Et Tu, Wall Street Journal?

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By Dan Eggen
Monday, August 18, 2008

Every once in a while, the White House sends out a blast e-mail titled "Setting the Record Straight," usually taking issue with a press report or criticism that the Bush administration finds wanting. The targets are often news organizations that conservatives consider part of the hated liberal media, such as recent missives against the New York Times and NBC News.

So it had to mark some sort of watershed last week when Bush's press office sent out its latest e-mail complaint -- this time directed at that leftist bastion, the Wall Street Journal's editorial page.

"The Wall Street Journal Inaccurately Claims The Administration Was Slow To Respond To The Conflict Between Georgia And Russia," blared the e-mail, which went on to list a blow-by-blow account of actions related to the crisis in Georgia.

The sharp response from the White House underscored a growing public relations problem facing President Bush during his last months in office: A lot of conservatives are increasingly unhappy with him, particularly when it comes to foreign affairs. For a president already burdened with approval ratings well below 30 percent, this is not welcome news.

Many within the Republican base were already unhappy with Bush this year for stepping up engagement with North Korea on its nuclear weapons program, sending a high-level envoy to talks with Iran, and agreeing to a "general time horizon" for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

For some of these neoconservatives, Bush's cautious approach in the early days of the Georgia crisis was the final straw. It didn't help that while Russian tanks rolled into the region, Bush was attending the Olympics in Beijing.

"Spending time with the women's volleyball team is pleasant, I'm sure," former United Nations ambassador John R. Bolton said in an interview, referring to Bush's widely photographed meeting with bikini-clad players in Beijing. "But sometimes a president has to make sacrifices."

To Bolton and other critics, many of Bush's actions on foreign affairs this year are a sign of intellectual drift, away from the hard-line conservatism of Vice President Cheney and his allies and toward broader engagement endorsed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The Journal editorial that stoked the ire of the White House on Wednesday said the Bush administration was "missing in action, to put it mildly" during the early days of the Georgia crisis.

"President Bush finally condemned Russia's actions on Monday after a weekend of Olympics tourism in Beijing while Georgia burned," the editorial said, adding: "Compared to this August U.S. lethargy, the French look like Winston Churchill."

As anyone familiar with neoconservative debate knows, a comparison to the French is akin to the worst kind of schoolyard taunt.

It should be noted that some conservatives were mollified by Bush's strongly worded announcement Wednesday that the United States was sending Rice to Georgia, as well as U.S. troops bearing humanitarian supplies.


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