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How This White House Operates
Over at Salon, Tim Grieve has a different question: "Here's the part of this we don't understand: Why is Bush's order even necessary? Last time we checked, the president's political appointees were already running the federal agencies he now feels a need to put in check. And as the Washington Post reported in a series of articles back in 2004, the result has already been pretty impressive: The administration has killed regulatory work that was in progress when Bush took office; cancelled a plan that could have prevented 25,000 tuberculosis infections a year; eased regulations to allow more strip mining in the Appalachians; and lightened the regulatory load on everything from health care to food safety to the protection of the environment."
The White House is harnessing the power of the Web -- and the blogosphere.
Matthew Weigelt writes for Federal Computer Week: "The White House is heading to the Web in March to publicly post Congress' earmarks in legislation, according to a new memorandum.
"The Jan. 25 memo directs departments to catalog earmarks in appropriations and authorization bills and in report language to measure a clear baseline total. President Bush wants to cut that total in half by 2008.
"For emphasis, the administration will post the earmark information in detail on the Internet by March 12, according to the memo written by Rob Portman, Office of Management and Budget director."
Take a moment to consider the big picture regarding Iran.
Bush's overall goal is to weaken Iran's influence on the Middle East. But it turns out that everything his administration is doing seems to be having the opposite effect.
Anthony Shadid writes in The Washington Post: "Four years after the United States invaded Iraq, in part to transform the Middle East, Iran is ascendant, many in the region view the Americans in retreat, and Arab countries, their own feelings of weakness accentuated, are awash in sharpening sectarian currents that many blame the United States for exacerbating. . . .
"'The United States is the first to be blamed for the rise of Iranian influence in the Middle East,' said Khaled al-Dakhil, a Saudi writer and academic. 'There is one thing important about the ascendance of Iran here. It does not reflect a real change in Iranian capabilities, economic or political. It's more a reflection of the failures on the part of the U.S. and its Arab allies in the region.'
"Added Eyal Zisser, head of the Middle Eastern and African Studies Department at Tel Aviv University in Israel: 'After the whole investment in democracy in the region, the West is losing, and Iran is winning.'"
Time for a change of course? Don't bet on it.
"The United States has signaled a more aggressive posture toward Iran. President Bush on Friday defended a Pentagon program to kill or capture Iranian operatives in Iraq. Vice President Cheney, in a Newsweek interview published Sunday, said the deployment of a second U.S. aircraft carrier task force to the Persian Gulf was intended to signal to the region that the United States is 'working with friends and allies as well as the international organizations to deal with the Iranian threat.'"
And Ewen MacAskill writes in the Guardian: "Tension between the United States and Iran rose sharply yesterday when president George Bush warned Tehran that America would respond 'firmly' if Tehran stepped up its alleged involvement in violence in Iraq."
Showing What Exactly?
Michael Abramowitz writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush said yesterday that Iraqi forces 'are beginning to show me something,' while he sought to play down his apparent differences with Vice President Cheney about how well things are going in the strife-torn country.
"Bush was asked in a National Public Radio interview about an Iraqi raid Sunday, backed by U.S. helicopters, on a heavily armed Shiite cult that Iraqi officials said was poised to assassinate the country's Shiite religious leadership. 'This fight is an indication of what is taking place, and that is the Iraqis are beginning to take the lead,' Bush said. 'So my first reaction on this report from the battlefield is that the Iraqis are beginning to show me something.'"
But Frank James blogs for the Chicago Tribune: "Excuse me, Mr. President, but how much did the Iraqis really show?
"The news stories about the fight in Najaf indicate it was air power that proved decisive."
And Marc Santora writes in the New York Times: "Iraqi forces were surprised and nearly overwhelmed by the ferocity of an obscure renegade militia in a weekend battle near the holy city of Najaf and needed far more help from American forces than previously disclosed, American and Iraqi officials said Monday."
Maura Reynolds writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Will President Bush put the '-ic' back in 'Democratic'?
"That was the hot topic around Washington on Monday after the president was asked why, during his State of the Union address last week, he referred to Congress' new 'Democrat majority.'
"'That was an oversight,' Bush said in an interview Monday with National Public Radio. 'I'm not trying to needle. . . . I didn't even know I did it.'"
Reynolds writes that "experts on political locution say it's a deliberate, if ungrammatical, linguistic strategy.
"'The word 'democratic' has such positive emotional valence . . . so they politicize it to use it as a term to describe a group of political rivals,' said Roderick P. Hart, a professor of communications and government at the University of Texas in Austin."
More From the Interview
Here's the transcript of Bush's NPR interview with a largely anemic Juan Williams, most notable for how familiar it all sounded.
For instance, Bush continues to cleave to an ahistorical version of how things went wrong in Iraq.
Bush: "You know, we can debate terms, but what can't be debated is the fact that Iraq is violent, and the violence is caused by Sunni Arabs like al-Qaida, who have made it clear that they want to create chaos and drive the United States out so they can have safe haven, and then they could launch attacks against America. No question the attack on the Golden Mosque of Samarra, which is a Shia holy site, caused Shia extremists to retaliate."
As Mark Seibel wrote for McClatchy on January 14, "the president's account understates by at least 15 months when Shiite death squads began targeting Sunni politicians and clerics. It also ignores the role that Iranian-backed Shiite groups had in death squad activities before the Samarra bombing."
Bush won't even answer a question from the troops:
"MR. WILLIAMS: All right. You know, you mentioned timetables. NPR has a reporter embedded with the Minnesota National Guard in Iraq, and one of the soldiers there asked the question -- says, my name is Specialist Ryan Schmidt (sp) from Forest Lake, Minnesota, and my question for you, Mr. President, is what if your plan for a troop surge to Baghdad does not work?' What do you think?
"PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, I would say to Ryan, I put it in place on the advice of a lot of smart people, particularly the military people who think it will work, and let us go into this aspect of the Iraqi strategy feeling it will work. But I will also assure Ryan that we're constantly adjusting to conditions on the ground."
Cheney: Half Full
And consider this extraordinary exchange
"MR. WILLIAMS: Well, another question about Vice President Cheney -- he said last week that -- here I'm quoting -- 'we've encountered enormous successes and we continue to have enormous successes in Iraq.' Two weeks ago you said, quote, 'there hadn't been enough success in Iraq.' So it sounds like there's a conflicting message there.
"PRESIDENT BUSH: Oh, I don't think so. I think that the vice president is a person reflecting a half-glass-full mentality, and that is he's been able to look at -- as have I, and I hope other Americans have -- the fact that the tyrant was removed, 12 million people voted, there is an Iraqi constitution in place that is a model for -- and unique for the Middle East."
What is Cheney's glass half full of? Who knows.
And Patt Morrison blogs for Huffingtonpost.com: "Who knew that Dick Cheney is the West Wing Pollyanna? That's not a smirk or a sneer, it's just a lopsided happy face! "
New Pastry Chef
From a White House news release: "Mrs. Laura Bush announced today that William 'Bill' Yosses has been named the White House Executive Pastry Chef."
Here's a photo.
The Associated Press notes: "Yosses already has some on-the-job training -- he served as the pastry chef for the 2006 White House holiday parties."
The Comedic Stylings of POTUS
More from Bush's speech to the exclusive Alfalfa Club on Saturday night, courtesy of my Washington Post colleague Lynne Duke, who received the prepared remarks from a source involved with the dinner.
"As always, I'm delighted to be back at Alfalfa. When I was here last year, my approval rating was in the 30s, my nominee for the Supreme Court had just withdrawn and my vice president had shot someone -- ah, those were the good old days.
"What with the polls and everything, the Washington Post said the other day that I was, quote, 'at the nadir of my presidency.' The press always underestimates me. I can go lower."
And: "Hey, let me give you an update on that satellite that was blown out of the sky last week. The Chinese didn't do it. Cheney was out hunting again."
I'll be Live Online tomorrow at 1 p.m. ET. Come join in the conversation.