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Bartlett Heading Home to the Lone Star State

At a debate last week, former senator Max Cleland (D-Ga.), at left, and former White House adviser Karl Rove, far right, clashed sharply on Iraq. Next to Rove is former Florida governor Jeb Bush.
At a debate last week, former senator Max Cleland (D-Ga.), at left, and former White House adviser Karl Rove, far right, clashed sharply on Iraq. Next to Rove is former Florida governor Jeb Bush. (By Delores Johnson -- The Virginian-pilot Via Associated Press)

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"We have been working hard on this nomination and are focused on selecting the right person to serve in this important role," White House spokeswoman Emily A. Lawrimore said by e-mail. "We look forward to announcing a highly qualified nominee soon who shares the president's strong commitment to helping America's veterans."

Rove Redux

After laying low for two months since leaving the White House, Karl Rove is beginning to resurface. On Friday, the onetime senior adviser showed up at Pat Robertson's Regent University in Virginia Beach, where he and the president's younger brother Jeb took on retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey and former Democratic senator Max Cleland of Georgia in a lively debate about whether America should bring democracy to the world.

It was an interesting and eclectic group, given the evident hostility toward Rove and the White House from Cleland. He believes his reelection in 2002 was undermined by GOP ads questioning his patriotism and determination to fight terrorism.

Our colleague Michael D. Shear, who was present, reports that the debate quickly gave way to a sharp exchange about the Iraq war.

McCaffrey called the war "miserably executed" and Cleland, who lost both legs and his right arm as a soldier in Vietnam, called for a withdrawal. Bush, the former governor of Florida, urged patience in the efforts to bring democracy to Iraq; Rove compared the war to U.S. efforts to establish democracy in Germany and Japan after World War II.

An interesting moment came when Cleland accused President Bush of not capturing Osama bin Laden because he was distracted by Iraq. "We let him go up in the Tora Bora mountains. We blew it," Cleland said, directing his remark to Rove.

"The U.S. military and U.S. intelligence agencies made every effort possible to get Osama bin Laden," an irked Rove responded. "I don't think it reflects well on our intelligence and military services to suggest they didn't."

Cleland refused to give in, saying that "attacking Iraq after 9/11 was like attacking Mexico after Pearl Harbor."

The two started yelling over one other, with Rove pointing out that Cleland had voted to give the president the authority to go to war and Cleland booming something about "Cheney" and "Condi" and a "mushroom cloud."

"So, yes, I voted to authorize force in Iraq. But now . . . it's time to pull out and it's time to focus on getting Osama bin Laden," Cleland said.

The spat ended there. But it was clear in the brief exchange that Rove, even as a private citizen, is not finished defending the foreign policy legacy that he helped create.

Cheney's Darth Side

It seems that Dick and Lynne Cheney may actually like one label critics have tried to fix on the secretive and powerful vice president.

Lynne Cheney appeared on "The Daily Show" to plug her new book about growing up in Wyoming, and she appeared to disarm host Jon Stewart by bringing a Darth Vader doll as a prop. The vice president said last Sunday that he doesn't mind the description.

"Most of you knew me long before anyone called me Darth Vader," he said before the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, eliciting laughter. "I've been asked if that nickname bothers me, and the answer is no. After all, Darth Vader is one of the nicer things I've been called recently."

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