Initiative? Didn't you announce that last year? . . . The pilot program -- $21 million?"

"THE PRESIDENT: Oh, I did, so thanks for reminding me. (Laughter.) How quickly we forget. It was a loaded question, wasn't it?"

Here is the text of Bush's remarks at the "Ask the President" event in Albuquerque and the text of his speech at the rally in Phoenix.

Intel Watch

Walter Pincus writes in The Washington Post that confirmation hearings on the nomination of Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.) as CIA director will be held the first week in September.

But the overhaul of U.S. intelligence agencies may be postponed until after the November election.

"Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen A. Cambone told the House Armed Services Committee yesterday that . . . the White House and other agencies have not finalized their views on how a new national intelligence director, or NID, would play a role distinct from that of the president's national security adviser, or how the new chief would relate to the defense secretary," Pincus writes.

"'When the president completes his review and decides how he wants to do this, there's not going to be ambiguity in these relationships,' Cambone said."

Katharine Q. Seelye writes in the New York Times: "A dozen Senate Democrats suggested Wednesday that they would not oppose President Bush's nomination of Representative Porter J. Goss as director of central intelligence, but they vowed to use his confirmation hearings to amplify their concerns over fatal intelligence failures under this administration."

Painful Milestone

Alan Elsner writes for Reuters: "The United States faces a painful moment probably next month when its military deaths in Iraq are expected to surpass 1,000. It will also be a crucial moment for President Bush, who faces a presidential campaign in which Iraq is a central issue."

Laura Bush Watch

Randy Kennedy writes in the New York Times that "as Mrs. Bush begins several weeks of solo barnstorming in states crucial for her husband's re-election, she is becoming an increasingly visible and effective part of White House strategy, largely because she is seen as someone above the rough-and-tumble of the political fray. . . .

"While the first lady professes to be unpracticed in politics, she is clearly aware of what she can accomplish in campaigning. In a short interview on her plane as she returned to Washington at the end of the six-state trip, a reporter asked her what she hoped to achieve in speaking mostly to audiences of local Republican volunteers and other Bush supporters.

" 'Obviously I go to get in the news, to be on television and in the newspapers,' she said, though adding that she also hoped she was 'able to get out a message that's not always out in the media.' "

Today's Calendar

Pete Yost writes for the Associated Press: "Facing political fallout from an unpopular decision to put a nuclear waste dump in the state, President Bush is rallying Republican support in Nevada where he wants to repeat his victory of four years ago.

"Bush was campaigning Thursday before a friendly labor union in Nevada and raising money in Santa Monica, Calif., for the Republican Party."

Cheney, as mentioned above, will be slamming Kerry in Dayton.

Who's Following Who?

Mark Z. Barabak and Maura Reynolds write in the Los Angeles Times: "For the last few days, the two presidential candidates have campaigned almost as if they were a tag team or political roadshow. . . .

"Strategists for both candidates said they made their plans first."

Lisa Friedman writes in the Los Angeles Daily News: "Los Angeles will be a hotbed of presidential campaigning today in what by now could probably be called the Bush-Kerry tour."

Couldn't a little reporting determine who's actually first?

Fed Watch

Nell Henderson writes in The Washington Post: "The Bush campaign found good economic news yesterday in an unusual source -- the Federal Reserve's avowed determination to keep raising interest rates.

"Many of President Bush's predecessors, most notably his father, have publicly urged the Fed to keep rates as low as possible to spur economic growth.

"But in an unusual twist, the campaign welcomed the Fed's decision Tuesday to lift its benchmark overnight rate for the second time in three months as a vote of confidence in the economy's health."

Spoof Watch

Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Michael Klein writes about 25-year-old Philadelphian Jason Ricci who apparently is a ringer for a young George W. Bush -- and who as a result ended up in a photo shoot for GQ magazine to illustrate a spoof article, "Bush: The Missing Years," that purports to explain an apparent gap in the president's Air National Guard service in 1972-73.

Writes Klein: "You have 'Bush' playing cards with a Mick Jagger clone, Bush cavorting with Andy Warhol's doppelganger and Vietnamese bar girls, Bush being roused out of bed -- bottle of Jack Daniel's in hand -- by an actress playing his mother, Barbara."

Here's Jason Gay's GQ story. But no pictures.

Steven Winn wrote recently in the San Francisco Chronicle: "The piece and its presentation once again raise touchy issues of fairness and full disclosure in political humor, touched off earlier this year by Michael Moore's film 'Fahrenheit 9/11.' This latest media stunt also invites everyone to lighten up and go along with the joke."

The al Qaeda Leak

I wrote about this in yesterday's column, and several readers asked me about it during yesterday's Live Online.

I think it's curious. Last night, Comedy Central's Jon Stewart picked up on the story:

"You'll recall the government recently raised the threat level for parts of several eastern cities back up to 'orange,' or 'harvest sunset,' " Stewart said on the headline segment of his show.

"When the timing of that alert was questioned by skeptics, the administration said it was based on solid information given by a captured terrorist operative in Pakistan. The only problem? The man, Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan -- whom the Daily Show has chosen to identify only as Mohammad Naeem Noor 'Doe' -- was in the process of aiding authorities there in a large sting operation against al Qaeda. His cover is now blown; al Qaeda, tipped off. If it weren't so devastating to our national security, it would be funny . . . in a 'Police Academy 7: Mission to Moscow' kind of way.

"National security adviser Condoleezza Rice showed her usual grasp of loopholery in confirming the story to Wolf Blitzer on CNN."

(Stewart then showed a clip of Rice appearing to acknowledge the leak, but noting that it was "on background." Here's the CNN transcript.)

"For those of you unfamiliar with Washington-speak, 'on background' means anyone in the press can publish it so long as you don't say who told you. 'Cause, you know: you give the name of a Pakistani secret agent to a handful of White House reporters. . . . You can't be held accountable if they decide to 'report' about it."

More Late Night Humor

From the "Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn", via the Associated Press: "President Bush is trying to put a positive spin on the latest bad economic numbers. Today he declared victory in the 'War on Jobs.' "


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